Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What not to do when you get a rejection.

Okay, I wasn't going to post tonight because I'm not feeling all that chipper and I have a deadline to meet on a writing project (yes, I do things other than read queries) and the cats need petting but since I have now encountered this not once, not twice, nay - not even five times - but a whopping seventeen times today alone - seventeen! that's a lot! that's a whole Stevie Nicks song! and a whole Janis Ian song! and it is one more than sixteen, which was fifteen more than I ever wanted to see in my inbox! - I have decided to do y'all a favor and post a piece of advice on how not to respond to a query rejection. I may be a tad over-caffeinated right now, but the advice is sound so follow along, m'kay?

When I send you a note and tell you that I have decided to pass on your query:
  1. Do not write back and thank me for the rejection: While I understand that your mama raised you right and I do appreciate your good manners, a thank you isn't necessary. My in-box is full of enough things for me to read and those half-seconds that it takes me to open and then discard your email really add up. The whole point of e-queries is to expedite the process, for you and for me. [Caveat: It's not that I hate being thanked; it's just that I think you should wait until I have done something to actually deserve your thanks.]
  2. Do not write me to ask me why I am passing on your query: The fact is that I've made my decision. Deal with it and move on. It certainly isn't a value judgment on you or your book. And your life will be all the sweeter if you just take a deep breathe and let it go. Seriously. Also? You'll find that a pint of Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk often helps.
  3. Do not send me passive-aggressive notes hinting that perhaps I haven't read your query deeply enough and if I'd just take a second look...: While this might make you feel better, it only annoys me and then I will be forced to amuse myself by adding your email address to my spam filter.
  4. If I have taken the time to actually point out that you really need to work on your query letter, it means exactly what it says: Don't ask me for an in-depth analysis of your query letter. I am not your writing instructor. I am not your therapist. I am not your girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, partner, dom, squeeze, insurance salesman, hedgefund broker, grandmother or life coach. I'm just an agent. My job is to find those writers whose work is already professional and polished so that I can do my best to present that work to an editor at a publishing house in the hopes of helping those writers start a career. Your job is to get your writing - including your query letter - up to that professional and polished level. Before you hit "send".
Okay, taking my curmudgeonly and sick self to bed now.


pjd said...

Does non-thanking apply to rejections of partials as well as rejections of queries? I wrote thank-you emails to both of the agents who (a) spoke with me at length at a conference and (b) requested partials off my query and (c) were kind enough to offer a reasonably constructive explanation of why they weren't going to take on the project. Feedback that will be useful before I send out the MS again.

Should I now send them retractions of those thank-you emails?

(ok, I admit it, I'm being a smartass)

La Gringa said...

No, I'm only talking about queries. Usually if an agent has taken the time to give you feedback on a partial that s/he is passing on, it's perfectly okay to thank that agent. They have take time out of their day to do something nice for you.

But with a query rejection, you're usually only getting a polite (well, in my case, at least) form letter. And if I reject 150-175 queries in one week and every one of those folks writes me back to thank me for the rejection, that's another 150-175 emails for me to wade through. I just don't have that kind of time.

strangerface said...

I don't really have a problem with people saying "Thanks for your time" as a response to my rejection. When I see them come in, my immediate reaction is to get defensive because I assume it's going to be someone complaining or telling me I'm stupid. It's a bit of a relief when it turns out to be a simple thanks.

I agree with everything else though, particularly the part about not having read carefully enough or not properly considering. Because if that *were* the case (it's not), you've just made me think you're difficult and not someone I want to work with. This query process just isn't about the story--it's about finding out if you're crazy too.

La Gringa said...

strangerface -

YES YES YES!!! So true. :-)

About the crazy, I mean. Heh.

Cheryl Reif said...

KK--glad for the clarifications. I'm with pjd, thanking for the ones who take time to connect/comment. As for points 2-4 -- ack! Do people really do that?

John Arkwright said...

The usual query rejection is "not right for me." Colleen's rejection of "did not resonate with me" seemed to border on feedback.

I was almost approaching a place where I could imagine seeing the near edge of being elated (if I squinted). With a jillion and five things that could be wrong with a query, "does not resonate with me" seemed specific.

Of course, that could be Colleen's form rejection, so I know I might just be reading portents in stars that have already died.

Time to writewritewrite.

Nathan said...

Pleeze axept this hartfelt thnx for not telling mai purson not to send you a kwery. The lazy shit kant even get around to finitioning hiz buk much less krfting a werthy kwery litter (i mean letter, fruitian slip there). If/wenn u reject his kwery, ah'll be shoor to scarch up hiz nuckels if h tryz to thnk u.

Ollie the Cat.

Jesse said...

I agree about the Ben and Jerry's. But if you eat the whole pint for every query, your (ahem) assets may grow significantly.

Aimless Writer said...

Okay, I'm good with everything except the first. ITS SO HARD not to thank someone! Especially if the agent made a comment about the work.
One agent told me, although the writing was good, my book moved to fast and she felt like she was rushing to the end. This gave me a whole new "view" of my work and now I know what to work on to improve. Her words were gold! How can I not thank her?
Okay, no more thank yous...I'll hold back and put my itchy fingers to work on my next WIP. >sigh<

La Gringa said...

Dear Aimless -

Remember, I'm talking about query rejections only, not when an agent has read a partial and/or a full and has made helpful commentary.

Queries are a whole different ball game.

jjdebenedictis said...

*pats you*

Get well soon. :-)

I would say thank you to an agent whose rejection letter (even for a query; it has happened) contains advice specific to my first pages or letter. That's not just really nice of them, it's also an uncalled-for donation of their time, and I do appreciate it.

*pats Ollie the Cat for good measure, because he made me laugh*

Cursing in Heels said...

I'm totally floored that people actually do this. For a partial or a full, I could see. But for a query? As a writer, I assume that the agent has very little time anyway and the fact that I at least got a response is a bonus. Why bog his/her email down with more of my drivel?

Plus...maybe it's just me, but thanking an agent for a rejected query is sort of like thanking a guy for never calling you again. Just accept it, hope for better next time and move on.

Seth said...

I was going to ask a general question, but I think you answered half of it: Now that you've had a month or two under your belt, what are the best and worst things about being a new agent?

Based on the four-paragraph rant, I'll assume the Thank-Yous are the worst part. What's been the best?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Strangerface makes a good point. There are too many level-headed writers out there to put up with the difficult ones. I hate when writers at the zine turn out to be difficult. In our case, it's a short process to publication. But to send such a writer out to editors and marketing folks and the public, all of them knowing YOU back the writer...scary.

nomoretwaddle said...

Something I've recently learned:

"curmudgeon" is masculine -- so you can't be one.

"crone" is the female equivalent.

Just because I'm sure you couldn't live without that information. ;)

Heidi the Hick said...

Last fall I thanked an agent for rejecting me with the best, most positive, uplifting form letter ever. Like, I'm not fooling myself, I know agents don't have time to craft a personal rejection for every flailing writer... but hers was so good I wanted her to know it.

I hope I didn't piss her off. I was sincere.

Scott said...

So if it's just a generic rejection of a query with a one-line general reason (although that's helpful too) and not really a critique, it's no on the thanks, right?

It was so hard not to respond in some way to a rejection the other day. But then, it came almost exactly one hour after I found out somebody important to me had died that morning, so I was already feeling pretty down. I didn't mind the rejection so much--I'm used to those--but would have loved something positive to hang on to, under the circumstances.

But I didn't respond. I know better.

suzie said...

You mean if you reject someone, you don't want them to write back and tell you that you must have made a mistake because their Dan Brown meets Twilight meets Harry Potter manuscript which will appeal to everyone from ages 8 to 88 is going to make you millions, and could you please just look at it again? Perhaps you'd rather they call and explain it over the phone :)

And I can't believe you don't want to be a dom to all the writers out there - why ever not?

Ah, Ollie the Cat, too funny.

elissa said...

oops, I did send you a thanks once on a query rejection when you had given me some revision ideas (and invited me to resub if I made those revisions)...but I wouldn't have sent anything back if it were just a form reject. I really did appreciate the feedback and have given the revision ideas much thought. I understand about the clogged inbox, though. :)

pericat said...

You mention your query rejection is essentially a form letter. You might consider setting it up so that the 'reply-to' field is some variant on 'do-not-reply@yourdomain'.

This will not stop people determined to argue with you, but it will slow down those who don't really mean to annoy you.

Joyce Lansky said...

I never sent thank yous for rejections until I read an agents tweet saying that writers should send them. We're between a rock and a hard place because (other than you and Chris) I don't know what agents expect in terms of thank yous.

John Backman said...

Given the topic, I'm hesitant to write this--but, well, thank you for this post. I too am congenitally inclined to thank everyone for everything ("I so appreciate the root canal, Doctor"), so knowing that they do the agent a disservice is very helpful knowledge.