Posts tagged agents
I received another rejection letter today. But this one was different. It actually contained feedback!
It’s true. And I was stunned… pleasantly surprised, but stunned.
In my recent daily posts, I’ve been complaining about not receiving feedback in rejections, which is no fault of the agents, it’s just a result of reality. So when I received the rejection today, I was thrilled; not about the rejection, but there were two entire sentences of feedback. And it was constructive feedback. The comment from the agent was directed at a weakness in the query letter and suggested a way to strengthen the pitch. I was able to take the feedback and adjust my query letter accordingly. I think the pitch is now better and hopefully it will actually hook an agent.
I want to thank Talcott Notch Literary Services. I’m sorry they passed on my manuscript, but those two sentences are extremely valuable to me, as a debut author trying to find representation. My story won’t change because of the feedback, but if I can tweak my query letter based on the suggestions of a literary agent, I will, hopefully, be better describing my project to other agents, making it more appealing.
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.
I think I have a higher probability of winning money in Las Vegas.
So far I have a 0% success rate (0 out of 19) for my agent queries. I know that the odds in Vegas aren’t very high, but they have to higher than 0%. And yes, all it takes is one successful agent query, but it gets very frustrating. Gamblers would stop gambling of they won less than 5% of the time.
Why am I so unsuccessful?
Is it my writing? I don’t think so. My novel is first-person narrated in a voice that is authentic. My story is semi-autobiographical, so I’m speaking from my own experiences. And I was a teen once, and I have a teen now. I know how I spoke and reacted, and things aren’t much different today, so I got the dialogue down. I’d like to think I grasp the concept of the comma and semi-colon, so I don’t think I’m writing gibberish.
Is it the story? No. I’ll admit, my story is a little complex–not simply a boy-meets-girl, or teen goes over the deep end and does something crazy that freaks out her friends–but it falls together and seamlessly flows from conflict to resolution. It’s factual, contemporary, and believable. It’s been critique-reviewed twice and edited based on these reviews. It was once 500 pages, but has been trimmed down to something like 360, so I’ve slashed and burned and edited and tightened.
Is it my query letter? This is where I get most frustrated. Why? Because there is so much subjectivity in the querying process and so little feedback that it’s hard to tell if a pitch letter is ideal for the target agent. The same letter may pique one agent’s interest while turning another off. Or it could not be right for either. I only have a handful of queries out at a time. When I send another (after a rejection or two), I usually tweak the letter and the synopsis, hoping the small change will be the few words that the agent wants to read. But since there is NO constructive feedback in a rejection, the author has no idea why the agent passed. Yes, I can pay to have my query letters critiqued, and I have–so I know it’s pretty good, but every agent is different. There is no one single query that will hook every agent.
So that leaves the cumulative pitch: the writing, the story, and the query. There are at least three variables that have to spark interest for an agent within the few minutes they sit down and read the query, synopsis and sample pages. And every agent is different. Not every agent is going to be inspired by a pitch, even if there are no typos, the synopsis is succinct, and the writing is tight. The concept just may not be right for most agents.
I have control over the variables that go into a query and can understand why there’s a query success rate of less than 5%–which is probably high even for accepted authors/novels–but the lack of feedback from agents doesn’t help me know which of the variables to adjust after each rejection. That is what is most frustrating.
Oh well, I’ll keep querying until either (a) I get so fed up that I lose interest or (b) I run out of agents to query.