My least favorite part of being a literary agent is saying no. Unfortunately, like my colleagues, I do it a lot. I review and, alas, reject dozens of submissions every month. (I prefer the word “decline,” but as a writer myself I know “rejection” feels more accurate to the recipient.) Rejection is hard. For writers. For agents. For editors.
Most of the time, when I or my assistant say, “no thank you,” we hear nothing further from the writer—until, perhaps, his or her next submission—which is absolutely fine. Sometimes we receive a short “thank you for your consideration” email in response, which is okay too (though not necessary, in my case, as I prefer fewer emails over more). But every once in a while, a writer will make a huge mistake in replying to a rejection, a mistake that all of us should avoid at all costs.
Here are three of the biggest mistakes you can make in response to a rejection, whether it came from an agent or an editor:
- Suggest (or say) that the agent/editor didn’t read your submission.
It always surprises me when someone says, like a would-be novelist a few weeks ago, “I’m sure you didn’t even read my submission.” Really? Why would an agent or editor, whose future prospects rely heavily on finding new talent, not open and read each new submission, expecting and hoping for gold? None of us is going to turn down something that is likely to make money.
To be fair, sometimes our review is like the cocky cowboy who, after the blacksmith warned him not to touch the horseshoe that had just come out of the fire, picked it up anyway and immediately dropped it. When the blacksmith said, “I told you it was hot,” the cowboy answered, “Naw, it just don’t take me long to look at a horseshoe.” Sometimes it doesn’t take us long to look at a submission before making a decision. But we look at them all.
- Call into question the agent/editor’s judgment.
One writer a few months ago responded to a rejection, “I’m not at all surprised, though I was hoping my work would broaden your scope of Christianity.”
Of course, we work in a highly subjective business; and what resonates with one agent (or editor) may not seem as promising to another. And believe me, you want an agent (or editor) who “gets you” and your work and sees the value of it. A rejection doesn’t mean you stink or your work stinks or the agent or editor stinks. Those possibilities are not all mutually exclusive, of course; but it’s never a good idea to tell an agent (or editor) that he or she is stupid, small-minded, or stinky.
- Get snarky.
Not long ago, I declined the opportunity to represent a writer whose proposal indicated virtually no platform, no reach or influence among the book-buying public. He responded by saying, “It’s okay. I’ve self-published three books that have each earned $300,000.” I inferred that he wanted me to regret my decision. I could be wrong. And his numbers could be accurate. But I’m skeptical on both points (especially since there was no mention of such success in his submission). I can only wish he had appended the rejoinder “your an idiot” to his email. That’s always fun.