Really? You have nothing to say?

Yeah, so I’ve been querying my novel. In March, my effort was rewarded with a request for a partial, which I sent immediately. This request was from an agent, with thirty years experience, who “takes great pleasure in finding new authors” and from her entry on QueryTracker, it appeared she had about a .05% request rate. Needless to say, I was excited to have her request the first three chapters. Skip ahead three months—well, more like turtle walk through three long months waiting. Finally, a couple days ago, the SASE arrived and within I found … a photocopied to-whom-it-may-concern form rejection letter. That’s it? Geez!

I’ve learned to take query rejections in stride, but a rejection on a partial is a different animal. The less than helpful—demeaning, actually—nature of this rejection on a partial got to me. I was left to wonder if the agent even bothered to read my pages, or if she just ordered an assistant to clear out some of the slush pile by firing off form rejects. Then again, if the agent did read my pages, what does it mean that she didn’t take a minute to offer even one teeny bit of personalization to her rejection—some indication of the real reason she was passing? I was frustrated. So, my subconscious (Muse) dialogued with me in dream.

It was night, but I was standing outside at a long row of tables loaded with objects people were buying, like at a yard sale. I heard someone singing and looked to the end of the row where I saw a little girl sitting on the ground. None of the other customers appeared to be aware of her. She faced away from me. I walked closer and listened to her sing for a minute, then stepped around where I could see her face. She was crying. When she realized I was there, she stopped singing and said, “I’m sorry.” Then she stood and started to walk away. I said, “Wait, don’t stop! Your voice is beautiful.” Still crying, she turned and ran back to hug me. She said, “Thank you, but if my voice is beautiful, why doesn’t anyone listen to me?” I had no answer.

Pretty straightforward, right? I am both the little girl and the woman who encourages her. The girl represents my novel. But which is correct in their assessment of the girl’s voice? Is it truly good, as the woman says, or am I ignoring the obvious reason no one is listening? This is how form rejections mess with my mind. I accept their necessity in query response—in fact, I welcome them over no response means no—but I think they should be outlawed on partials and fulls.

Anyhoo … pressing on. My son is still here, so I’m not fully back, but things have quieted a little so I’ll be trying to catch up on reading your blog posts in the next couple days.

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26 thoughts on “Really? You have nothing to say?

  1. I’m sorry, Linda. Even though we all know the odds, it’s still a huge disappointment when a rejection comes.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the rejectors were required to tell us why? Then we could either know we were bad…:-) or get some decent feedback.

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  2. It’s maddening. Although, I’ve had some “personalized” (addressed by name and commented on something in my letter or manuscript) rejections of partials/fulls and it really hasn’t said much either.

    Then there was this little slip of paper last week that said, in part, “due to the current status of the publishing industry….we regret”. We are definitely querying in times of rapid and significant change.

    Glad to hear you’re pressing on ….!

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    1. True, Cathryn, they are always helpful, but at least I know they read it and weren’t so disgusted they were speechless. 🙂 Yeah, I received one of those little pieces of paper too. And I know this is a time of flux in the publishing industry and agents are receiving record numbers of queries, so I understand (in a way) the need for “no response means no” and form rejects on queries. I was just really hoping for something a tiny bit more from this agent.

      Oh, yes, I’ll press on with querying because I’m stubborn, but I really, really, really need to do some serious work on that next novel.

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  3. Sorry to hear about that Linda, that must be so frustrating! It’s certainly one thing I am not looking forward to when I begin, just keep telling yourself it only takes ONE agent to “get” your novel. Best of luck!

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  4. Oh, Linda, I’m sorry to hear it, too. As someone who read and loved your novel, you know where I stand on the matter. Since you’ve been busy with family, I’m guessing you didn’t get to read Nathan Bransford’s recent post about why he sends vague rejection letters. Here’s the link – http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/06/why-i-write-vague-rejection-letters.html

    Basically, he says he doesn’t want to lead anyone astray. Like, after a partial, he feels he “hasn’t read enough to be able to provide a particularly insightful critique.” I think this is an especially insightful, wise perspective to remember — maybe this agent was actually trying to be kind by not saying anything at all. I don’t mean ‘kind’ as in ‘withholding negative opinions.’ Rather, ‘kind’ as in ‘withholding an opinion that could be revered.’ I think this sort of withholding takes humility and consideration on behalf of the agent — realizing that people put a lot of stock in what they think, and that what they think might only be a matter of personal taste (and not an actual problem with the novel or the writing), they say nothing. That way, they don’t accidentally suggest changes that don’t need to be made in the first place.

    Well, that was clunky. Sorry. 😉 I agree with Agatha. It only takes ONE. I’m proud of you for pressing on, and for being so honest with us about the results. Hang in there, friend. 🙂

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    1. I’ll confess, Kayla, when I got that rejection, I seriously questioned your sanity. 😀 😀 😀

      No, I hadn’t seen Nathan’s post, if I had, I wouldn’t have written this post! 🙂 Okay, I get it, I shouldn’t expect feedback from an agent, at least not on a partial.

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      1. Having read everyone else’s thoughts, especially since I posted the link to Nathan’s post, I feel I should add: you guys are all SO RIGHT. There IS a huge difference between an impersonal, cold form rejection and a polite, brief, personalized-even-if-only-with-your-name rejection.

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  5. I think in a lot of cases it just comes down to time. It takes just a moment for someone to post a pre-printed form rejection, but it takes time to construct a reply. Also, so many agents have been burned by rejected authors, I can understand why they wouldn’t want to give even a small opening, in case the author turns out to be a nutter.

    Don’t take it personally. The agent doesn’t know you. And you got to partial stage, so you are on the right road.

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    1. Thanks for the pep talk, Merrilee. I know you (and Kayla) are right. The problem was I got my hopes up because of comments from previous queriers who indicated she had given “very helpful feedback” or “the nicest rejection ever.” So, I was a little taken aback when I received neither. A new comment today is from someone else who was disappointed to received the “to whom it may concern” rejection — on a full, yet.

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  6. Linda, I hear you. I remember getting the form reply on a full and then a thoughtful and extensive review on a few pages. It can be so arbitrary but we are always so grateful for every critique!

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Erika. I spent a little time on your blog. Love your mixture of cooking and writing. Checked out your Contact page and saw that your agent is one I have a query out to right now. 🙂 Congratulations on your book deal!

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  7. Just one of OH so many reasons why the gatekeeper system stinks. I’m with you Linda — use forms to weed through the queries, but when you’re down to requesting partials, do the courtesy of AT LEAST providing a response. If an agent has too many to do that with, maybe they don’t … oh, heck, I’d better stop there.

    You will succeed. It will take time. Believe.

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  8. So sorry about the rejection Linda- I can imagine how frustrating this must be for you. And I agree with you %100, if only they can take a minute to write one sentence long reason explaining ‘why’ they are rejecting your ms , at least they could be helpful while they are annoying 🙂
    Don’t give up- it will happen eventually!

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  9. I would have said “Poop on her”, but I read Nathan’s post, too, and he made a lot of sense. Without reading the full, saying anything might be a detriment.

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  10. I’ve heard rejections on actual manuscripts are a lot more painful. I say BOO, to the form rejection. I agree that there should be a bit of personalization to let you know they even read it. For letters on a partial or full it just seem so cold.

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  11. I read Nathan’s post, and while it does make sense about why he and other agents don’t offer you much explanation, he also states that he gives “vague, formulaic, and brief. But polite!” replies. That’s a far cry from the standard rejection form – photocopied and not even addressed to you – that you were given. It was a low blow, I think, and you have every right to be a little upset about it. I hope you can move past it and continue querying. I’m sure you’ll find someone.

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