Silence Is Golden
Updated: Dec 19, 2021
This month's tip is straying from advice into slightly lecture-y territory, but it is pretty relevant to my inbox lately: Don't respond to rejection or form emails from agents!!
I know that getting a pass feels like a very personal judgement or that after waiting for months to hear from an agent, a form response can be less than thrilling, but (similar to keeping it together on social media) responding to that rejection negatively can also impact your career.
When I get responses to emails like this, they always fall into one of two categories:
The author wants to vent. I usually get "your loss, idiot" emails or "your opinions are wrong" emails. I once got a real winner that told me I had lost my humanity and was ice-cold/unfeeling.
The author wants me to give them free advice on how to improve the manuscript or to which agents to send it.
I get why someone would want to write a #1 response--I really do. If you don't fully understand the publishing industry, it is easy to think that all agents do all day long is read books. It's also easy to understand why an author thinks that if they spent months (or even years) writing their manuscript, they should see a certain amount of feedback from queried agents. When it takes four months to get a two-sentence pass, it feels infuriating because it's nowhere near their expectations re: time and quality of response.
But agents aren't reading all day long. In fact, reading slush is probably only 15-20% of what I do on a daily basis. Most of my time is devoted to working with my clients, submitting to editors, contract negotiations, sub-rights, and a million other things, making it impossible to read unsolicited work in the time a reader might or respond to each query personally. I am always working to make sure that I respond to every query and stick within a reasonable industry time frame for response.
The #2 response is also inconsiderate of an agent's time. When it comes to asking for feedback, it may feel like you're not asking much, but if an agent doesn't represent you, he or she is under no obligation to give you editorial advice. Thoughtful editorial advice often takes a lot of time and agents can usually only dedicate that to clients or R&Rs. Aspiring authors should look for that advice from beta readers, critique partners, writers conferences, and if necessary find paid editorial services. Once you snag your agent you'll be happy that they're devoting their time to giving you editorial advice rather than everyone else in the slush!
Sorry for scolding, but I'm hoping that this at least partially helps any writers out there who are angry or hurt about a rejection and thinking of sending one of these emails. Know that it's not personal and not a reflection on you as a writer, but rather a very busy person doing his/her best to find a project that aligns with his or her personal taste. That means that when you find your agent they'll be the best fit for you!