A collection of some of the best and worst responses I've ever received from agents.
Some of the most memorable responses I’ve received from agents and publishers have been a mixture of good (requests) and bad (rejections).
When I began seriously querying my first full-length novel about four years ago, I had no clue what I was doing. Like...no clue whatsoever. I didn’t bother doing any research. I thought “Hey, if I can write an entire book, I can write one measly letter.” Boy was I dead wrong. With that first novel, I received nothing but rejection after rejection…and that’s just from the handful of responses I was lucky enough to receive. Most completely ignored me. At the time, I blamed the agents. Called them every name in the book and swore I’d do it without them. Who wants to pay 15% of their royalties to someone so uncaring anyway?
BUT THEN, I put on my big girl panties and decided to do some research and really learn how to write a proper query. I spent two years practicing with some not-so-great novels and trying out my queries on friends and family. Of course, bless their hearts, they were no help. They always said “That sounds great!” and “You’re amazing!” I love them for their blind loyalty, but I just reread my first query few query letters and they were anything but amazing.
I’ve done posts before about how to write a proper query, based on my experience in the trenches. So I regurgitate it all again here. Besides, there’s more info than you can digest out there in cyber space. In my humble opinion, there’s a little wiggle room stylistically when writing queries, but there’s really not much when it comes to the proper formatting. You either learn to do it right or you remain stubborn and insist that your query is so unique, so original, and so earth-shattering, you don’t have to conform to the rules. Well, all I can say to you my friend, is good luck with that. There’s a right way and a wrong way to write a query letter. Ultimately, though, even if you get the formatting down pat, it’s going to depend on if you have a story the agent(s) think they can get behind and sell.
So rather than post MORE tips and pointers (if you’re really interested, see my post on writing proper queries), I thought we’d have a little fun and I’d post some of my best (and worst) responses to queries I’ve ever received from agents. I save all my responses in separate folders in my inbox and make notes on each agent on my query spreadsheet (if you don't have a spreadsheet, make one), so it was quite fun (and a little disturbing) to go back and see some of my responses.
And for those of you who are wondering who I am to be doling out advice on queries, I will brag just a bit here. *Clears throat* I landed my first agent back in 2015 (who shall remain nameless). Since parting ways with her amicably, I’ve received an average of about 10 – 15 manuscript requests (mostly fulls) from agents from my last few projects and I have landed four publishing deals with these queries. I’ve recently decided to get back in the query game and seek out a new agent rather than going directly to publishers, which is why I have queries on the brain lately. Hopefully, I’ll be querying my latest WIP (a psychological suspense novel) around mid-March, so we’ll see if I can put my own advice to work and find the perfect agent this time.
In the meantime, here’s a collection of some of the greatest hits from my own version of a slush pile. I will not name the agents because I think that would not only be rude and unprofessional, I don’t want to burn any bridges. I’m doing this all in good fun and I hold no ill will against any agents (even my former agent, love her heart). We need them. As I recently heard it described, they are our “first friend” in the industry. But if they can have #10queries, #queryfail, and #slushpile on Twitter, I think it’s perfectly fine for us to post some of the responses we’ve received in our querying journeys.
Again, this is all in good fun and I hold not one bit of a grudge against any of the wonderful agents who sent some of these responses. Here we go:
Loved the writing. I just didn’t connect with the main character the way I’d hoped to. PASS
A lot to like about your approach, not enough suspense for this genre. PASS
That sounds like something we would love! FULL
Interesting premise. Strong writing. FULL
What a great "here's my book" note! Gold star! :) FULL
This story is way too short for this genre. PASS
This sounds fabulous! I’d love to read more! PARTIAL
I think your project may have merit. PARTIAL
I’m sorry. We are not adding new clients at this time. PASS
Sorry, I don’t rep books about murdered children. PASS
I don’t have the passion for this project I would need to properly represent you. PASS
I’d love to read this entire manuscript, if it’s still available! FULL
Here’s my favorite ever:
EEK! This has voice from sentence one! FULL
And my least favorite ever:
This is not at all something I could ever get behind. PASS
Of course, this is just a small sampling of the many, many responses I’ve received over the past four years. I guess I wanted you guys to know that we’re all in the same boat. We all get good responses and we all get not-so-good responses at some point. If you’ve read it in your inbox, chances are, so have I. And so have many of our fellow authors who are struggling to make a name for ourselves in this biz.
I guess if I had any parting advice to give you, it would be very cliché – never give up. Do not take the rejections too harshly. It’s not personal. They’re not rejecting YOU as a person (in most cases), they are rejecting your story idea. It doesn’t even necessarily mean your work isn’t worthy of representation or even publication. It just means it’s not right for them specifically.
As much as we love to think of agents like the Wizard of Oz…some almighty being behind a curtain who holds our fates and futures in their hands and who enjoy squashing our dreams like the little ants they are, the reality is, they’re just people, too. I had the extreme pleasure of meeting about five agents at my first conference last August and though I was sweating bullets before my first cold, in-person pitch, I quickly came to realize they are people, just like you and me, with a job to do. They only make money if we do and they can’t take on every single one of us or they’d be working even harder than they already do and making no money at it.
It’s like any other industry. You have to earn your way in. If you can’t stand a little (or a lot of) rejection on the way and learn to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, keep learning, and try, try again, you’ll never make it. Very, very few authors are an overnight success with their very first book. It’s a fluke. You have to be willing to learn and grow and take the bad with the good if you want to get your foot in the door.
And for God’s sake, don’t bite the hand that feeds you! Respect these agents and realize they’re just people, too. And they really do have your best interest at heart. Trust me. Once you land one, you’ll understand how and why it works this way a lot more clearly.
So do yourself a favor and learn all you can about your craft and querying agents before you put yourself out there. And when you get rejections, take them and learn from them instead of crossing your arms, sticking out your bottom lip, and stomping your feet like a three-year-old. Just brush yourself off, keep practicing, and keep querying.
Stay calm and query on, my dear friend.
Oh, and for those interested, I have started a new thread on Twitter. It's a way for us writers to post some of the unique responses we get to our queries (like #10queries only from our point of view, and much, much nicer). I want to go ahead and warn you though, agents might see your Tweet, so watch what you say and how you say it. I think it's perfectly fine to tweet your response as long as you don't name the agent or bash them. Again, you don't want to burn any bridges. Let's please keep it light and fun and respect one another's opinions as civilized adults should. The hashtag is #10subs
Thank you for your time.
Love, as always,
PS - What kind of author would I be if I didn't shamelessly plug my books? So here goes:
For lovers of suspense novels, check out my Flesh & Blood Trilogy! Start with Like Father, Like Daughter, available on amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Father-Daughter-Flesh-Blood-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B01HSGGU84/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485049298&sr=8-1&keywords=like+father+like+daughter+book
For those who love a good motorcycle club book with a twist of romance, check out Confessions of an Old Lady, available on amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Old-Lady-Christina-Morgan-ebook/dp/B01IYGQNM0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485049352&sr=8-1&keywords=confessions+of+an+old+lady+book