The Rejection Reflex

Quit talking to the hand

How can an author help agents break the cycle of rejection?

Please comment with any advice about the querying process, especially if you have successfully enlisted an agent.

I have an idea for a new business that could be a real money-spinner. I call it ‘Literary Rejection Services, Inc.’ and I can see making a bundle from agents whose index fingers are starting to cramp.

This is not exactly a newsflash, but I had a rejection from a fairly reputable agent arrive to my inbox yesterday. The difference between this rejection and so many of the others is surprising, though; to this agent, I had never actually submitted a proposal. Is it possible that literary agents are so query-weary that they have started sending preemptive form rejections? Have their slush piles started to leak over the tops of their employer-issued gumboots?

In fairness, I had sent this agent an email message, though several months ago. Only three sentences long, my message was simply a question: I was asking whether the agency would accept multiple simultaneous proposals. Other than a brief mention of the fact that I had written two related thrillers that seemed to suit this agent’s list, I did not describe any of my writing at all. I didn’t even mention any titles!

In response, months later, the response to my question thanked me for, “letting us take a look at your materials,” and politely wished me luck in finding another agent.

This is clearly an agent who is too overwhelmed to even glance at correspondence, and this is where my entrepreneurial spirit comes to the rescue. LRS, Inc., would eliminate the need for agents or publishers to correspond with authors before rejecting them. I propose to implement a crawler, similar to those that search engines use, to monitor WordPress accounts and Twitter feeds for words like ‘author’ and ‘writer.’ Once located, my software would parse contact details, and use those to compose and send polite messages thanking those authors for their efforts, but declining their materials before they even submit. What a time-saver!

Although this is an absurdly hyperbolic representation of what is actually happening, it is clear that agents are overwhelmed: so much so, that agents like this one are making mistakes as symptoms of what we might call The Rejection Reflex. Rather than fixate on the obvious criticism in this, though, consider instead what part authors can play in relieving this pressure:

  1. Do not submit a project until someone else carefully edits it for you: perhaps even a professional.
  2. Take the time to carefully read an agency’s wish-list, and submit there only if your project is a very clear fit.
  3. Take more time to look at the details of every agent working in an agency, and select only the one who is the closest match to your work (though it might be OK to ask them to consider passing it on).
  4. Construct a ‘perfect’ query letter that makes your intentions clear from the opening sentence.
  5. When you have general questions, find a more suitable person to ask than the agent: perhaps a reception desk by telephone, or a ‘general inquiries’ email address.
  6. Above all: when you are rejected, remember that it could be that your work isn’t suitable, or it could just be that the agent is too busy to really consider it!

Of course, editing can be expensive, so I don’t think there is anything ‘evil’ about editing between trusted friends who know the industry. I am starting to see, though, that I had better ‘dish out the dosh’ for professional editors and coaches, if I want my best chance of an agent considering my queries. Authors have a role to play, too, in giving agents the head-space they need to do their jobs.

Maybe, if we all play along, they could even start wearing shoes instead of gumboots.

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One thought on “The Rejection Reflex

  1. Pingback: Carly Might Be OK: A strategy for facing rejection | Words from K. Alan

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