Brevity is the soul of wit

Miss Snark,

I sent a query letter and the first five pages of my young adult book to a well-known agent who claims to be looking for clients. I mailed my stuff Oct. 23 from a deep south state, and the post office said it would take three to five days to reach New York. The next Tuesday I got a rejection letter. It was typed on letterhead dated Oct. 19, and it was mailed Oct. 26, the earliest possible day my query could have arrived. I suspect shadiness.

Is it possible that my query arrived the morning of Oct. 26, and this agent read and rejected my stuff in time to have a rejection letter in the mail to me that same day? Assuming the mail is delivered around lunch, he would have had less than four hours to read it and reject it and get the rejection in the mail. Also, the rejection letter was dated before I even sent my query. I know it seems like I'm over-analyzing, but this strikes me as strange. I'm just curious. Do you think he read it?



YA author said...

In other words, he read enough to know the answer was no.

And the erroneous date makes sense too. Most editors are at least 7 days behind the actual calendar.

Look at it this way: No agonizing wait! Onward!

Zany Mom said...

Your stuff likely wasn't right for him, and he got the reply out in the next batch of mail.

Be glad he didn't keep you hanging for a few months or more.

I've been lucky in that I've heard back fairly quickly from agents I've queried (usually within 2 weeks); longer for those that either requested partials or the full ms. The one who requested the full ms took the longest, obviously.

Good luck with your ms.

Anonymous said...

When people send form letters, they often send the most recent version of the file, with a different date on it. I get that a lot, from all types of business correspondence.

Anonymous said...

I think this is clear evidence the Time Warp is Real. You must write an article for SCIENCE and tell all. The physicists will be agog for decades.

Dave said...

I sent a short story to an editor and (much to my surprise) got a quick reply. It was a rejection with a "please submit other stories" note. Now I sent a second story a week later and I'm still waiting, waiting, waiting...
Who knows what happened there. I guess that I hit the editor on a good day and now, I'm just sitting and waiting. Meanwhile, I'm writing more stories, planning Thanksgiving dinner and buying Christmas gifts.

And yes, the US Postal Service can be as efficient as you describe. It has been for years. That's why those of us who know it is, tell you just to use stamps and not registered or receipted mail.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

the writer of this particular question should take number 4 of "the daily tao of snark" to heart.

Anonymous said...

Dear Writer --

Have you heard of chopped liver?

It's what most of writers are to most literary agents.

Think they give a shit about you?

Think again.

M. G. Tarquini said...

My fastest rejection was two minutes.

I have the emails to prove it.

ORION said...

Two minutes? I got one in 10 seconds flat when I made the mistake of asking a boy to dance in eighth grade...
Oh we were talking about writing...

Marcom said...

Finally, a topic to which I might add value...

I was rejected by Strange Horizons (electronic medium) via email within 10 days. I was rejected faster by Fantasy & Science Fiction via snail-mail, postmarked within 5 business days. Just for laughs I wrote a specific piece which used the "slush-reader" at FS&F as a character in the story. It was returned within 5 days, but with a personalized note that confirmed that it had indeed been read before being rejected, not that I was expecting to be published for this "test."

Reality dictates that we ARE being read and that we're being rejected because we suck. Or that what "works" for one reader at one office may not work for another reader in a similar position, in another office.

Life is messy, and subjective, and opinionated.

That's my "two bits" on this topic, as I have both sets of fingers crossed while waiting almost 90 days for Azimov's Science Fiction to answer my own lunatic, nitwit submissions.


Betsy Dornbusch said...

That's nuthin--I got a very kind, personal e-rejection in response to an e-query in about two hours.

Anonymous said...

Aw, anonymous #3, that wasn't necessary, true, nor relevant. Dear rejected writer. No means no, regardless of dates and the postal service. Be grateful you didn't wait months for the news. Query on!

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's not fair to the poor author puppies, but yapping about shadiness because an agent did not sit in deep thought for a month about a query letter makes me want to bite someone's head off. Cluegun alert: The difference between an agent rejecting your query after a month and an agent rejecting you after three minutes is how soon they got around to reading it, not how long they pondered it.

(ok, sometimes the agent DID have to think about it, but that's not the average case)


Anonymous said...

Folks, try to imagine the pros to be (gasp!) efficient at what they do. Agents sell books. For that, they need to know what book has a chance of selling. With me so far?

Now, how long do *you* decide wether you want to buy a book at a store? Four month? A week? Three hours agonizing over the decision? I think not.

You open the book, either drawn by the title, the book cover, the name of the author or the recommendation of the shop assisant. Or just by chance. Then what? Yeah, you skim the pages. Is it something for you or not? Don't try to tell me that you need to read the whole thing before you know wether you'll buy it or not.

You buy it or you put it back. Nothing else is an agent doing when she considers your query and and written pages.

Ever thought a book was OK, but after you took it home and you read the first chapter, it went downhill from there? That's why agents ask for partials first, then full: to make sure that the book is as good on the last page as it promised to be on the first.

So these people do that, day by day, year by year. With at least enough success to have remained in business. If anything, they are at least as good as any writer out there in telling the good from the bad. Since their survival depends on it directly (as is not the case with most writers) they're prone to be better at it.

The good thing? Just as one reader passes a book and another picks it up, some agent might pass your novel and another might pick it up. If everybody keeps refusing, it might be your writing....

Anonymous said...

Grumbly anonymous is right. This agent saved you a few weeks' or months' aggravation. I'm always amazed when the Rejected come out with the ol' "They didn't even read it!" line. Do you really believe that stuff? They READ IT. They didn't like it. For whatever reason. They read enough to know it wasn't for them. I imagine NOT looking at queries at all is like trying not to look at a train wreck--it's human nature to take a peek.

I once got a lightning-fast return reject similar to what you describe. My query went clear across the country and the rejection was back at my house in two or three days. The agent in question is rumored to read and reject queries IN the post office. He brings his form rejections with him--and yes, they are probably dated a few days earlier. Take out query, look it over--not for you? Take out form rejection, fold, put in SASE, drop in slot. Repeat.

Is he rude because he didn't take it back to his office, sit it in a stack for a month, then do the exact same thing, sending me a form dated appropriately? Dammit, I want my form rejection to be perfect in every way, you jerk! We writers sure can be weird. Don't send my manuscript back all clean and uncrumpled! Don't send it back dirty and disgusting! Don't send it back too soon, or too early, or on my birthday or Valentine's! Use just the right words to tell me no, not too harsh, not too kind. Say it only if you mean it. Why didn't you say it? You hate me, don't you?

Sure, I felt dumb for sending off a query that was obviously not Mr. Post Office's cup of tea. But I sure appreciated his swift response.

Writer, you are over-anaylyzing. It started with "the post office said it would take three to five days to reach New York" (your average first-class mail time--that's all the P.O. ever says) and only got worse. Your question sounds like a word problem.

A query letter is sent to an agent's office. Assume his mail clerk is not brand-new and the agent isn't out sick that day. Add 24 hours of mail-room processing time to the 73 and one-half hours it took for the letter to arrive, plus the 12 minutes it takes on average for the mail cart to get up to his office, plus three minutes while the mail clerk stops to chat with his or her current crush . . .

When you start trying to estimate the exact minute your letter will get into the agent's hands and exactly how many seconds it might take before you could possibly expect to hear back, that's when it's time to find something else to do.

I know. I've been there. In fact, I'm there right now. Have a seat.

Sarah said...

F&SF gives the fastest rejections ever! At first I was sort of offended, but now I wish other mags did as well. I have also had something sent back with a personalized comment within days. I think they're just efficient like that.

Anonymous said...

Shucks, rejected author, I've got matching bruises! I recently sent a query letter from Nevada to NY, and got my SASE back so fast it must have left skid marks on the agent assistant's desk! I sat at my desk counting calendar dates in disbelief, too.

BUT ... as someone observed above, how long does it take *you* to reject a book? Seriously! If you're at the book stand thumbing through prospective reading, how long do you hold a novel in your hands, before you say "Nope, not for me" and put it back? You know in just those few moments if a book is or is not a good fit.

I've come to the conclusion that it's not that agents or their assistants aren't taking our submissions seriously. It's that intelligent people are capable of discerning what they like or don't like - that fast. If a submission does NOT make an agent sit up and go, "Ooh!", how is s/he going to muster the enthusiasm to sell the thing?

It *is* a subjective business. Just be glad they read promptly and you got the bad news fast, and then move on. That was only one person's opinion. Chin up and carry on, there's better luck next time. :-)

~ G. Atwater

writtenwyrdd said...

Here's the gist of it, to my way of thinking: Why would said agent NOT read the query?

Oh, wait, I know: Agent has so much free time that between sipping at the gin pail and tennis matches he randomly selects from the query pile letters he arbitrarily rejects, unread.

Anonymous said...

I've received some speedy rejections, too. The fastest was 36 hours - snail mail!

This doesn’t make me suspicious, but appreciative that these agents are not sitting on a project they definitely don’t want.

ex-ed said...

Don't worry about the date. I've done similar things myself. Basically, the standard rejection letter is kept on a computer file, and each time you send one, you alter the date, the address it's sent to, the name of the book you're rejecting (possibly) and the author you're writing to. You don't need to change anything else if you're just sending a standard rejection. And, if you're having a dozy day, it's perfectly possible that you simply forget to alter something before printing it out or typing it up. It's even possible you'll notice, and if it's not a big slip (which the date wouldn't seem like, from many an agent's perspective), you decide it's not worth the cost of another expensive monogrammed sheet to reprint it.

Don't take it personally. It was just a form rejection with a mistake on it. As for the speed of turnaround, it's not impossible that the agent goes through submissions once a week and your manuscript happened to turn up on new-submissions day. In any case, you're free to move on now. Try not to worry more than you have to (easier to say than do, of course...)