Why Don’t Agents/Editors Give You More Guidance?

Proposals are hard work. C’mon, be honest. All the research and writing and preparation that goes into them? Admit it, that sometimes feels like you’re being punished for wanting to write a book. And then, when you’ve poured your heart and time and effort into making that dreaded proposal as perfect as you can, what happens? You send it to the agent or editor, and wait.

And wait. And wait. And wait.

And…well, you get the idea.

Then, FINALLY, a reply wings its way to you:

“Thank you for your submission, but it’s been determined your project, Field Dressing a Beaver in 30 Seconds, doesn’t meet our needs. Best wishes as you seek to serve God in your writing.”

What? That’s it? That’s all you get? No, “here’s why it doesn’t meet our needs,” or “this is what you need to fix to make this proposal stronger”? C’mon! Why can’t these people just give writers a little help?

Fair question. And I’m going to spend the next few blogs giving you some fair answers. Not excuses, friends. Answers. Because there are very good reasons editors and agents don’t send more than form rejections for proposals.

First, let’s talk about some misconceptions (every single one of which have been expressed to me, about me and others, over the years):

Agents & Editors don’t give writers more direction on proposals because:

1.      They don’t want to help writers.

Um…wrong. That’s exactly what they do want to do. Which is why you can meet so many of them face-to-face at writers’ conferences. When agents/editors/published writers take time away from packed schedules to teach at conferences and meet with conferees, it’s exactly because they care about writers and helping them do what they do better. Doing so always costs them, big time. Because the work, including proposals, continues to pile up when they’re out of the office. But they do it. Because they care.

2.      They’re too lazy to do more.

Uh huh. Those people who spend hours upon hours working to serve their clients and writers are lazy. Those folks who take work home, spend weekends at the office, work on the plane when traveling, burn the midnight oil more times than they can count…those lazy people?

Yeah. Nuff said.

3.      All they care about is making money, and if they can’t make money off of you, you’re not worth their time.

Okay, let me just say this: We care about a lot more than making money. Otherwise, we’d be doing something else. I mean, seriously. You know how hard it is to make money in publishing!

But there’s something we all need to keep in mind: this is a business, folks. Those making a living at the work of publishing have to put the preponderance of our time and energy into those projects and writers that will help our businesses survive. And grow. It’s called being fiscally responsible. And you know what? That’s biblical.

And let’s be honest. How would you feel if your agent didn’t have time to work on your project because he’s using his time and energy critiquing proposals from people who aren’t clients? And not just that, but people who aren’t even close to being ready to be clients? It’s not a case of some being worth our time. It’s a case of us being wise and responsible professionals.

4.      They’re sitting there doling out contracts to friends and best-sellers, and I just don’t happen to hold the golden ticket or know the right names to drop.

Yeah…no. Reality check: I did editorial acquisitions for four publishers over the course of 30+ years. I’m still doing acquisitions as an agent when I accept new clients based on their proposals. Not having a certain name or connections isn’t what makes me reject a proposal. Plain and simple, it’s about craft. And skill. And whether or not you’ve done your homework.

Okay, then, let’s get on to some of the real reasons/answers to the question: “Why don’t agents/editors give us more guidance when they reject our proposals?

Answer #1 (and I’ll warn you right now, you’re not going to like this one):
Time Constraints

Yup, Time Constraints. That’s the first answer. And that’s the reason few of your proposals will actually make it to an editor’s or agent’s desk.

“Not fair!” you cry. “You mean they reject my proposal without even seeing it?”

In a word, Yes.

With the number of proposals editors/agents receive a month, let alone a year, there’s simply no way we can read/review them all and get our work done. Our first priority has to be the people we’ve contracted as writers or clients. And that’s a huge time commitment for one person, let alone the dozens of writers most agents and editors serve. And yet, none of us wants to risk missing out on something wonderful that may come in over the transom. So how do to it all?

Well, I’ll share that in my next blog!

12 Responses to Why Don’t Agents/Editors Give You More Guidance?

  1. Avatar
    Kim de Blecourt November 21, 2012 at 5:18 am #

    Excellent article, Karen! Great info shared regarding book proposals. They ARE hard to write and harder to get through a pub review. Thank you for your experienced thoughts and encouragement.

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    Heather Day Gilbert November 21, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Wow, Karen, very interesting look at “the other side!” I did wonder about the generic rejections, but the more targeted rejections sometimes hurt more! Really, agents don’t have time to do individual critiques on each writer–until they’re clients! Then I know you pour all KINDS of time and energy into them.

    The best place for feedback on our work is from fellow authors, critique groups, beta readers, and published authors (if we can find some!). They help us hone our writing, give us tips for writing those cumbersome proposals, and encourage us during the rough times. I’ve found the ACFW network to be a place of valuable friendships and support.

    Looking forward to this series!

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    Janet Ann Collins November 21, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    Golly, Karen, you make it sound like you people are human! 😉

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    Melanie Conklin November 21, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    This post makes me sad. Yes, I totally laughed at the quips. And I find your conclusions honest and accurate. But by the end of the post, I felt bad for you and all the other editors and agents–but also for the writers out there. It’s a shame that so many people end up feeling badly in this process. On both sides of the fence.

    Because, you see, most of the writers I know are awesome, respectful, and professional. Just like most of the editors and agents you know, I’m assuming. And the writers I know take a form rejection exactly as you intend it and move on with their work. It’s a shame that other writers don’t tolerate the publishing process well.

    But just as we writers choose to ignore the few agents and editors who are not awesome (rejection letters from hell, anyone?), I think publishing pros should stop focusing on the writers who don’t get it. Because while these posts are funny and entertaining, they really make it look like writers are whiny babies. Which some of them are…but most are not. Most of us, the ones working to hone their crafts and build connections, would prefer to get on with our work like the professionals that we are.

    Here’s to being respectful, working professionally, and leaving the BS behind!

  5. Avatar
    Jeanne November 21, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    I’ve read other agents’ response to this. It makes sense, as difficult as it is to hear. 🙂 I appreciate your honesty, and the reminders that this is part of the publishing process. I’m looking forward to your series. Will you address what makes you want to take a deeper look into a proposal you do read?

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    Meghan Carver November 21, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    Never, NEVER thought agents were lazy. All you have to do is read blogs and be friends on Facebook to realize that there just isn’t enough time for everything. Same for me in my six-children-SAHM life. 🙂 Sad, but true. I appreciate your honesty, Karen, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!

  7. Avatar
    Karen Ball November 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    Thanks, Kim and Heather. You’re right, we need to be working together to refine each other’s craft and knowledge of the market. Iron sharpening iron, right?

  8. Avatar
    Karen Ball November 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    Janet, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!

  9. Avatar
    Karen Ball November 21, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Melanie, I’m delighted that most of the writers you know are far enough along in the process that they don’t need what I wrote in this post. Unfortunately, for every person like that there are 30 (or more) who have just jumped in with both feet and don’t know what’s what. Publishing pros HAVE to focus on the writers who, as you say, “don’t get it” because there are a lot of them out there. It’s not so much that they don’t get it, as it is that they just haven’t been educated yet. Hence, the continual need for publishing pros to address these issues. Because we have the knowledge and experience to do so. As for this information being BS…well, I’ll leave that to another post some day. 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Karen Ball November 21, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Jeanne and Meghan, thanks for your thoughts! Yes, I’ll talk about what makes us want to go deeper at some point. And Happy Turkey Day to you, too!

  11. Avatar
    Gabrielle Meyer November 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Karen, thank you for taking the time to explain something that so many of us question! I look forward to your next blog post!

  12. Avatar
    Rick Barry November 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Karen, this is a healthy dose of good, common sense. When I hear the sheer numbers concerning unsolicited manuscripts piling on editors’ desks, I can well understand the impossibility of offering free advice/explanations to all who hope for such.

    I’ll look forward to your next post.

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