Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Just cause she's an agent doesn't mean she's right (said the agent who is ALWAYS right)

Yesterday I received the most heartbreaking rejection, and find myself again questioning how to know when to take an agent's feedback to heart.

This MS has been through webinars, bootcamps, workshops, multiple face-to-face agent critique appointments (where they've received 50 pages in advance), multiple charity-auction-won critiques from published authors I adore, and countless extensive revisions with 4 critique partners. I feel it's in the best shape of any  of my manuscripts, and I'm genuinely pleased with where it's at -- which is something for a Type-A perfectionist to be able to say. I'm at the tweaking-words stage, seeing no major changes required. It feels polished. I still laugh, I still cry. It feels very much like the book I set out to write.

I've queried in batches, and have had 10 full requests and many partials. Recently, I had a full request within 2 days from a rock-star agent at the top of my list. I felt a bit awkward that she skewered my book title in her request email -- but I certainly didn't point this out. Just replied, "Attached is TITLE OF MY BOOK, per your request," kind of thing.

In the rejection, she said my book was too like two of her other series, which I thought odd because I actually used one of those as a comp title -- her series is in a different age category and I feel very different in nature, but with one shared element that I thought might grab her (it seemed to, since she requested the full based on my query and opening chapters). The other series is absolutely nothing in tone like mine, and I feel, if she'd really read mine, she'd have known that by about chapter 4 at the least, if she couldn't tell it from the opening chapter. But... okay. That's fair enough -- maybe she hated it and didn't read past chapter 3!

The most difficult part was when she said that regardless of that, it needs "a lot of development work," including "worldbuilding, plot, and pacing."

Whoa. So, that's basically the entire manuscript.

This makes me feel as though I'm being told you don't know what you're doing. Although she said, "This is very much the kind of story I enjoy," I feel like I've just been informed that 10 years of writing, and 3 years on this manuscript, and countless conferences, studying and analyzing successful books I love, agent one-on-ones, etc. have all barely pushed me from square one to two. I know we as authors get wobbly and take things personally (and blown out of proportion) in the face of rejection -- and I'm the worst -- but I had a bit of a breakdown.

I don't know what this means, or where to go next. I consulted my CPs, and they are honest, non-smoke-blowing folk, I believe. They said they would've certainly flagged up these rather major issues if they'd seen them in any of the drafts they read. None of the authors/editors/professionals who've laid eyes on the MS or synopsis suggested any major issues like these. I don't know whether to shell out for a developmental edit (seriously considering it), or sit down with My First Craft Book 101 and go through the whole arc and structure with a seam ripper.

On top of all this is the wonder whether the agent actually read any of it. She clearly was excited about the premise and opening. But in all her emails to me, she CCed an assistant. I know it doesn't matter because no is no. But it makes me wonder if I was rejected by the assistant or the agent herself... especially since the title was skewered again in the body of her rejection email. I know agents are human, but I guess I'm surprised by the error, twice.

My question is, when you've worked with this level of workshopping and critiques and feedback that makes you feel overall pleased with the pillars of a manuscript, do you take a rejection like this to heart or not -- if no one else has ever said similar? My heart says no, but my brain whispers, "What if this is the reason you haven't been offered rep yet, and she's the only one who's shared the secret with you?"

I just wish she (or her assistant) had offered even one concrete example from my story to link to these problems.

You're giving too much power to this agent. You don't know if she read it. If she did, you don't know how much.

You need more Shark Salt on your popcorn. My first response would have been"Yer maternal unit, which is clearly not human, wears Army boots!"

You are not stupid. You are not slap dash. You worked hard on this novel. It may not be what Agent Shinola thinks she can sell but that's not the same thing as a novel that needs work.

Frankly this kind of criticism shows the agent doesn't know how to talk about writing very well.  If a manuscript needs world building, it's much more helpful to say "I need to smell the horse manure  on the streets in Helena Montana in 1878."  (Say what you will about Helena Montana, back when gunslingers lit agents rode horses to the negotiating table there was a certain olfactory signature to most towns.)

If someone tells you the plot doesn't work, it damn well better be accompanied by an example of a plot hole or two.

If the pacing is off, you say why: nothing is at stake by page 50; or, the ending of this short story happens too quickly.  Absent that kind of concrete suggestion or example, it's just yammer.

In other words, I can't just say "your plot sucketh the big one" without examples, and expect you to take me seriously.

Agent Shinola didn't offer any examples to bolster HER OPINION.  Why would you invest any kind of confidence in what she says?

If an agent can't tell you what's wrong with your novel, I'm hard pressed to think she's going to be able to talk about what's RIGHT with it if she takes it on and goes out on submission. "Read this, it's really good" is not a good pitch most of the time.

Your takeaway here: If I tell you the moon is made of green cheese,  I better serve you up a slice of Neil Armstrong pizza.

Penultimate bottom line: quit making lists of rock star agents; pay attention to critiques with specifics.

Bottom line: you dodged a real bullet here. Think about if Shinola was your agent and you turned in this ms.  If this was the kind of "edit note" you got, you'd be holding up the bar five days a week at the Writers Regrets Saloon and Synopsis Store. Count yourself lucky and get back to querying.


Timothy Lowe said...

What a great answer. I love "olfactory signatures" - sounds like an indie band.

Teflon. Bulletproof material. Asbestos underpants.

A writer's wardrobe.

Brigid said...

That's really helpful. The difference between opinion and criticism is evidence. Seems obvious now that you've said it, but I certainly didn't know how to see it in advance.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"Penultimate," new favorite word. Who comes up with words like this anyway.

Sounds like something consenting adults might've enjoyed in the back seat of a Renault at the local drive in, while pretending to watch Jaws.

Theresa said...

OP, what a frustration. I know we're supposed to shake off rejections and move on, but your hopes were high because this manuscript is done and because it had a good request rate. Unfortunately this agent didn't provide you with any good feedback to make sense of this rejection. And now you have to move on. Janet's advice is stellar.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Oh 2Ns: So early in the morning too!

Opie: I'm glad you sought out QOTKU for answers. What hard work you've done on your story. I hope you celebrated all those milestones along the way somehow, someway. Give yourself time and space when you receive rejections like these. That's great that you have CPs to call on for support too. This story is your baby. Finding a publisher for it is going to be an emotional ride. Are you at work on your second manuscript as you shop this one around? Keep on querying those agents. And perhaps you already have been since you wrote this email/letter. Best of luck. We're rooting for you.

Kitty said...

Totally off topic here, but...
"I need to smell the horse manure on the streets in Helena Montana in 1878."

Every time I see a movie/show or read something about those good ol' days, I think of the women's shirts being dragged through the mud'n'manure streets,
and dragging those shirts through their homes,
and babies crawling on those same floors,
and I wonder, Why didn't they raise the hem an inch or so?

Kitty said...

TYPO ALERT! Shirts should be skirts.

As you were.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Oh Opie, I'm sorry you've had such a disheartening experience.

Not about querying specifically (I'm still querying occasionally but far more invested in short story submissions and writing these werewolf novels that nobody wants), but I try to approach rejections with a judicious balance of "Fuck 'em anyway" and "Maybe next time". I'm not sure how many people that's helpful to, but it's a part of my outlook. Though were I to get communications of that sort from an agent, where I was more hurt and confused and enraged than anything else, I'd likely remove them from my future submission lists.

(and the title thing? that's just weird, though I also haven't yet found a good cover letter way to say "actually I hate this title but people seem to like titles to exist in order to submit)

DLM said...

OP, I want to thank you for this sentence alone: "It feels very much like the book I set out to write."

This is such an affirmation; I feel grateful for you, just reading it. It's something we all STRIVE for.

It's also good writing. You got me - right there. Minimal words, maximal impact.

Brigid - "The difference between opinion and criticism is evidence." Can I steal this?

Jennifer, "a judicious balance of "Fuck 'em anyway" and "Maybe next time"." Hee!

Janet's "certain olfactory signature" ...

... so much glorious writing today!

2Ns, my dog (Penelope, often called Pen) tells me it is canine, and it means she is the living end. :)

Huntress said...

Thank you, my lady Shark.
It's easy to criticize a manuscript or leave a snarky book review. Some people get a mean kind of pleasure from it, in love with their own words. But it can tear the heart out of a writer.
Your post gives us perspective.
Again thank you.

Colin Smith said...

This is really, really hard. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with agents getting interns or assistants to read submissions. Managing current clients has to be the top priority for the agent, so this seems like good time management. But that intern/assistant ought to give valuable feedback, and the agent ought to be training them how to do that--isn't that the point of the internship/assistant-hood?

Opie: Everyone's entitled to an opinion, but not all opinions are of equal value. I have no time for sports, so my opinion of who will win any sporting event is worthless. And even if I was a sports expert, if I simply say "Duke suck," I'm hardly demonstrating my expertise. I'm asserting an opinion that I expect you to take seriously simply because I say I'm an expert. In my book, that immediately devalues my opinion, regardless of my stature within the field. If this agent is worthy of your consideration, s/he needs to do more than tell you your ms "needs work." S/he needs to point out some specific problem areas. Otherwise, s/he's just saying "I didn't like this" and it would have been better to give you a "not for me" rejection. As Janet has said, agents can't simply assert opinions because they're agents. Take the advice given and move on. There are plenty of agents, and hopefully many more will read your ms. and love it. All the best to you! :)

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: The ultima or ultimate is the last thing. The penultimate is the next to last. The propenultimate is the next to next to last. The things you learn studing classical Greek accents... :)

Colin Smith said...

Kitty: I wondered about women's shirts being dragged through manure and their homes. Were these women being careless with their laundry? Or is there something more unsavory going on...? Things to stir the writerly imagination... kind of a shame it was a typo... ;)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and one more thing...

I might be wrong, but when Opie said the agent/assistant "skewered" the book title, I think s/he means they got the title wrong, both in the request and the rejection email. Maybe it's over-analytical, but this kind of repeated mistake in a rejection would make me think the agent either a) doesn't really care, or b) didn't really read it. It certainly undermines the value of the agent's opinion.

Kitty said...

Colin... I can't blame that typo on lack of caffeine (drats)! The image of women dragging their SHIRTS through the muck'n'mire... As you said, Things to stir the writerly imagination. ;~)

Colin Smith said...

Janet: I have to commend you for this post, especially since it's critical of a fellow agent. I know you're not one to avoid calling out your fellow chum-chompers when you think they're not being fair or polite (e.g., NORMANs), but it can't be easy.

Question: Do you train interns/assistants on how to critique submissions? I understand some agents expect interns to submit reports on submissions that evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the work. Is that what you do/New Leaf does?

DLM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

PS: Sorry for the multiple posts. I considered putting all my thoughts in one post, but then it would be a long post. I can't decide which is more daunting, seeing over 50 comments but they're all relatively short, or seeing 20 long comments. I'm hedging toward the former, which is why I've tried to keep each post short and focused. What do you think? Of course, I could have not said anything. Probably should have... :)

DLM said...

Colin makes a STRONG point about the title. At first, I thought the skewering meant the agent was actually making fun of the title (*), but then realized at the second instance they were getting it outright wrong, which ... yeah. Fundamentally diminishes the value of anything they might have to say about the novel itself.

The question of who read and/or failed to read the MS is sort of immaterial, given that TWO PEOPLE together could not so much as get the title correct. One assumes there were only a couple or few words to master there.

(*As to this possibility ... I almost could not read any further than this. The very idea is not merely chilling, it's outrageous.)

Amy Schaefer said...

Oh, Opie. That's the worst. Let me join the chorus telling you that non-specific criticism is worse than useless. It sounds like you have gathered feedback from a wide variety of sources. If this agent is the only one giving you this particular feedback, you can treat it as an outlier in your data. Once several people start saying the same thing, then you need to take it more seriously.

Admission: I initially read the penultimate/backseat/Jaws comment as coming from Colin. I got to the end, retrieved my eyebrows from my hairline and thought, "That doesn't sound like Colin. Is someone drinking special coffee this morning?" So I looked again and saw it was actually 2Ns. I nodded sagely to myself; the world made sense once more. (This should not be taken as criticism of anyone. But it is a small example of how our voices shine through, even in the comments trail.)

Susan said...

OP: As always, the advice given here is spot-on. But I also want to point out that with all the requested changes to your worldbuilding, etc, it sounds like the agent wanted a different book, not your book. That's a problem with their expectations, not with your manuscript itself. The problem with tailoring your work to meet expectations--even if it means working with a rock star agent--is that it makes the story lose some of the magic, all that wonderful color. So take heart. Your book is the book of your heart and it sounds like with good reason. Don't lose hope. You'll find the agent who loves it in all its color, and you'll know then you've found a real champion for your work.

JMacBride said...

OP here. I was incredibly nervous asking this question (so nervous I used a pseudonym) for a variety of reasons. I didn't know if Janet would reply or not, given, as Colin's pointed out, it refers to a fellow agent's response. But my question wasn't asked in the spirit of hoping for an opportunity to whinge... I genuinely wondered if I should dig deep into this, through a developmental edit etc, and pull it apart in case it IS the reason I’ve been blind to all this time as to why I’ve not found an agent.

"If an agent can't tell you what's wrong with your novel, I'm hard pressed to think she's going to be able to talk about what's RIGHT with it if she takes it on and goes out on submission."

What Janet said here, along with Brigid's brilliant, "The difference between opinion and criticism is evidence," gives me motivation to not throw my hands in the air and walk away, but to get back to work and keep going.

I spent most of the day I received this rejection pretty disheartened. Not that I haven't had dozens of full rejections before (of the form and silent variety). This is the 3rd manuscript I've queried. I'm now writing MSs 5 (4 is with CPs). But for a few hours there, I really let this one response get to me. Proof we need other writers as much as we need our own writerly brain to do this: my CPs picked me up, pointed me forward, and reminded me my confidence in my weird little stories isn't dependent on opinions. As much as I'd like to find an agent who *does* have a high opinion of them ;) And as ever, it's so encouraging to know I'm not alone, reading all your thoughts.

I’m going to take this rejection, then, as if it’s a form, since it’s given me the same amount of information to go on as a form. I’m not sure why I couldn’t see this for myself, but I’m grateful to Janet and all of you for making it clear now. Sometimes the immediate emotions block logic!

(PS. Btw, when I said “skewered”, I was trying to find a less intense form of “butchered,” because I can see how the mistake was made…but it’s still blatantly incorrect. ;)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh Colin, of course I knew that... after I looked it up.
Just sounded like a frisky word :)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Opie... Your note made me want to invite you to come sit on our porch overlooking the pastures here at the sanctuary. I would serve you your favorite beverage and some yummy snacks. We would chat and cry and commiserate and laugh.

Then we'd go to the grocery store and search the aisles for Shark Salt.

The input from Janet is, of course, terrific (and hilarious). The kindness and encouragement from others is wonderful. I'll offer a HUG and I certainly wish you the best.

BJ Muntain said...

OP: I've been at this a lot longer than you have - the writing and the querying. A piece of advice:

If anyone - ANYONE - says something about your work you don't agree with, set the advice on the back burner. If others agree with that person, then look at it. If others don't, then ignore it.

A couple years ago, I attended two different writing events (a workshop and a conference). At the first, the workshop leader, a well-published short story writer - wonderful person, I liked her a lot - told me I was starting my novel in the wrong place and to take out a few pages in the beginning. I'd been having problems with my beginning, so I did that. I then showed it at to a small press editor at a blue pencil session at the conference. He told me what my edited beginning was missing - basically, what I'd cut out. I put it back in, made a few changes which I ran past my critique groups, then the next year showed it to a well-known, well-liked author at yet another conference in a blue pencil session. She was positive about it, and thought it started well (gave me a couple tips, and I've incorporated them.)

My point is, not everyone will agree on everything. If more people mention a problem, then that problem needs fixing. If one person mentions a problem but no one else thinks it's a problem, then it's probably only a problem for that person.

And honestly, I think this is exactly the reason many agents give form responses, even to full requests. A) It keeps them from looking like dullards if they give a wrong bit of criticism, and B) it doesn't send the writer into the steaming depths of self-doubt. "Not right for me" or "Didn't quite connect with me" is vague enough - no evidence needed, as it's definitely an opinion - yet impersonal enough the writer would have to be extremely hamster-wheely to take it personally.

Kitty: I caught the typo, but I have to admit the first time I read it, I paused, wondering why women were dragging their shirts through the streets... And you made me laugh with your second comment. Pre-caffeine. Good job!

french sojourn said...

JMacBride: Thanks for sharing your experience, and good luck as you go forward. I can't imagine how gutted you must have felt. Take all the comments above to heart and know we're here for you. If you need any help, just ask.

Good luck, sounds like you have the right attitude to slay this and persevere.


Colin Smith said...

Amy: Are you suggesting I have... a voice? How is that possible? I've been searching for one of those for years! Seriously, if that's what you're saying, then a BIG HUG to you. Made my day. :D

Colin Smith said...

And while I'm handing out the BIG HUGS, here's one for JMacBride. Thanks for the asking the question. Again, I wish you the very best in your continued querying. Trash that "dream agent" list and query widely. Look for that agent that loves your work, offers valuable opinions, and gets the title right. :)

Mister Furkles said...

Gosh, Kitty, there for a moment I had all together new images of the wild west. Actually, I wondered the same thing-about skirts--when reading Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. I mean about dresses that fall below the ankle and the poopful streets of old London.

A crit partner wrote a good YA with paranormal aspects. The most appealing thing was the FPPV voice. One of the agents who requested the full told her to rewrite in third person.

Don’t take any one person’s opinion to heart.

Amy Johnson said...

JMacBride/Opie, Sounds like you have a good idea--deciding to take the response as a form rejection. :)

OT: Y'all were so full of all sorts of wonderfulness here yesterday. I just had to do a little something. So I made fudge! Did you smell it in the air when you got here this morning? Certainly a different kind of olfactory experience than the one Janet was talking about in her post. Virtual fudge for everyone! Enjoy! (Opie, that goes for you too. I know you're heading to Melanie's for snacks on her porch, but save some room for when you come back here afterward for fudge.)

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donnaeve said...

My itty bitty offering to OP - because others have said it already, and said it best.

Subjective. That is all. Carry on. (Literally)

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S.P. Bowers said...

Thank you!

Amy Schaefer said...

Colin, you definitely have a voice. As does Carolynnwith2Ns. Confusing them is pretty tough, even first thing in the morning. :)

Boris Ryan said...

Ah yes, the good ole newest catchall catchphrase, world building.

I've had a full ms request rejected with the famous world building excuse. Crock of doo doo.

OP should have taken the agent's careless use of the title of her ms as a red flag.

It sounds like the agent, or more likely the assistant used a form letter rejection with catchphrases like world building et al. picked out of a hat.

If the ms had that many problems, one wonders why it was a full request in the first place?

Form letter rejections written in a way that is supposed to delude the writer into thinking that the agent has made careful measure of each word of the submission is doing a disservice to writers. Now OP, who has gone above and beyond to make sure his/her ms is viable, has been crushed by a callous rejection from a careless agent. Ridiculous.

OP, keep querying and forget the rejections. Good Luck to you.

Casey Karp said...

J/OPie, thank you for both asking the question and owning up to it here in the comments. It's always nice to put a human face on something that could be anonymous.

The only thing I can add to the Sharkstress' answer and everyone else's comments is that this really is a specific case of a general rule: your book is your book.

Only you get to decide which feedback is worthwhile and which lines those Montanan streets. Even if you get specific, actionable criticism, if you feel that acting on it would make the book less the one you wanted to write, put it aside.

Your audience is out there somewhere. Keep telling your stories and you'll find them. Why would you want to tell someone else's stories to someone else's audience?

Julie Weathers said...

I could have sworn I wrote this to Janet in my sleep. Far Rider was ten years in the making. It's been through countless revisions. I've got some very good crit partners. We've batted the thing back and forth on Books and Writers.

I thought it had been polished to a fare-thee-well. It got umpteen requests and full requests and lots of almosts. Lots of remember me with your next book, I love your writing.

Where I veered off from the OP was my top agent gave me some pretty specific details about what was wrong.

When I got to the last agent, who is a very good agent. He was top of the line. He wanted more world building. He wanted me to spend more time developing my characters. He feels it's probably a YA and I had it adult high fantasy. He wanted to know more about the magic system. I knew this might be a problem because I drop some tantalizing glimpses into the magic academy, but I never open the door.

I decided to contact him back recently to see if he might expound about which characters he'd like to see developed more and give me a bit more of an idea of how to change it on re-write. Since it had been over a year, I didn't think he'd really remember, but he remembered how the MC met the pirate and how they parted as well as several other details, so I know he not only read it, but the story stayed with him.

If I re-write it, he'll look at it again.

And that's the difference. You need to know when someone has indeed invested the time and interest in your story.

I had some rejections similar to the OP where I could tell they hadn't read it because if they had they would know, that's not what happens.

I'll take the last agent's words to heart. He told me what I nailed as what I need to work on. The rest, not so much. So must you.

Good luck. Don't give up. The difference between an amateur and a professional is the professional didn't give up.

Anonymous said...

Brigid said, "The difference between opinion and criticism is evidence."

I want to make a cross stitched picture of this quote and frame it.

Karen McCoy said...

2Ns: I first learned penultimate from the venerable Lemony Snicket.

This post is such a relief because this is exactly where I'm at with my current MS. I recently heard Victoria Schwab speak at an event, and she said a very wise thing--to always go with people who get you, and get your story.

Keep going, Opie. You are very close!

Stacy said...

Now I want to write a story titled "Shark Salt and Agent Shinola."

RosannaM said...

My heart goes out to OP. This most unhelpful rejection had to be the worst kind ever. I agree that he/she dodged a bullet.

Although I kind of want to hang out at the Writers Regret Saloon and have a drink with some of you guys here. Wouldn't that be fun? Not five days a week of course. That would be excessive. But three? Yeah, three would be good. And we could share a pizza, Neil Armstrong or pepperoni, whatever the group wants.

Stacy said...

It sounds like you have a good book, OP. This agent doesn't sound like the right person for you, though. It's amazing how much this finding an agent business is like dating--so much of it comes down to whether your personalities gel well together.

Julie Weathers said...


Meh, I'll have to leave that to someone else. Methinks Colin will be along shortly. Though I have to admit reading What the Slaves Ate had an interesting section on people tearing up wood floors from old smoke houses to leech the salt. They'd just toss a chunk of wood in the pot with the food.

Anyway, it's not shark salt, but it was salt.

Here's your writer quote for the day:

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.--Winston Churchill

You're never done 'til you're done, and only you decide when you're done.

Even Anna Pavlova called for her swan costume on her death bed.

JMacBride said...

These comments are -- as always -- hilarious, uplifting, and on point. When are we hitting the Saloon? I've got a serious hankering for the Neil Armstrong with bell peppers and extra Shark Salt.

Julie, that's fantastic the agent remembered that level of detail and shared *constructive* criticism. And that the story stayed with him. That seems to me the highest form of compliment. If you do rewrite, best of luck to you!

I'd love to say I've had any constructive feedback on full requests, but honestly, over the 5 years since I received my first one, any that weren't form responses included phrases like, "Your writing is beautiful, but this isn't for me." Still might have been forms, but the point is, the only constructive feedback I've received from agents has been from paid critiques, whether online or in person.

So... Saloon? Or this fabulous-sounding porch of which Melanie speaks? :D

Thank you all for every last wonderful comment.

Colin Smith said...

JMacBride: Call me a needy writer (is that a redundancy?) but I treasure any compliments I get in rejections, whether short story or query. A couple of agents have told me they liked my writing, which made the "BUT" seem a lot less adversative. Indeed, compliments like that soften buts like eating chocolate pastries for a month. ;)

JMacBride said...

Colin, I'm right there with you! Every encouraging word I've ever received since I began this journey has been printed and saved in an envelope labeled, "For when I'm feeling down." :) Yes, they are such beautiful fuel! And gratefully received!

Stacy said...


Ahhh, somehow I missed that last comment that you were the OP and he offered another look. Scratch that last comment from me, there.

Stacy said...

BTW, I would never encourage anyone to give up, so I hope you didn't get that from my comment.

And now, for the first time, I think I've hit the commenting limit.

Jo Conn said...

Note to agent/agent's assistant: Support and give examples or keep the pie hole shut. ;)

Joseph S. said...

Well-written opening question AND reply AND comments today.

My reaction when I read JMacBride received “10 full requests and many partials” was she is in good shape. For one thing, there’s a good chance at least one agent will want the book. If not, she’ll have more insight into what’s still missing.

My second reaction was mentally to guess the dynamics between the agent and her assistant, and how long they’ve worked together. That didn’t get me very far but I’m still curious about it.

Lennon Faris said...

I would RUN from this agent!

And not bc they're telling you something critical. Everything says they didn't put much effort into their critique (including caring about encouragement).

Wish I could hang out here longer today.

Julie Weathers said...

God, it's sad when you call your banker just to hear a friendly southern voice.

Barbara Etlin said...

OP, as distressing as it was to receive this kind of rejection, you are so lucky not to have ended up with this agent. Yup, "dodged a bullet" is the perfect description.

I received a decline like this once, and although it stung, it gave me good information about the agent--RUN AWAY!

Query on. There's more than one shark in that big ocean.

Colin Smith said...

I really hope a lot of agents and interns read this blog, and perhaps even the comments (*waves*). There's so much here that not only helps writers be better writers, but it also helps agents understand and connect better with future clients.

S.D.King said...

Lisa Bodenheim, I think the exact same thing about those skirts! And the same director has the mountain man coming in from a blinding snowstorm without shutting the door behind him.

DLM said...

With you, Colin. In fact, in the spirit of that, here would be my comment to any such readers:

Inasmuch as it is expected of authors to follow submission guidelines and deport ourselves professionally, likewise I expect of agents that they should be constructive if they decide to draw outside the lines of form communications. And GET THE TITLES CORRECT. If I queried Mizz Janis Ried, quite reasonably, she'd look askance at my approach. If I did it twice, I imagine, again reasonably, that would earn a form rejection.

Any agent and intern team who cannot get my title correct through two iterations of using it is a form reject for me, sorry. I don't care how much of a rockstar they are supposed to be. If I see administrative skills that poor in someone whose job it is to manage my potential authorial career: I run.

I always looked at querying as first MY slushpile, then my contribution toward others' slushpiles. I eliminated agents through my own process, just as much as they eliminated me.

There are times, discussing all this, I really wish I could get back to it. Ohh, if only the WIP could be done in mere moments.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through this moment of doubt, JMacBride. I've been there too many times. And Janet what a great answer!

I'm thinking I'm like everyone else here in my reaction to JMacBride's story, which is if some (non)response from an agent doesn't resonate, there's a good reason: it's not applicable. That doesn't mean it doesn't sting. They all do. But for me, the litmus test for helpful is if the very specific reason given for the rejection sticks in my craw -- just nags at me and won't go away. If I can't stop thinking about what an agent said (again, very specifically), there's a good chance it'll be very helpful feedback after I'm done licking my wounds.

I hope that all those fulls out there lead you to at least one offer, JMacBride! You sound tantalizingly close!! Best of luck!

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I had someone, a pretty well-known writer, give an unsolicited critique on a snippet I posted on a writing board. I wasn't asking for critiques. I posted it to someone who was asking something about structuring dialogue or some such. I was explaining the technique to her and grabbed a paragraph out of a WIP to illustrate my point.

Then that PM landed in my inbox with the force of an F5 tornado. I was devastated.

To the point that I barely wrote for a year. Every time I applied fingers to keyboard, I heard that shrill screed inside my head.

Until one day I said, "fuck that noise" and started writing again.

What you found was not a fount of wisdom about how your writing sucks swamp water, what you found is someone who didn't like your book. And with that, you found someone you don't want to work with.

That's it. Fuck that noise.

I had an agent, who in her rejection, say something about my "sassy" heroine.

My heroine is many things. "Sassy" is not one of them.

I didn't write a bad heroine. I wrote a heroine that this one agent didn't resonate with.

That's it.

But we have a tendency to only hear the bad. Here were other rejections I got:

"I love this, but it veers too far into romantic suspense and that's just not my thing."

"You are very talented but it doesn't feel break out enough for me to take on as a debut author." (This one came from the lead agent, the guy with his name on the door, the one who handles the literary estates, that I accidentally queried instead of one of the associates. We ended up having a very pleasant back and forth where he apologized to me for taking so long to respond.)

"This is good, but I'm concentrating on YA right now. I'm serious, email me when this is published and definitely query me with your next book."

I venture to guess that mixed in with Agent Shinola's screed are comments like these. Listen to those. Now get back out there.


Janet Reid said...

I've gotten everything wrong in emails to authors: the title, the categorry, their name (yup, Felix is not Phillip no matter what.)

I'm mortified when I find out but I'm not copyediting those emails, I'm trying to be clear and cogent about content.

yes it's annoying to be called Phillip when your name is Felix, but hearing why your novel isn't quite for me, but the next one I hope will be is what you want to focus on.

Steve Stubbs said...

OP: your post is loaded with clues to why you might not be getting the results you want. If you want to discuss it, email me at:

stevestubbs1 AT

Do NOT waste money on a "developmental editor."

Julie Weathers: You have a sentence structure problem. If you want to discuss it, use the same email.

My highly inflammatory opinions are offered gratis.

Ardenwolfe said...

Completely agree with Janet here.

Colin Smith said...

Steve: If your last post was not serious, please ignore what follows. The directions for commenting includes this:

Civility is enforced. Spelling/grammar mistakes may be pointed out ONLY in the blog post itself, not in any of the ensuing commenter's contributions.

We may, by QOTKU's grace, be permitted to fudge the other rules, but I think Janet's pretty hard on this one. :)

Julie Weathers said...


I probably have more than a sentence structure problem here. Colin and others are very careful about the way they appear in public. I, on the other hand, sit on the porch in my bloomers and flowered hat and sip sweet tea when the mood strikes me. I vomit words here as I fly by and only bother to correct the most egregious mistakes.

That being said, I'm always happy for help with my craft.

For now, though, I'm on my way to the son's to make biscuits.


Donnaeve said...

Gee whiz, Julie - you had an example of "world building" in Far Rider and you were giving us a rather super view of Helena, IMO. I would have said that was dripping with voice.

But what do I know.

Donnaeve said...

Ha, that's In My Opinion, not In Montana. :)

Julie Weathers said...


Ha, I took your meaning. Thank you. For good or ill, I usually don't have much trouble with voice. Right now I am in a discussion with someone about why dialogue and writing style will differ in Rain Crow than something more modern might be. It's entirely possible I have fallen through the looking glass, also. I may be the one suffering from mercury poisoning. Who knows?

John Davis Frain said...

Julie, I have one request. If you go out on that porch in your bloomers and flowered hat -- or anything else, for that matter -- I will fetch your sweet tea just to hang out and listen to you chat it up with your two cohorts. SO CALL ME FIRST.

I think I'd trade an hour on that front porch in exchange for any session at a writer's conference. Sometimes, no kidding here, I see that front porch like I'd been there in my youth and I'm coming back thirty years later. Makes me realize how some folks can start lying about something and pretty soon convince themselves it's true.

You need a refill, Miss Julie, you just lemme know. I'll be over here leaning 'gainst the rail.

Julie Weathers said...


I've been eeling that imp through the window all day. Durn him anyway. It would have been much easier if he'd stayed where he was, but I needed spies shifted and messages delivered. Just when you think you have all the dots connected, you look up and realize . . . there may be a problem.

Yes, you know you would always be welcome on my porch. There are always extra rocking chairs and plenty of sweet tea.

John Davis Frain said...

I will announce my visit before arriving. I've heard rumors about what you do to strange men eeling through your window. And I've been known for both accounts: strangeness and eeling through windows.

So to preserve my health, you'll know it's me before I offer any tea.

P.S. It always brings a smile when I catch my clock at 12:34, and there you've delivered a message right on the minute. Nice.

Donnaeve said...


Let me share something with you about differing styles. This came from my agent.

He said there are successful writers who have one way of writing, and all of their books are written the same way, and it serves them well. Then there are successful writers who decide to try something different, and it doesn't work, for whatever reason. Last are the authors who write various projects differently and no matter what they churn out, it works.

I'm thinking you're in the latter camp. I don't know exactly what you mean about writing style and dialogue will be different between FR and RC, but if you have voice you've already won a good chunk of the battle.

Julie Weathers said...


"I don't know exactly what you mean about writing style and dialogue will be different between FR and RC, but if you have voice you've already won a good chunk of the battle."

I have had, for a long time, people say there is something about the voice of Far Rider that lends itself easily to YA beyond the fact that the MC is sixteen. It's high fantasy, so it's not modern phrasing.

In RC, the phrasing and sentence structure changes, as does the vocabulary. It's a subtle switch that sweeps people back to a different era. Her fiance's letters might be Sullivan Ballou-sentimental at times, or funny as they relate some near disaster with Jeb Stuart, and there were many, but they all feel like they came straight from 1861. I didn't set out to do this, but I think I read so many letters, memoirs, war dispatches, diaries, etc., that I channel this when I write.

One of my writing partners says I'm a writing chameleon. Maybe I am. I'm not sure that's a good thing, but it seems to be me.

JMacBride said...

Steve S.,

While grateful for the offered assistance, I should like to point out my emotion-fuelled email to Ms. Reid was not included in the manuscript submitted to agents. ;)


Delaney said...

My first rejection that contained real, useful criticism was a lit lamp on a dark street. Agent Chicklet may be busy. She may be lazy. She may be a power-tripper. If Agent Chicklet doesn't have the decency to throw you a bone, you dodged a, yeah. If you believe in your book, an agent is not your only choice, either. Check out CreateSpace. It won't hurt you to just look. Just looook....