On Querying Agents: What’s a Personalized Rejection?

Post Date: March 4th, 2019

How do you know that a rejection is a sign to keep going? The personalized rejection can give you some hope.

With 113 rejections in this last round of querying, I’ve developed some theories about what constitutes an authentic and individualized response versus a template goodbye. 

So what’s a personalized rejection? A personalized rejection

  • gives you a sense of what’s working in your manuscript;
  • what’s not working for the agent or editor, that is truly out of your control;
  • and/or helps you see you might just need to carry on.

Here are some form responses and some personalized ones.

Form

We’re sorry, but your project is not a fit for our agency at this time, so we will have to pass. Thank you for considering us and best of luck with your future queries.

 

Still a Form

Though there appears to be a specific reference to the manuscript in this one below, it’s a form response that really doesn’t offer a specific compliment.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to consider NO SMALL THING. I’m sorry to say that while there was a lot of creativity here, I didn’t connect with the writing in the way that I needed to in order to be the right agent to champion this work. As you know, these decisions are largely subjective and another agent or editor may have an opinion completely different from mine. Thank you again for thinking of me and best of luck with your future queries.

Personalized

Thank you for reaching out! Your project sounds very cool, but unfortunately doesn’t feel like the right fit for me, as I don’t find myself especially drawn in by sports-themed storylines on the whole.

 

Thanks for your query. Sorry to say this is a pass for me. I’m particularly un-sporty and find sports-related things difficult to relate to. I’m the wrong agent for this.

 

“It’s Not You, It’s Me” argument in these two personalized responses can be taken as a go-ahead to look more closely for those agents who are “sporty.” It’s very helpful when you’re racking up rejections and see this glimmer of an indication that maybe it’s not all you. Maybe you need to narrow your focus. For example, in order to find “sporty,” I started looking for agents who had repped nonfiction sports as well as YA)

But ones like these, that are actual light at the end of the tunnel, are even better:

Thanks for reaching out about NO SMALL THING. I love your voice, but I didn’t fall head over heels for the premise on this one, so I have to step aside. I know it’s tough when your agent leaves the business, and I am certain you’ll be snapped up by an agent soon. And please know that I’d be happy to consider any future projects you may have.

This agent not only liked my voice, but she wanted to see anything else I wrote. That is not usually something you hear in form rejections.

Or even the one that comes at the end of an agent reading the full manuscript. (One that got 9 requests for fulls. This manuscript had already been on submission to 11 editors with my second agent.)

Unfortunately, AGENT X cannot offer representation at this time. While you’re clearly a very talented writer, the submission list for NO SMALL THING is fairly extensive and we’re not sure we have the editorial vision to give the book the edge it so richly deserves.

You will see a range of things in this business–agents who submit to over 30 editors, and those who won’t submit to more than 15. Knowing which kind of agent you’ve landed is important if you want your agent to query in multiple rounds several editors before stopping.

This is obviously only one opinion, and we wish you the best of luck!

The Coolest Kind of Form

I have to end with a form rejection that really summed up for me what are the challenges in this industry. As author and writing coach Lisa Cron (Story Genius) recently shared on the Literaticast podcast (with agent Jennifer Laughran) it’s damn difficult—and unfair—how few great books make it through the agent or editor gauntlet.

“97 out of 100 people who sit down to write a first draft don’t make it to the end…3 people out of 100 are going to make that first draft. When you take that 3 percent and winnow that down to the number that do several drafts and really decide to pitch to an editor or an agent…The statistic I’ve heard out there is that 96% of that remaining 2% get rejected….How many really great manuscripts never see the light of day…It’s a crap shoot. It really is a crap shoot.”

If that’s true (and I believe it is, as I shared in my Don’t Despair When Your Agent Leaves the Business confessional), then this form response sums it up from an agent perspective:

Thank you for thinking of me. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that NO SMALL THING is a good fit for my list at this time. Please remember that the decision to represent writing is based on a lot of factors, which are often difficult to qualify. Passion for a project, connection with voice, current workload, market saturation, concept timeliness; all of these are considerations, in addition to the quality of your writing. If you continue to work on your craft, to query widely, and to research your potential agents and intended market, I am confident you will find the right match.

This agent was correct.

I did continue to work on my craft (a new project).

I did continue to query widely.

I did continue to research potential agents and intended market.

And eventually, I did indeed find the right match!

Thanks, Tara, for being “sporty”–and a great team player in this effort to launch NO SMALL THING!

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3 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Simmons says:

    Great post!

  2. Russell Johnson says:

    Great post!

  3. Becky says:

    Fantastic info!