Rejection Letters from Agents and Publishers

Rejection suxIn a previous post, you have seen the rejection emails I received from agents. You may also have seen my comments on agents and publishers who still expect aspiring authors to post them letters. I really see this as evidence of the reluctance of many in the industry to adopt new technologies, to stream line and improve their business processes. Either way, when you’re trying to find an agent or publisher directly, you will come across submission guidelines which were likely written in 1972. I dutifully followed these guidelines on a few occasions, reacquainting myself with Australia Post. I even remembered to include a self addressed stamped envelope with my proposal, so the agent or publisher could post me back my rejection letter. Lucky me!

Here are three rejection letters I received by post for my book Times of Trouble: (Note that I never received a response from a few as well. Which is very frustrating! Maybe the letter got lost and will turn up in three years time, washed up in a bottle on a beach).

The Text Publishing Company

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear Author,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your manuscript. We read it with interest but I regret we will not be making an offer of publication. We do not feel that Text is the right firm to successfully publish this book.

Thank you for thinking of us, and we wish you every success in finding a publisher for your work.

Yours sincerely,

Alaina Gougoulis

The salutation is a giveaway here – form letter! I have a name! And it’s not ‘author’ yet! Anyway, I really think Text could free up a lot of time to read more submissions if they digitalised their submission process. I understand that some manuscript assessors probably don’t like to read submissions on a computer screen, and don’t want to have to bear the cost of printing every submission that arrives. Have you thought about a Kindle? Or an iPad? Less printing means less damage to the environment! It’s impossible to say whether Text looked at my proposal, but I would guess that they glanced at it, decided it was unsuitable, and put it in a pile of automated rejection letters to be sent off by the work experience student.

The next two rejection letters are from Australian agents.

The Naher Agency

This one was addressed to me, which is a great start.

1st June 2010

Dear Victoria

Thank you for your interest in the Naher Agency and for giving me the opportunity to read a sample of Times of Trouble. I regret to inform you, however, that I unable to offer you representation. I am returning your sample pages herewith.

Your novel’s premise is interesting, but ultimately I didn’t find the authorial voice sufficiently memorable or arresting. In crime fiction style is almost as important as substance. As you probably know, fiction publishing is extremely competitive so an agent needs to be passionate about a novel in order to represent it successfully. If you are not already aware of it, the Australian Society of Authors’ website provides a comprehensive list of Australian agents.

I with you every success with Times of Trouble. Thanks again for giving me the chance to read your work.

With best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Gaby Naher.

OUCH! I recall finding this letter in my letter box at the end of a particularly bad day at work, and when I read it, I think I might actually have cried a little. Then I shoved it in the bottom draw and tried to forget about it. I’d been wishing for so long to receive a letter from an agent or publisher with hard evidence that they had read my work. It is clear Gaby Naher had. It is also clear that she thought it was absolute crap. ‘I didn’t find the authorial voice sufficiently memorable or arresting’. I still cringe at reading that and wonder what exactly she means. Does she not like my characters? The style I use? Or does she think I’m a terrible writer? For a few minutes I wondered if my name and the title of my book had been added to a particularly critical form response letter? This is probably delusional – my self preservation instincts over riding rational thought. As hard as it is to thank Gaby for her letter, I do actually appreciate that she responded to my proposal. And I would like to take this opportunity to make myself feel a little better about her feedback by re-reading all the lovely reviews I have received for Times of Trouble. These are from readers, not agents, and of course both opinions are important, but for now, I’m going to run with the readers feedback as my driving motivation to keep going. Especially since I still have no idea what Gaby was expecting me to do about my ‘authorial voice!’ Blah!

Australian Literary Management

Also addressed to me, but I suspect the salutation line was the only unique part of the letter:

Dear Victoria,

Thank you for submitting your work to the agency. After careful consideration I’m afraid I do not feel I am the right agent for this work, and I am therefore unable to offer to represent you. I’m sure you can appreciate the need for an agent to be totally committed to a work to sell it enthusiastically to a publisher; to do otherwise is not in the best interests of the author.

Unfortunately, because of the volume of submissions I receive, I cannot offer any critical comments on your submission.

Of course, another reader might have a completely different response to your writing, and I encourage you to send your work to other agents, or directly to publishers.

With best wishes,

Lyn Tranter

I can’t help but feel the overriding tone of these form letters is something very closely nestled to patronising. I’m sure the agents and publishers don’t mean to be patronising, but when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.

Lyn did miss one option from her encouragement in the last line – I can send my work to other agents, other publishers, or… here’s the one she missed…. publish it myself online. Which of course I have done.

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18 Comments on “Rejection Letters from Agents and Publishers”

  1. So, what would you write if you were an agent rejecting a submission from an author? I’m not trying to be rude, honest, I just don’t know what you expect and am genuinely curious. I’m not an agent or in any way involved in publishing but I am an employer and have, quite often, gotten angry or snarky comments from people who I haven’t chosen to employ – I still can’t think of a way to turn a rejection into a positive experience for the rejectee. I’ve been involved with recruitment processes where we’ve had a couple of hundred applicants – there’s no way to review each application properly and point out the good and bad – you have to skim read and be brutal based on your experience – I’m sure the agents are in the same boat.

  2. Victoria Rollison says:

    Hi there
    Thanks for your question. I’ve thought about this a lot. I do realise that I can’t expect a personalised critique, but I also don’t find it very useful to be told that they only accept work they are passionate about, as that goes without saying. It also goes without saying that there are other options I should try to pursue, and this sort of advice is quite patronising. It is also patronising to remind me that it is a competitive field. I wasn’t born yesterday! If they do offer critical reasons why they don’t like the work, can they be less vague than ‘I didn’t find the authorial voice sufficiently memorable or arresting’. After all the voice in the story is not mine, it is the protagonist, so did the agent not like the character or did she not like my style? It’s impossible to tell. Rejection is never easy, but if it was me, I would personalise the letter and then be very brief in saying I am not interested. If I was going to give reasons why, I would be clear about exactly what I thought. These people are, after all, presumably professional critics. How else do they add value to the publishing process? Or are they just gate keepers?

    • To answer a bit about the authorial voice: In my experience, agents and publishers read the first several pages of a manuscript. If those few pages grab hold of them in some meaningful and special way, they read on or request more of the manuscript. Now, when they refer to the authorial voice, that is typically the style of the writing. How vividly described the opening scene is (without turning the exposition into florid poetry, of course). How “strong” the writing is (active voice, commanding sentence structure, etc.). Those sorts of things generally make up the “authorial voice.” And your manuscript might have nothing wrong at all. The issue might just be that particular agent is overly picky about their styles.

      My wife reviews books. Whenever I tell writers that, they always seem to jump at it. Then I go on to explain that she can be kind of harsh at times. A lot of those people shy away. That to me is a sign of a writer that needs to work on their writing. The fact that you are taking these in stride and trying to better understand the responses indicates that you will make your place as a writer. You just need to find it.

      I hate form letters with a passion. But at least the form letters are there. I hate non-response even more than form letters.

      Good luck (it takes a ton) in finding an agent/publisher. As for me, I will stick with independent publishing. It fits my style a bit more.

      • Victoria Rollison says:

        Thanks for your encouragement Michael. As per my other comment below, perhaps agents should be critiquing based on what the market wants to read, rather than what they personally enjoy. The Australian publishing industry seem obsessed with finding the great Australian novel – a literary masterpiece with landscape, national identity and not much of a plot. Invariably, these literary novels are well received by critiques, but not widely read by the general public. We don’t have many authors of popular fiction published in Australia. Maybe they should stop trying to find the next Booker prize winner and just concentrate on books that ordinary readers like to read! It’s not rocket science!

    • Fair enough – I can understand the desire to keep it short, though I do think it’s human nature to try to fill up the space a bit – hence form letters (we use them when we reject job applicants too).

      Is an agent supposed to be a professional critic though? I mean they’ve got a sense of what sells – or what they can sell in the markets they are familiar with – and they have negotiation skills and that kind of thing – but I don’t know that I’d go to an agent for criticism – I would think editors and others in the publishing chain would be more adept at nuts and bolts criticism???

      • Victoria Rollison says:

        I think the think that strikes me as strange about feedback from agents is that they seem to be basing their decision solely on their personal preference. I work in marketing communications and when it comes to product development, I look at a protential new product from the target market viewpoint, not my own likes and dislikes. When they say ‘your work didn’t grab me’, doesn’t it make more sense to say ‘I don’t see a viable market for this work’?

  3. Keith says:

    The rejection letter is part and parcel of an author’s life. I don’t mind getting them, as long as I get them sooner rather than later. The trouble with publishers is that once their timetable is full, they see no reason to read further MSs and send them back with a polite ‘no thanks’ letter.

    So how long should an author wait before giving the publisher the elbow? I have a short story out at this moment in time which has been with the magazine for ten weeks. I won’t wait for the rejection or acceptance slip before sending it out somewhere else, because I want to be in control of my own work. If I can’t sell it, then there is always the alternative of posting it on a website for free.

    What publishers are really looking for is that elusive writer who will make them millions. The rest of us are just a thorn in the side, and just get in the way of all the other admin tasks publishers have to deal with on a day to day basis.

    I guess that most writers will still feel subservient to the publishers they send work out to. But my attitude (and probably oh so wrong) is that if you don’t want my work then say so early in the game, so that I can send it somewhere else. PLEASE!

    • Victoria Rollison says:

      I totally agree. I’ve come across so many submission guidelines which ask that I only send one proposal at a time, and wait to hear back until I send another. If I took this strategy, I’d be ninety before I sent out six proposals!

      • Esenbee says:

        Mm, what ticks me off even more is when they expect exclusive submissions and say that they won’t be getting back to you unless they wish to see more of your work. So you’re supposed to submit to them exclusively and in the absence of a rejection, somehow intuit when you’re free to submit elsewhere.

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  7. Senthil Kumar says:

    My apologies for a generic reply. In busier times it can be the most efficient way to respond.

    While we greatly appreciate your interest in our agency and thank you for your query, I’m afraid we’re going to pass on requesting your work. Sorry. With room for two or three new clients on my list right now, I have to limit my submission requests to those that feel most likely a match in genre, content, and tone.

    Although I’m passing on your project, I hope the next agent will respond enthusiastically.

    Wishing you the best of luck, success, and all good things the rest the year.

    still i can’t understand what the agent try to convey me…. can you please tell me about this

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  10. Victoria Rollison I really enjoyed these comments and hope you are continuing to write. I was with Gaby Naher’s agency for a couple of years when she was trying to sell my first book. Every publisher who read my MS kept it for months – the whole process took two years and in the end my book failed to find a home. That was during the global financial crisis, so my timing was not good. I was a neurotic mess by the end of it all. Yet I can now look back and recognise Gaby Naher was a fine agent, helpful, mostly kind and I learned a great deal. I will never enter into that experience again so naïve and so easily shattered. Next time I’ll know what to expect. It’s helpful hearing other people’s experience in this area – helps us all keep afloat.

  11. I got a similar rejection today from Gaby, it did feel very cutting to me also.
    I wonder why she felt the need to be brutal?

  12. Emily Lewis says:

    I too received a rejection letter from Gaby Naher recently, however I am beyond thankful for it. She found my Manuscript “extremely painful to read (for personal reasons) which is testament to the strength of the story” – that’s the best “No” I’ve had so far.
    Rejection is all part of the game, however it always stings a little and I’m very grateful that sites like this exist so that we can share our experiences. Merry Christmas all.


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