Chances are

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a new snarkling and so I have been searching the snarkives for the answer to the question I am about to ask you, but haven't found it.

I have only been querying agents for three weeks, so I know it's too soon to be discouraged by rejections. I do wonder, though, how the writer is to know the reason for the rejections. I have queried twelve agencies that handle my genre, yet am told that the query isn't right for their agency, or that they're not able to offer representation, or that they're sorry they cannot invite me to submit, or they're not the right agent for the project. Most of these rejections are forms addressed to "Dear Author." Two rejections were personal, helpful, and encouraging. The one I received today was from an agency that had requested a partial, and it was the agency with which I had held out the most hope.

How is a writer to know if it is their writing that needs improving, or the agency has received too many submissions in that genre, or if that genre just isn't selling well at that particular time? I realize how busy agents are, and that they don't have time to go into explanations with every writer who submits. So, what is a writer to do in order to improve the chances of getting accepted, if they don't understand the reason their work is rejected?

I read in a snarkive response that you eliminate compliments before you answer a question, but I must tell you that I don't know how I would ever have learned so much from any other source as I have from Miss Snark - Literary Agent. (thank you)

If you are getting is form rejection letters, the odds are it's your writing. (50% of the writing I get is just not good enough to consider further).

If you are getting rejections that talk about specifics, it's still your writing, but you are closer to producing something saleable. (That's about 3 in 10).

One thing that might help you get more specific feedback is going to a writing conference where agents in your field are speaking. I like small writing conferences best; there's a chance to actually talk to people without being herded into the next event post haste.

Take your pages with you. Don't ask anyone to read them, but be prepared if someone offers. I actually don't hate doing this. It's about the one time at conferences where I know I can be of specific help to someone who is serious about their work and willing to learn.

The people who drive me crazy at those things are the ones who ask questions like "why don't agents write detailed responses on my query when they reject them" at workshops. That's not the question you want to ask. The question you want to ask is "what's the best way to get feedback from an agent". See the difference?

There are lists of writing conferences all over the web. Some are better than others. Be prepared to waste some time on ones that aren't helpful while you learn which ones, or which formats work best for you.

Meanwhile, work on your writing.


Anonymous said...

After receiving a number of non-committal rejections on partials, I finally emailed one of the agents back and shared my frustration, asking, "Is it my writing or the subject matter that had inspired her to reject me."

She wrote back that she loved the story and synopsis, but felt my writing needed more work.

Since then, I have always asked for specifics after a partial/full is rejected and have received enormously helpful and kind responses that have helped me become a better writer.

I know some agents say not to do this. But once they reject your ms., what do you have to lose? And happily, all of my POLITE and LIMITED inquiries have met with positive results.

Thanks to all the agents who take a minute to help us writers.

Sallymannder said...

Since ten of the twelve rejections I've received are form rejections from agents who have only read my one-page query, and none of my actual manuscript,is it the writing in the query that needs work, or is it the story theme that is being rejected? It would be helpful to simply have the rejection letter stamped with a rubber stamp that says "Story theme won't sell," or "Query needs work," or anything that would let the writer know what to work on without infringing on the agent's time. How about the rubber stamp idea?

ORION said...

But sometimes it is THAT story theme or THAT type of writing that doesn't fit with THAT particular agent. Somehow I don't think it is as simple as we writers think.
I was a teacher (in my previous life) and I can tell you sometimes I just stared at badly written student papers - I didn't even know where to start - I would have LOVED a form rejection (these were college students by the way!)
I am still of the opinion that a writer has to take responsibility to hone and craft their work themselves using a combination of retreats, conferences, writers groups/critiques, writing classes, and beta readers.
When my agent asks me to flesh out one of my characters a bit more or enhance a particular scene, I understand what she wants, not because other agents gave me feedback, but because my beta readers said "I don't know why but I had trouble with this part in your book..." and I worked on fixing it.
BTW Miss Snark I now have my beta readers use "wtf" on parts in my novels that are really muddled to them. I do credit you, however!

December Quinn said...

Take your query to the Crapometer. The comments it gets should give you some idea.

whitemouse said...


First, I love that moniker! :-D

Second, Miss Snark has suggested including your first five pages with your query letter, unless the agent specifically says they only want to see a query letter. If they say they want a "query", then consider those five pages to be part of the query.

If you send sample pages and keep getting mostly form rejections, then the problem probably is the writing, not the query letter or idea.

As for the rubber stamp idea, having a rubber stamp made up for each of the many, many things that can be wrong with a query would be quite pricey.

All the agent owes you is "yes" or "no". Certainly it would be useful to you if they said more than that, but they don't have to, and it costs them time to do so. They're not running a critique service, and they're not in the business of doing favours for the thousands of complete strangers who write to them yearly.

Anonymous said...

It could be you're targeting wrong or your query letter sux or that your concept is unpublishable.

Before you scrap the whole thing -- since 10 rejects is nothing -- read the Snarkives and go read some of the query letters that have been editted by Evil Editor (I think you can find him by googling him.)

Then give the entire process some deep thought before sending more queries and wasting your chances with individual agents. If the query needs a ton of work, consider pulling back for a few months, rewriting it entirely, changing your title and starting fresh.

Miss Snark has said repeatedly that she doesn't remember queries, only partials and up, and everyone who knows her from the blog can tell you she has a mind like a steel trap. So I'm guessing other agents will forget your query as well (assuming they, and not their revolving-door-assitants, actually read it.)

Anonymous said...

I suggest revisiting your query and opening pages again. It could be that your letter needs tightening. Maybe you've got too much backstory in the opening pages and not enough conflict.

Do you have a critique partner or critique group? Having an objective eye can make a big difference.

Good luck.

~Nancy said...

Evil Editor's blog:


Have you considered joining a critique group? There are a bunch online, or you could join (or start) one near where you live.

Critique Circle (http://www.critiquecircle.com) is the one most mentioned here, but you could certainly Google critique groups and see what you come up with.

Good luck!