Responding to "no" with "why not"

If an agent answers a query (or responds to a submission of, maybe, a synopsis and a few chapters) saying "No thanks. Not right for me" -- or "I didn't fall in love with it, so can't see representation," is it ever permissible to ask for suggestions, explanations, pointers? Or have agents got much better things to do with their time than coach someone whose work they don't particularly care for?

I'm not a writing coach or an editor. There are many other places to get that info. And sometimes there's nothing "wrong" it's just right for that agent.

You don't want to pay for stamps (since you're the same person who posted that comment about having agents pay for reply letters) and now you want me to respond individually to your query. I get 100 queries a week. It would cost me 45cents in paper and ink, and at least twenty minutes for each query to offer even rudimentary suggestions.

Forget the $45 in paper and ink: that's 30 hours. How many hours a week do you want me to work for free? And once I've spent that 30 hours giving you suggestions, is that when I settle down to actually do work for clients..the clients whose work brings in the money to pay for the ink and paper and stamps you think you shouldn't have to pay for?


Folklore Fanatic said...

It astounds me to hear that so many people have unrealistic notions of entitlement. As a writer, I'm freaking happy enough that ALL it costs is an SASE. That someone who receives 100-200 pieces of mail a week is even polite enough to send a form rejection back goes beyond my expectations.

Preach it, Miss Snark. You go, girl! I would have let KY answer that one.

Elektra said...

How would you even be able to give good advice from a simple query?

Anonymous said...

Folklore fanatic,

I wouldn't go flinging that word "entitlement" around too cavalierly if I were you. Ya just never know when it may come back to bite you.

If a form rejection "goes beyond (your) expectations, I hope that's a reflection of your self-image, and not of your writing. If the latter, you might want to put a bear-hug on that day job.

My question to MS was quite simply "is it ever...?" and not "Am I not due..." "Shouldn't I expect...," whatever. I'm always eager to get critique/ pointers from those in the know -- and particularly when I don't have to pay for it. That's why I'm participating in this blog.

I'm just a little surprised that YOU are. Given your aversion to anything that even faintly stinks of "entitlement," I would've expected you to be looking for this advice at a Writers' Conference -- where you could easily drop $500 for the privilege.


Not easily. However, if (as an agent) I receive an ms from someone advocating for a new world order based on a diet of asparagus, I might be inclined to lend a helping hand by suggesting an alternative topic.

I'm an on-line editor by day. I look at 10 - 20 manuscripts each day between 8 and 6, Mon. - Fri. I could easily comply with my obligations by correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation -- basta. Or, in the event I get an ms from someone advocating for overthrow of the exisiting world order by asparagus tips (as sometimes happens), I can offer a, uh, pointer or two.

A simple query spells out plot-line, characters, word-length. If any (or all) of these are unrealistic, an agent could very easily suggest that the protagonist should NOT commit suicide on page 1, that even if (s)he does, (s)he should NOT look or sound like Yoda in heat, and that the whole story should NOT take the length of a bible to tell.

I'll admit that I "give away" much more to people who've obviously worked at their craft than I do to those who haven't. And since I work at mine, I hope (don't expect) to get a word back if an agent sits on my ms for four months without so much as a peep.


Anonymous said...

It all depends on what is ment by "not right for me."

I think under certain circumstances it's okay to go back to an agent. If, for example, she has read the entire ms. and expresses genuine admiration but really doesn't think she's the right agent to sell it--this can happen--then I think it's okay to ask if the agent knows someone who might be better to handle it.

But don't expect free story analysis. Don't demand anything. Be truly grateful for anything extra that is offered. And, for heaven's sake, include an SASE when you write back.

And ANYTHING you get back on a partial is gravy. Don't push it...

Anonymous said...

I think any kind of critique on the basis of a query would be the equivalent of basing a review on a back cover blurb. In other words: bad idea.

And of course the agent doesn't have the time to spare. She isn't in the query critique business, and the querents are not her clients, so the analogy is false.


Anonymous said...

I am currently awaiting word from an editor on my full MS. If I receive a form "not right for us" I intend to drop him a line via email and ask them something along the lines of:

1. What made you decide to request the full?

2. How did it not meet your expectations?

I don't know if that's nitwittery or not, but it's where I'm at now. I do believe there is a certain sort of tenacity one has to have in the profession.


Bernita said...

If you can't visualize/imagine this context and these priorities, perhaps you should wonder if you're getting inside the heads of your characters as well.

Kathleen said...

I also read somewhere (maybe it was here :) that agents don't like to send comments because they aren't sure how they will be received by the author.

If MS did make comments, she would have to deal with nastygrams about her comments in addition to the slush, and that would take even more time.

Folklore Fanatic said...


As per your questions to MS and your (mis)interpretation of what I said without getting off-topic:

Just for clarification, though I'm sure most people understood this, 'beyond my expectations' means for a rejection response. Sending off an email would be easier, though not necessarily more polite.

The fact that you throught seriously enough about this topic, then wrote to MS, then answered your own question at the end leads me to believe you think that agents who reject your work owe you their time. If you're not good enough, they owe you nothing.

Simplay asking such a question, imnsho, smacks of a sense of entitlement, especially when considered in relation to the prior message asking about SASEs. Capish? Good.

I don't know if there was a deliberately obtuse statement in the last paragraph, but reading blogs is about the free exchange of information--much akin to random acts of kindness on the street. I get the impression that attending writer's conferences (as opposed to workshops) are largely a waste of time and money for unpublished writers.

There's no need to get defensive...is there? ;)

P.S. -- I never fling words around, and even if I did, it certainly wouldn't be 'cavalierly.' I'm much more of a 'round-headed' person.

Jo Bourne said...
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