Agents are from Mars, Writers are from Venus

First off, this is not an anti-agent post. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. I want to try to understand agents – especially what they say in short and sometimes up for interpretation rejections.

One of the best form rejections I got came early in my querying career (and for those of you in the process of doing this, it does feel like a second job sometimes). The agent explained that picking a project to take on is sort of like walking into the library or bookstore – there are so many wonderful books out there and a majority are worth the reader’s time, but because we can’t devote all of our time to reading (and, much to my chagrin we have not evolved out of our need of sleep) there will be many worthy books we never get to.

When we begin the process, we are wide-eyed and full of country-girl-in-a-big-city wonder. As the process continues, it’s easy to find ourselves with mascara running down our faces, hair astray doing the walk of shame with our heels in our hands (note to self: there is no crying in publishing). The querying process becomes so much easier if we realize that agents look at our work differently than we do – as products to sell rather than the masterpieces we created.

If “location, location, location” is the mantra of the real estate world, then the mantra of the querying world should be “research, research, research.” For some agents, that’s easier said than done, but spending just a bit of time online should help you get past at least one of the levels of querying hell. Even with careful research, sometimes it feels like we’re throwing darts in the dark hoping to hit a bulls eye a thousand miles away.

The second, of course, is to write a damn good letter. “Ha,” you say. “I just finished a 90,000 word manuscript. How hard is a one-page letter?” Come see me when you get to the point where you agonize over every single word in that one page letter and we’ll talk.

So, you’ve sent out your first query and a few hours later your email dings back with a response. Now, if you are lucky enough to have representation right out of the chute, I hate you and stop reading right now (just kidding – wouldn’t that be a wonderful problem to have!). But, if you’re like the rest of us mere mortals, it’s a rejection. Now what?

Most form rejections seem to suffer from Goldilocks Syndrome: too much romance, too literary, not enough undead creature sex … Those lucky enough to have a dialogue with an agent – even if it’s a rejection – have a wonderful opportunity to peak behind the curtain … well, maybe … it’s all how you interpret the feedback.

I wonder if how we interpret an agent’s response as subjectively as how they feel about our work. I spent 15 minutes trying to decipher an agent’s rejection when, at the end of the internal dialogue, I concluded that it just didn’t float his boat. At least I hope that’s all it was.

Some rejections are simply because their plates are full. Or, it’s simply a business decision (this is the Mars part) because the publishing industry is just that – an industry. As Ice-T said it: Hate the game, not the player.

Agents are just doing their job. And, in case you haven’t seen the publishing news, it’s a job that is coming under increasing pressure due to the rockiness of the publishing industry (note: I’ll save my reasons why for another blog post). When they evaluate our query, synopsis, partial or even full manuscript, they are looking at it from the viewpoint of if they can sell it. Agents don’t make a dime until they sell a manuscript (and even then it takes time for the money to roll in). They do love their jobs, so they understand how we agonize over characters, scour the novel for passive verbs and spend many hours away from our families to write out the movie in our heads. But, it’s a job and it’s how they keep food on the table.

This is a long way to say don’t let a rejection get you down – no matter if it’s a “Dear Author” form on a query or a personalized one on your full. Every book has it’s day and you will get there.

In the meantime, maybe we should encourage Chuck to start selling decoder rings with copies of the Guide to Literary Agents. It would be helpful to understand some of what lies between the lines of a three sentence rejection.


About Kimberly Packard

Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. She began visiting her spot on the shelves at libraries and bookstores at a young age, gazing between the Os and the Qs. Kimberly received a degree in journalism from the University of North Texas, and has worked in public relations and communications for nearly 20 years. When she isn’t writing, she can be found rollerblading, doing a poor imitation of yoga or curled up with a book. She resides in North Texas with her husband Colby, Oliver the cat and a 75-pound lap dog named Charlie. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors.
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