A literary agent just made a good point.


Kristen Nelson, an agent who, coincidentally, rejected my project, wrote a post on her agency website in which she describes her feelings when she sends rejection letters.  I found it to be enlightening and I’m glad she posted that article for authors to read.

I have the impression that, like me, most authors are frustrated with the number of rejections received when trying to find representation and believe that agents are cold and heartless, “chuckling maniacally with glee at every rejection [they] send.”  But as Ms. Nelson writes, most agents hate to send rejection letters.  They actually want to find new projects and want to see authors, whether established or debut, succeed.  She makes several good points in her article which remind me that agents have authors’ interests in mind.  They are not cold and heartless.

However, there is an element of reality that cannot ease the frustration of authors.  If an agent completely had authors’ best interests in mind, they would read each manuscript in full, to find the potential in every novel.  The agents would seek out the golden nuggets and assist the author to refine and grow those into a sell-able manuscript.  But because agents receive hundreds of queries each month (or each week, or maybe even each day), there just isn’t enough time to devote to every prospective project.  The agent is forced to quickly screen queries.  And only if something catches the agent’s attention will that agent move past the letter or first ten pages to ask for a partial or full manuscript.  That is the reality.  The frustration comes into play because the author doesn’t know why he/she was rejected.  Was it the query letter?  Synopsis?  Manuscript?  Concept?  Why?  How can I fix it?

Authors think their manuscript is awesome, a best-seller.  Agents want authors to succeed.  But the bottom line is this: Most manuscripts (or the associated pitches) aren’t perfect and no agent can devote the time to fully read the manuscript or pitch and respond with constructive feedback in a rejection letter.

So, how can this conundrum be fixed?  We can have fewer authors.  That would mean less queries received, allowing more time to review and provide feedback.  So, all you authors out there need to stop writing.  Publishers only need a few ideas for novels.  Publishers don’t need a zillion concepts to choose from, right?  Wrong.  Okay, so we need more agents then, right?  Let’s double, triple, quadruple the number of agents.  Finding that many qualified agents is easy.  And there are so many books traditionally published that there’s plenty of work for a lot more agents, right?  Again, wrong.

As much as everyone would like everyone to succeed, it’s not possible.  Only a handful of novels, relative to the number of pitched projects, ever get published.  It’s a cutthroat business.  Agents have to write rejections and authors have to accept them.  But neither have to be happy about it.