This article is based on an actual rejection of a query for a novel I wrote. I will not name the agent. He does work at a major New York agency, but I will quote from his email. It is not meant to embarrass said agent. I am sure he is a wonderful person, but there was something in his email that caught my attention, something easy to gloss over as your emotions are crushed (not really) by the rejection.
The first thing to know is that it is a form letter, which he admits; understandably so ,considering how many rejections are sent out by all agents. It is impossible for an agent to personalize all the queries sent to them. Writers understand this. So all is good. But I love the line he used which is this, ” This business is highly subjective; many people whose work I haven’t connected with have gone on to critical and commercial success.”
The agent is correct, it is highly subjective. And agents are accustomed to saying no, it is the safe thing to do. You can do down a list of bestsellers and books that have become classics by first time authors and you will find dozens and dozens of rejection letters. “Gone with the Wind” was rejected, so I have heard, over 170 times. The list is endless. I for example do not connect with “Moby Dick.” I would have rejected Melville’s query. A man and a whale, and a white whale no less. Sorry Herman, best of luck in your career.
But what I like, the easy section to overlook is this part, “many people whose work I haven’t connected with have gone on to critical and commercial success.” If I were his boss I would call him into my office and ask,”Why did ‘many’ writers escape you who have had critical and commercial success? Tell me again why you are here? Tell me why I am paying you to let authors sign elsewhere and make money for other agencies?”
I imagine the agent saying, “I just made that part up to make the author feel better, to inspire him, to keep him going.”
Whether his statement his true or made-up is not the point. It works for me. No agent is infallible. It is not that they make mistakes, it is the ‘connection’ that fails. So you keep submitting queries hoping to find one to connect with. Short of that, you self publish with Amazon or other e-Book or indie publishing avenues.
And who would you, as an author, rather connect with, agents or readers? I hope I don’t have to answer that question.