10.03.2006

Nitwitville Coming Right Up

Miss Snark,

Am I naive in thinking if an agent you met at a conference requests a partial, you should expect a little more than a form rejection?


I attended a conference that featured a 90-second public pitch. There were several agents and a small press on the panel. I had done my homework and only one agent represented Thrillers (she politely explained that she was concentrating on chick-lit). After the sessions were complete, I was surprised that one agent that did not "normally" represent Thrillers came up to me on a coffee break, handed me her card, said it was a great pitch and asked for a partial. I went home and fired it off to her with a "Requested Material" sticker attached.


To my surprise, less than 2 weeks later, I received a form rejection letter from the agent. Also odd that she presented material and claimed to be a very personable agent that really worked closely with authors. (there goes the coffee up the nose)

Am I a nitwit to expect, at least, a personal rejection from this situation? Or should I invest in a "Requested Material" stamp instead of relying on adhesive labels?

Yes
Yes
No

Agents are not in the business of saying anything more than yes or no at any stage. A 90-second public pitch is just about the worst way in the world to get any indication about what a book is like. Those things reveal whether an author is skilled in front of a live audience, and what they think the book is about. It has zero, ZERO correlation to the plot, and even less to the writing.

It's entirely possible she just didn't like it. It's entirely possible it's a sprawling mess. The only way you'll get an agent to say "this is a mess" is if you send it to a crapometer.

The idea that you are entitled to anything more than a form rejection needs to get nipped in the bud if you plan to attend any more writing conferences. Take a look at the myriad of comments in this blog alone about agents who don't respond at all, let alone as soon as "less than two weeks later".

As for it being odd that she rejected you with a form letter despite claiming to be a personable agent who worked closely with authors let's just all remember, you aren't one of her authors.

You are on the plane to Nitwitville. You might want to start scouting around for a parachute.

51 comments:

lizzie26 said...

And that's why it's better to send a query, spending only the cost of a stamp, envelope, and paper (or if the agent takes email queries, nothing), rather than spending over a hundred dollars at conferences.

Stacy said...

I probably shouldn't come here when authors are being difficult at work. I mean, when my boss starts talking about losing millions of dollars on a series that won't be completed on time - because the authors keep submitting crap that they must know is crap. I mean, it's the 14th book in the series, they must have got some sort of rhythm going by now, right?

Anyway, reading self-important rubbish like this fails to amuse me when I'm in this mood.

Kalayna-Nicole Price said...

I don't know Lizzie,
I met my agent at a conference during a five-page manuscript review and all I spent during the entire weekend was a couple dollars on food. I guess it depends on what type of conference you attend.


word ver: rozujd- just me or does that make you think of a car?

Ryan Field said...

Miss Snark said, "It's entirely possible she just didn't like it. It's entirely possible it's a sprawling mess. The only way you'll get an agent to say "this is a mess" is if you send it to a crapometer."

Or, it could be your manuscript was milk chocolate and she was in the mood for dark chocolate.

delilah said...

Hmmm? So does that mean it's all about the writing?

Who knew?!

Diana Peterfreund said...

"And that's why it's better to send a query, ... rather than spending over a hundred dollars at conferences."

Those must be cheap conferences.

Also, if the only reason you are attending a con is to pitch, then yes, you are better off sending a query. I see pitching as a possible perk, but not the only reason to attend. I haven't even done it at the last three conferences I've attended. Workshops, networking, soaking up industry info, etc... is far more valuable.

Bonnie Shimko said...

Wait till you get your very own query letter back with a big fat NO! scrawled across it in red magic marker. That'll make the form rejections look personal.

Kimber An said...

Wow, Bonnie, and I thought it was unprofessional to not respond at all!

delilah said...

To Bonnie: My first ever rejection letter was, indeed, my own letter returned with the following scrawled across the corner: Sorry, full stable.

But neither you or I should be offended. The agent should be embarrassed for her lazy-ass, unprofessional response. (Please, Delilah, tell us what you REALLY think.)

I was tempted to return it to the agent with the following scrawled across the bottom: Sorry you're such a loser!

But it wasn't worth my time. Gotta move on.

judy said...

You can't take any rejection seriously. I know that's hard to do and a few have pissed me off but if you get pissed off, get over it quickly. It's a mood killer and it will stunt your writing.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie--how 'bout when you get your own query letter back with "not for us" rubber-stamped on it?

And the funny thing is, many years later, I ended up signing with this agency!

Bernita said...

A "requested material" stamp? Adhesive labels?
And here I just scrawled it on the envelope...

Anonymous said...

the authors keep submitting crap that they must know is crap. I mean, it's the 14th book in the series, they must have got some sort of rhythm going by now, right?


Oh, Stacy, so nice to meet Laurell K. Hamilton's editor!

Kim said...

Try this on for size - a post-it note with a no, thanks penciled across it. At least, I think that's what it said. To call the writing chicken scratch would be a compliment.

I also received another personlized rejection - editor told me I needed to pay closer attention to detail.

editor also spelled my name wrong.

I had that one framed. It's good for laughs.

Don't necessarily knock a form rejection...

Robin L. said...

I love the nitwit posts!!

Anonymous said...

I met my agent at a conference, too. And if the poster's writing was both ready AND right for this agent, it sounds like he or she might have done the same. Don't knock conferences. It can be a nice face-to-face version of the query letter (and while they may not get a sense of your writing, you both can get a sense of many other things).

Anonymous said...

Tough crowd here. Yes it is naive to think that you'll get personal response from an agent at any time. However, isn't an agent more likely to consider material that is requested at a conference over picking through the slush pile?

Jane said...

After watching countless queries go into the Black Hole Of Doom, I'm actually excited when I get a form rejection at all. It means I'm still alive. :-)

Anonymous said...

Tough crowd here. Yes it is naive to think that you'll get personal response from an agent at any time. However, isn't an agent more likely to consider material that is requested at a conference over picking through the slush pile?

More likely to read it sooner rather than later, yes. More likely to take it on, no. Huge difference.

Ryan Field said...

Bonnie...twenty years ago a self-loathing old hag on the Upper West Side did that to me; I was only eighteen at the time. And from what I hear she's probably still up there in her junior three, with no teeth, doing it. BUT,though her approach sucked, and I wouldn't want to sit beside the beast in a restaurant, she was right and I deserved it.

Kimber An said...

I thought the rejection, "Sorry, Full Stable,' was actually a good one. First, it's personal, however short. Second, it shows a sense of humor and imagination! That's the kind of agent I want. I'd probably submit my second novel to that agent if my first failed to snag one during the shop-around. Maybe a couple of years down the road, she'd have an open stall. ;)

Miss Snark said...

:::Miss Snark checks her address:::

::: Miss Snark checks her business license date:::


whew! Not me!
but ..damn, a close call.

Malia said...

Kimber an -- hate to delude you, but "stable" is a commonly used term in this business.

Stacy -- here, have a valium binky...tomorrow will be a better day.

Rejections are all part of the game -- learn to take them with as much professionalism as possible and quit whining.

word ver: mejjditt == I know...I know, this is what Gwen Stefani is singing in "Hollaback Girl," right? "this is mejjditt..."

type, monkey, type said...

Hey, c'mon. I hear writers whining that they have to wait weeks and weeks and weeks for a rejection to a query. Now I hear writers whining that they get a scrawled note on their query.

In a perfect world, each agent would have several assistants to take the queries with the scrawled "No," compose a personalized letter on nice professional stationary with your name spelled right, taking all the care that you took with your query, and send it off to you within two weeks.

I think in many cases you have an agent and an intern running the entire show. They send you back your own query so that you will know what they are referring to. If they sent you back your query and it said, "Please send fifty pages" send it right back to them with the fifty pages and a cover letter (as Miss Snark has advised). This is how they do things.

Don't get offended by this. If they got ten queries a week, our rejection letters would be thoughtful and lovely. But we know they don't, right? There are only so many hours in the day.

roach said...

Oh, Stacy, so nice to meet Laurell K. Hamilton's editor!

Mountain Dew through the nose a second time today.

I just started sending out queries last month. I've received three form rejections (one that misspelled my name) and one request for a partial. The request for the partial took the form of a scribbled note across my query letter. When I first opened it I thought I was getting one of those "Not for us" scribble rejects.

I'm actually kind of looking forward to one of those scribble/stamp rejects on my query letter. But that might just be the lack of caffiene talking.

Anonymous said...

I probably shouldn't come here when authors are being difficult at work. I mean, when my boss starts talking about losing millions of dollars on a series that won't be completed on time - because the authors keep submitting crap that they must know is crap. I mean, it's the 14th book in the series, they must have got some sort of rhythm going by now, right?

Anyway, reading self-important rubbish like this fails to amuse me when I'm in this mood.


Pot, you're black!

Wilfred the Author said...

Several months ago I received a nice personalized rejection letter from a small press. Gave me a valuable critique of my 3 chapters. Only, I was rejected for someone else's manuscript.

Can't help but wonder what author received my contract.

ORION said...

So what is an agent supposed to do when they receive a query that they are not interested in?
I'd really like to know.
I hear complaints about "Not for me.",complaints about form rejections, complaints about non-response, complaints about constructive criticism. How in the world can they win?
There is even an entire website devoted to rejections.
Although I now have an agent I keep all fifty of my previous rejections in a drawer. It reminds me that everyone has their own opinion. You just have to find that one agent that is your match.
Hear "No" and move on.

Kalen Hughes said...

Scribbles, stamps, tripple red stamps (yes it happens), form letters, three pages of why it's not for them. It's all the same. It all means no.

File it away and move on. Query someone else. Query with something else.

NitWitness said...

What if you send a SASE attached to a case of Gin? ;)

tlh said...

Oh, Stacy, so nice to meet Laurell K. Hamilton's editor!

I second roach on this one, except in my case it was iced tea, not Mt. Dew.

Those ice cubes hurt on the way out, I'll tell ya.

Maya said...

I had the same experience as Wilfred. Received a nicely written letter saying the agent LOVED my manuscript. Only the author's name and manuscript weren't mine.

Amusing postscript to that experience. The next time I received a letter from an agent, I was so shell-shocked, I didn't open it for three days. When I did, it was a request for a full.

And I've got news for you. It doesn't get any easier. Each step along the way includes its own version of "How to crush a writer's heart and stomp on her soul." My latest is that my editor thinks Marketing may reject my title. Of course, I think the list of suggested replacements are god-awful. But, I don't have their expertise in sales so I'm just going to suck it up and keep writing.

And keep writing. And keep writing.

--E said...

So what is an agent supposed to do when they receive a query that they are not interested in?

-->Exactly what they all do right now: ignore the assorted grousing and do what's most comfortable for them.

I admire the tough-mindedness it takes to be an agent. Aside from having to wade through piles of sludge in search of a few gold nuggets, imagine if you were receiving rejection slips for the books of several dozen people, not just one. (Though I imagine that all gets overshone by the joy of making a sale.)

Anonymous said...

As someone who recently navigated the query jungle and survived, here's my advice: Don't expect anything more from an agent than the courtesy of a reply. It doesn't matter if you met them at a conference, or they requested your full ms.

Yes, it's nice when they add a personal note and spell your name right. However, the personal replies I received were too vague to be helpful. ("I was looking for a fresh take on the characters and setting.") And a couple of agents had vastly differing opinions ("too dark" vs. "not dark enough".)

Believe me, this publishing road is hard enough without setting yourself up for more pain and anguish.

Bonnie Shimko said...

Sometimes you get good stuff with the rejections. Sometimes they're not even rejecting you. I once received a full manuscript with a form rejection for "my" gay men's erotic novel. I could see why they rejected it, but I sure did learn a lot. Whew! Hot stuff! The sexy gay guy who wrote it must have been underwhelmed when he got my coming-of-age drivel.

delilah said...

Hey ya'll who think we're self-absorbed whiners: we're trying to make light of the business of getting rejections. It was supposed to be funny. Get it? An attempt to laugh at ourselves. Yanno, that thing called humor?

If it's not the spelling police, it's the get-over-yourself high and mighties. Lighten up already.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with Miss Snark, sorry writer. The agent didn't owe you anything really.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

I have to agree with Kalen. No means no. No one is trying to insult you or demean you with a rejection. They just don't want to read more of the work. We may not like some of the rejections, may think they could be classier, but it all amounts to the same thing: NO. And it isn't a personal jab at YOU.

I've had personal letters. I've had a rejection with a solicitation to buy the agent's book on getting an agent (now that I did not like). I've had my own letter stamped with a "No thanks" and returned to me.

At the time, I guess I was too dumb to be insulted by that response. I was disappointed, sure, but I never thought the agent (big name agent with awesome clients and a great website) was being rude to me personally. I just thought, "Wow, she doesn't want to read more of my baby. Why not? What's wrong with it?" Took me a few months more to realize why she didn't want to read it. It was terrible. :)

Finally, Allison Brennan (very successful debut author who may be reading and can certainly correct me if I'm wrong) talked about getting a query back with one word scrawled across the top: Superficial. Ouch. Obviously, that didn't stop her. She kept writing and sold a different book.

What I take away from that is pretty much what Churchill said about never giving up. :)

Stacy said...

I just checked in here and noticed that anonymous responded to my comment on this thread by saying "Pot, you're black!" Does this mean he/she thinks I'm self-important because I'm annoyed by something at work? WTF?

Anonymous said...

I'm not offended if they say no. So what? What are you going to do, twist their arm? Who wants to work with someone who isn't your (second) biggest fan?

Dave said...

Gee, author, you got moved to the head of the slush pile and got a rejection. Most people wait months to get that rejection.

I'm not unsympathetic, rejections do tweak my heartstrings but having been published in technical journals, I know that rejection is part of the game. You should get three reviewer's comments back criticizing not only the writing, but the methodology, the procedures, the punctuation AND entire effort as "useless trash not worthy of toilet paper" or "a waste of my time" or "my high school interns could do better than this..."
Now that hurts.

Don't give up, submit it to another agent or editor.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm not sure about this whole pitching at a conference thing. I think they're great places to get to know people who can potentially help you, but I've spoken to agents who have said they'd almost rather not meet a writer before they read his or her manuscript.

I think the best pitch is the pitch on paper -- something that demonstrates that you at least have the ability to write.

I got my agent through a recommendation from someone he knew and trusted. That's probably the best way to do it.

How do you manage that? It wouldn't hurt to attend conferences and make friends with other WRITERS. They're very generous people.

The key, of course, is having the material to back up your pitch.

michaelgav said...

I haven't posted in months, but this one got under my skin.

A response in the mail in less than two weeks because the agent liked your 90-second public pitch at a conference . . .

That agent showed you EXTRAORDINARY courtesy.

Look. I've caught myself being naive about this, but only in my head, and only briefly. When I first sent my novel around, I wanted the agenting world to acknowledge my professionalism, if not my brilliance, with some semblance of a personal response. (Actually, I wanted most of them to bow down, while others -- Esther Newberg, Phil Spitzer -- were allowed to simply applaud respectfully.) I wanted to exist in that world, you know? And after I finished practicing how I would answer Terry Gross's questions, and if the I-75 traffic hadn't already cleared up, I would wonder which agents would request partials (and which would jump right from my five pages to a full), and who would be the first to shoot me an email saying, in effect, "We're talking millions, kiddo." (My money was on Molly Friedrich. I have no idea why.)

Anyway, all that nonsense was in my head for about a month. And then one day it wasn't. It was replaced with my wife telling me one of "my" envelopes had arrived in the day's mail and my daughter asking what disease I wanted that agent to contract. "Shingles," I would say. Or "Hanta Virus." Or, if it turned out to be a personal note, "Mono."

Agents who replied in two weeks or less got a stuffy nose or a mild rash on the inside of their left arm. (All two of them.)

Your would-be agent doesn't normally rep thrillers. Which means yours would probably have to be the best unagented thriller out there to get her to break from her usual list. Maybe yours is the second best.

Or, if you're like me, maybe yours needs more work. The novel I shopped turned out to be a fourth draft -- go figure. They were right to reject it, even the assholes.

I wish them all a speedy recovery.

Maya said...

MichaelGav: ROTFLMAO!

I once sat on I-75 a mile behind an accident, waiting for the tow trucks to arrive and listening to Terry Gross interview a particularly boring writer.

I entertained myself for at least ten minutes imagining how much better I would answer those questions when I was on "Fresh Air."

Thanks for the laugh.

delilah said...

Bonnie: You lucky devil, you. Wish I could get some steamy stuff back other than the kind that sticks to your shoe and smells bad.

Anonymous said...

Wow, all this stir about nothing. Yes, I'm the WRITER. The Nitwit. It's amazing what people can read in a mere paragraph or two. I was neither whining nor was I expecting more than my fair share. I was merely trying to sort out the norm.

I have only pitched four times at conferences and sent in partials for all. Three of them I received nice personal rejections. One even gave some valuable feedback that I took to heart and made some changes. I did not sign up to pitch privately with the agent in question, because I did my research and found that she didn't normally represent Thrillers. I wasn't going to take the time from authors who might have a chance. She came to me, handed me her card and asked for a partial.

Based on my past experience, I was surprised at receiving a form rejection based on the circumstances. Thus, the question.

Yes, I use nice printed, professional looking labels for "Requested Material" and addresses. This is a business proposition, is it not?

It was a simple question, people. Miss Snark gave her usual "Crisp" response, which I appreciate. If I wanted a really nicely worded response, I would have sought out another forum. I'm not offended by rejection or negative feedback. All the positive fluffy feedback does nothing to make the work any better.

GutterBall said...

Oh, Stacy, so nice to meet Laurell K. Hamilton's editor!

The ayes have it. Except my nasal expulsion was Hawaiian punch.

Ouch.

Maya said...

While I, too, have given up on Anita Blake, I have to confess a secret fondness for Merry Gentry.

Go ahead, mock me. MS has already ridiculed my fondness for Spenser. I can take it.

Kim said...

I second Delilah - after all, what could be funnier than being told you need to pay closer attention to details by someone who can't spell your FIRST name right???

Termagant 2 said...

You go, Anon Original. How is an author supposed to know all this stuff, unless s/he asks questions?

There's volumes to be learned about what's normative, what's extraordinary, what's ho-hum. Face it, most of us don't pitch at a conference (or anywhere else), and get immediate enthusiasm. The fact that many of us get no responses AT ALL is to be questioned, wondered at, etc. If agents/editors are constantly requiring us to be PROFESSIONALS, why wouldn't we wonder about the non-response thing? And why wouldn't we ask our little questions and get answers wherever & whenever we can?

T2, who's still learning the norms 4+ years after a first sale...

Anonymous said...

I have been in charge of agent/editor appointments at the OWFI conference in OKC for the past five years. I would estimate that agents ask 75% or more of the people they meet to send them chapters. I also hear agents say that after about the first 3-4 appointments the faces and pitches all look and sound the same. They put in their obligatory time and are glad to be done with it. I doubt that "Requested Material" gets your mail treated any different that the rest of what comes into their offices, especially if they do very many conferences.