Five Myths About an Agent’s Rejection

Application Rejected

1.) The agent hates me. Unless you approached her and said something along the lines of, “You and your kids are ugly and you have lousy taste in manuscripts,” a rejection shouldn’t be personal.

But if you are worried that you unintentionally offended an agent or other publishing professional, take action. Email to let him know you have been worried about why you may have been the cause of offense, followed by an apology. Chances are good the other person had no idea he should have been offended, and has been enjoying the beach, not thinking a thing about the “incident” that has you worried. Or, if he really was offended, he should accept your apology. Then you can make a fresh start.

2.) The agent was making up an excuse to reject me.  Except when writing blog posts, we don’t have time to wax long and poetic. But if an agent says anything beyond a catchphrase such as, “This work is not a good fit for me,” then I would consider the advice. Those phrases might include allusions to the quality of writing, slim market for your type of work, or other hints as to why your work was rejected. This hint could help you learn what might work better for you in the future.

3.) The agent should give me an evaluation, even on a rejected proposal.This is a waste of everyone’s time, even the writer’s. Why? Because another agent may be in complete disagreement with the first one, and may be eager to represent your work.

This idea also suggests that there is some implicit right for  authors to receive free reviews of their work.  While we may have a heart to teach and to nurture authors, we don’t have the time or resources to offer this level of support to authors we don’t represent. This is one of the advantages of a writers conference or a contest where the organizers have made clear that part of that experience is getting feedback on your project.

4.)  The agent was just trying to be nice when she said that even though this project wasn’t right for her, she would look at future submissions from me. Yes, we all try to be nice in our rejections, but I can tell you for certain that I don’t make the offer to look at future submissions unless I really want to hear from the author in the future. Granted, the author might find another agent with her current project, and if so, great! I don’t ask for submissions I don’t plan to review.

5.) I promised the agent I would have the manuscript to her by June 1, but I can’t, and now she’s going to be mad and will send me a rejection. I can’t recall ever being upset with any writer missing a self-imposed deadline for me to consider offering representation. The time to be concerned about deadlines is when an author is under contract with a publisher.

Your turn:

What did you learn from your last rejection letter?

What could agents do better when sending rejection letters?

When you receive a rejection letter quickly, do you think the agent didn’t take your work seriously? How soon is too soon to receive a rejection letter?

26 Responses to Five Myths About an Agent’s Rejection

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton October 31, 2013 at 3:56 am #

    I’d rather receive a rejection letter than not hear anything at all. It gives me the freedom to move forward instead of clinging to hope.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Avatar
    Terri Main October 31, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    I’m only going to address the question of time. Seriously, I believe in an editor/publisher/agent giving a fast response, if possible. I haven’t approached agents yet, because I am still building up a significant platform so they can approach a significant publisher. No need wasting their time and mine. However, I have dealt with magazine editors and small publishers for more than 30 years. I’ve never been unhappy with a fast response, even if it is a rejection slip. I don’t think that the editor didn’t take time to consider it. If you are a professional and you know your publication, readership, market, etc., you don’t need hours to ponder something. I’m under no illusion that an editor is sitting there mulling over my wonderful proposal. If I could get a 24 hour turnaround, I’d be ecstatic. Of course, that is not possible, but for me, the faster the better.

    Detailed comments are nice, but anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows most of you guys are busy and can’t take that type of time.

    Just my two-cents from the front lines. Now, I’ve got to get back to my word processor and do some writing.

  3. Avatar
    Jennifer Dyer October 31, 2013 at 5:33 am #

    I appreciate the info. I did get a rejection letter from an agent who kindly told me my project was overwritten. I know that took extra time from him. I appreciated it and went to work with a writing coach after that. The fact that he was nice in the delivery meant even more. So, the occasional nugget of wisdom is great, but any news, including rejections, is better than no news at all.

  4. Avatar
    Jennifer Zarifeh Major October 31, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    Rejections are HARD.
    But, I said to an agent once, I knew she wasn’t rejecting >ME< she was rejecting my work, which was not ready. Noooooo. NOT ready.

    In 2013, I had 3 rejections in 8 months, twice from the same agent. And her second rejection came 10 days before ACFW, where I knew I'd run into her. (Slaps forehead.)
    After the Sept 3rd rejection, she asked to meet at ACFW to have coffee and talk about my MS. THAT became a case of #4, and my crit peeps and writer friends ALL said "She is NOT just being polite, this is an offer to discuss your work, take her up on her offer of giving you some of her limited and precious conference time!"

    I also asked that specific agent what I could do to improve my work. Always be open to advice, whether you like it or not. Be present in the online writing community, be engaged in industry blogs. Be polite, be yourself, and whether or not the blogs you comment on are the blogs of agencies to which you'd like to be affiliated professionally, get to know people in the CBA or the ABA, and get your name and presence established. Be ready to learn from all kinds of people.
    Rejection is not a life sentence, it's just a 'no'.

    A writer friend, a pubbed author, agreed that I should re-write my sample chapters that I'd be taking to ACFW. So I did. A week before I left for the conference. Stressed? HAHAHAHA! YES!
    So, in one week, I did a re-write, prepped for agent and editor pitches, nailed an nice one-sheet, printed up business cards AND figured out the bling for the gala dinner.

    And I PRAYED, then left town ready to see what God sent my way. I committed it ALL to the Lord. From my attitude, that I'd be teachable and humble, to my work, that I'd done everything I could and worked my butt off to present it.

    On Sept 15th, over a cup of Earl Grey from Starbucks, on the 3rd floor mezzanine of the Hyatt…that same agent who rejected me twice?

    Offered representation.

    • Avatar
      Johnnie Alexander Donley October 31, 2013 at 7:17 am #

      Congratulations, Jennifer! Even without reading your story, I’m not surprised. I love reading the comments you leave on various blog posts. You have a unique style and voice. I hope we run into each other in person someday. Congrats, again!

    • Avatar
      Cristine Eastin October 31, 2013 at 8:58 am #

      Wow! I’m happy for you, Jennifer!!

    • Avatar
      Deb Kastner October 31, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      Yay, Jennifer! What an encouraging story.

    • Avatar
      Jackie Layton October 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

      Congratulations Jennifer. How exciting!

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Zarifeh Majorj October 31, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      Thank you all very much!

  5. Avatar
    Rachel Muller October 31, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Congrats, Jennifer! What a wonderful and encouraging story! So happy for you! 😀

    I agree with Jackie, I’d rather hear a rejection (although hard to swallow) than not hear anything at all.

    My first rejection letter came a year and a half ago. It was simple and to the point: “Thank you for your interest in our agency however, your submission is not what we’re looking for at this time.” My second rejection read: “Thank you for your submission, however I failed to relate with your characters and the story moved too slowly…”

    Those were hard words to hear, but ultimately I knew God would not let me proceed until I was rock solid ready…and at that time I was not! Looking back on those first drafts I shake my head in shame, but am thankful that I was able to learn from what was holding me back. So I found new determination and re-wrote my ms a third time. The next rejection was much more informative–it wasn’t so much my writing as it was the guidelines for this particular publisher. So I re-wrote for a 4th time and had my sample chapter critiqued by two authors and entered ACFW’s First Impressions contest where the finished product had come beautifully together! For my next proposal I researched, researched, researched, and took two months to get it just right-next thing I know, the full ms was requested!

    So, for me, I take the rejections as a challenge to better my work and learn more about the art of writing–how to make it more effective and moving, and tie all loose ends together.

    Thanks for sharing this article with us, Tamela! This is a toughie for all of us and I’m so thankful that you are candid with your readers and take the time to explain the little things to us! God Bless!

  6. Avatar
    Cristine Eastin October 31, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Yes, rejection is hard! I hate it worse than grocery shopping. Agents could improve their rejection letters by—sending one. Rational or not, it feels disrespectful when my query disappears into a void. I know agents are busy, but I’m guessing most could afford the time for an assistant to send a form letter. Better than nothing. The “if you don’t get a response by eight weeks, you may assume we’re not interested in your work” I understand, but don’t like. It’s the personal, even if brief, rejections that I’ve appreciated. Even a tiny nugget of encouragement and a but… keeps me going. If an agent sends a rejection letter quickly—I move on. I figure they’re expert at gauging writing, and even in one sentence they could tell we weren’t a fit. But at least they sent the rejection letter. The key for me: any personal crumb, whether critique or otherwise, feels like a pat on the head. I can’t imagine how busy an agent’s life is, but when I query an agent I’ve done my homework and have picked them carefully. Some agents say they don’t owe queriers anything. True. But we do all owe each other respect. I’ve been stunned really at how respectful the agents I’ve queried have been in their rejections. My dog likes pats and so do I. I keep coming back for more!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 31, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

      Christine, in this age of emails, I have no objection to an author following up with me if there’s no word. Sometimes cyberspace plays tricks with mail!

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray October 31, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

        Cristine, I apologize for adding an “h” to your name by mistake.

      • Avatar
        Cristine Eastin October 31, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

        Now THAT’s personal! I’m chuckling that you caught the misspelling of my name—and corrected it. Thanks!

      • Avatar
        Terika Farmer January 14, 2014 at 11:30 am #

        Good afternoon Tamela:
        I’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I just wanted to ask a quick question in regards to your comment about following up. You stated above “I have no objection to an author following up with me if there’s no word. Sometimes cyberspace plays tricks with mail!” Would the follow-up typically happen after about 8 weeks or so has passed. Again, I have enjoyed reading the blogs and I am encouraged to keep writing, in hopes of getting published one day. Terika Farmer

  7. Avatar
    Jenni Brummett October 31, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    The rejection I received from an agent recently gave some great suggestions for improvement. It also helped me realize that I need to better define the niche I write in, and continue to read books in that genre so my own writing improves.

  8. Avatar
    Megan Besing October 31, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    I found this very useful. Thanks!

  9. Avatar
    Jennifer Lynn Alvarez October 31, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    I submitted to an agent and she passed on my work with a personal note that the story lacked tension to carry a reader through to the end.

    I sent her a brief thank you for her time.

    Months later she was at the top of my list to query with a new project–why? Because she took the time to give me a personal response, and I know how rare that is. I mentioned in my new query that she’d passed on my previous project, but I believed the new one did not lack the tension of the first.

    She agreed and went on to sell the book in a four-book pre-empt to a big 5. We both benefitted from the advice of her first rejection and went on to find success.

    So I agree, listen to the agents who respond, and try them again with either a new project or a significantly revised rejected project. I think they deserve to enjoy the fruits of their advice!

    And keep writing while you’re waiting! The novel I finally sold was my fifth.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 31, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      Jennifer Lynn, that is excellent advice for both the author and the agent. I have a few old novels sitting in my files that never the light of publication day in their present form, if ever!

      One thing to note is that your agent saw your potential, hence the time she spent with that first letter. Congratulations to both of you!

    • Avatar
      Jennifer Zarifeh Major October 31, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      Congratulations, Jennifer Lynn!

      My middle name is Lynn.

      Jennifer Lynns rock. 😉

    • Avatar
      Cristine Eastin October 31, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

      I don’t mean to be the Constant Commenter here, but this stuff is exciting! This is how it should work. Congratulations to you and your agent.

  10. Avatar
    Jennifer Lynn Alvarez November 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Thank you everyone for the well wishes!! Yes, my agent and I are thrilled and can’t wait for the first book to come out next year.

  11. Avatar
    Terika Farmer January 14, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    Good afternoon Tamela:
    I’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I just wanted to ask a quick question in regards to your comment about following up. You stated above “I have no objection to an author following up with me if there’s no word. Sometimes cyberspace plays tricks with mail!” Would the follow-up typically happen after about 8 weeks or so has passed? Again, I have enjoyed reading the blogs and I am encouraged to keep writing, in hopes of getting published one day. Terika Farmer

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray January 15, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Terika, yes, that sounds more than reasonable. A month or six weeks would also be reasonable.

      • Avatar
        Terika Farmer January 15, 2014 at 9:25 am #

        Thank you so much for your response.


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