Thursday, March 1, 2007

Thanks, but not for me.

This is the short note a writer will get when I return something. It means what it says.

If I add anything more, that's good news. Sometimes I'll tell you your novel is too long or too short (and don't email me back about IT or Johnathan Livingston Seagull - you are neither King nor Bach). Sometimes I'll add that it's publishable, but just not my cup of tea - keep trying (don't email me back asking me to read it anyway). Sometimes I'll tell you to look for an agent who specializes in inspirational books, which I don't (don't email me back asking me to recommend someone. If I thought it was right for someone, I'd tell you.) So, basically, don't email me back, unless you want to thank me for taking the time to explain to you why you were rejected. I've already given you your minutes of my time.

Of course, there are many other major and minor reasons why something gets rejected (you can't write, you send the email to the wrong agent and/or it was part of a group email blast of all the agents in the U.S., Canada and England), but most of the time I will read through the letter even if there are one or two spelling errors (depends on what they are though - I have no patience for horror writers who can't spell cemetery). If I take the time to open the email, I do try to give it a shot.

And sometimes, something is written badly, but it's unique and I hope by telling the author to join a writer's workshop or pull out a copy of Strunk & White's Elements of Style, it will come back to me transformed, with a note that says, "you are the only one who told me the truth about my writing," and a beautiful relationship will begin. This has happened.

A little over two years ago, I lost my fabulous assistant of a year and was reorganizing how I wanted to run my office (since then I decided to relocate to the home office, where I have been much happier), but I was beginning to be overwhelmed with snail mail. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes, which I had no physical room for. So I cleverly sent a form rejection letter that said (and I paraphrase here) "I was overwhelmed with submissions at the moment and was currently not reading for new clients, but that if the writer believed his/her work was truly suitable for my agency to requery in six months."

To my amazement, I got lambasted by writers and writers organizations for not notifying every writing site that I wasn't reading (and that wasn't true - I just did't want any more than what I already had and was just taking a break from the pace of unsolicteds, which is demanding). Why was I still listed in Writer's Market? Why was I doing writer's conferences. It was surreal. (if you do a google search on me, you can still find these diatribes). I really felt like I couldn't win for loosing, and that's also why I keep my rejection letter short and sweet.

Over at Miss Snark's ( - a great agent blog, if you do not know about it), there's a post about an agent that just hand wrote a rejection on the envelope. I know an agent who used to just write "No," in red on the letter. So the next time you get what you think is a cold form rejection, know that the words were carefully chosen even if they're not what you want to read.


Anonymous said...

I love your new colour scheme! I enjoy reading your blog very much, but wow, it used to be painful on the eyes. :-)

BernardL said...

Do you have an upper and lower word count preference for a novel? I remember you loved The Stand, which I read cover to cover twice, I liked it so much. It was one of King's longest works; but it was so enthralling, it seemed much shorter.

Don said...

I used to edit a graphic design magazine in a previous century. I could tell when the new edition of WM came out because I would get a flood of article submissions (it helped in identifying these that WM misspelled my name).

And EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM was unusable. I was clear in the WM listing what I was looking for and people would send me generic business articles. My assumption was that someone was giving some seminar or something telling wannabe writers that this was a good approach. I always meant to put together a form rejection letter, but never did. Usually I just scribbbled something on the letter/first page of the article that depending on how busy I was varied from "No" to "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE STOP" to "WHOEVER'S TELLING YOU TO SEND SUBMISSIONS LIKE THIS TO LOTS OF MAGAZINES GAVE YOU REALLY BAD ADVICE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE PLEASE STOP"

After a couple years, I had WM pull my listing.

When people tell you to do research before submitting, it doesn't mean doing deep studies into an agent's or editor's life, it's just a matter of knowing what they rep/publish.

Julie Wright said...

Thanks Lori. I'm still laughing at the person over on Miss Snark's blog who is mad because someone wrote the rejection on their envelope. This is why authors should use the peel off adhesive envelopes.

Ravenous Romance said...

Word count - 80,000 to 100,000 for a regular novel, 120,000 for fantasy, unless you are Stephen King (meaning you have a million reader track record). Otherwise, it's just too expensive to print.

Tyhitia Green said...

This is just too funny! If people did the appropriate research, then they would know what agents rep what. Lori, my dark urban fantasy is bout 81,000. Is that still too short?

Anonymous said...

I think writers have little business sense when they start out, and they take rejection personally. This is why they study form rejections for clues as to what the agent really meant. If there's a personal note, it's like the Rosetta Stone to crack the code of the publishing world.
Once they do it for a while and are more reality-based, they are more professional.
But that learning curve is pretty steep!

Sam said...

I once got a rejection written in huge red letters across the top of the first page of my manuscript - "I Can't Handle This!"

I never knew if the agent meant the subject matter was too risqué, or she just didn't represent books in that particular genre.

I still wonder.


Anonymous said...

It's like that old song "What part of no don't you understand?"

There are some serious entitlement issues out there, and e-mail queries have only complicated things in my view.

I'm happy with a response, either way. One thing I've noticed is that a higher percentage of e-mail queries I send out go unanswered. They either get lost, or agents don't respond, which seems to be the default setting for a lot of agents with e-mails.

I feel better sending a hard copy and SASE. If someone wants to write on the back, it's fine by me as long as I get the envelope back.(BTW, I use self-stick envelopes and they are better!)

Anonymous said...

It takes a long time for publications to catch up. Even if you update your profile in a timely fashion. Perhaps a note on a website to say you're taking a break might help? Of course, that means that writers have to look at each website before they submit.

Unsolicited means you didn't ask for it.

Put the shoe on the other foot. If someone receives unsolicited requests asking someone for say, a contribution, or volunteer time(which is what agents do until they sell), perhaps they might consider it junk mail? Entitlement is a good word for it.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I got one of those rejections LOL way back in the day, with my first (really bad) query (and poor novel to boot). If it helps, I took you at your word. The writers who throw fits like that drive me crazy because they're a big reason why agents and editors get burned out on writing personal notes.

LindaBudz said...


For my day job, I work for an organization that has "cemetery" in its name, and just about EVERYONE spells it wrong.

Just yesterday, a Ph.D. professor from Harvard who is doing a research project on the price of funerals and burials wrote to me for some stats, and she misspelled it both times in her email!

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