Saturday, May 3, 2008

Lessons in how to never get an agent:
Part One - Hate Mail

A colleague of mine, also an agent, recently received the following missive in his/her email box after rejecting a would-be writer's submission. I read the rejection. It was polite and concise and offered nothing that could possibly be construed as a value judgement. What s/he received in response was totally unprofessional and - quite honestly? - uncalled for. I asked my colleague for permission to post a portion of this letter, with the obvious identifiers removed, so that you can understand what some agents have to deal with when they reject a query. This particular rejection was sent in response to a query whose writer had obviously not taken the time to research my colleague's submission requirements.
Dear [agent's name]

MY NAME IS [author's name removed].

This is NOT a form letter. Your reply is rather generic and offers no insight as to what you want. Unless you had ESP there is now way to know what my material is about.

IF you judge talent on a one page query letter I'm sure you have MISSED a lot in life, especially up and coming writers who need a damn break. [La Gringa notes here: this particular agent asks for a writing sample in addition to a query, something this writer had failed to provide.]

If Spielberg, Poe, or another great came to you would you blow them off too? Without knowing what geniuses they are? IF SO; I'm surprised there are any writers at all with your agency. Are they related to you?

I get the feeling you don't know talent when it stares you in the face or emails a one page query letter. If you base all your judgements on a one minute note, you are either psychic or don't have a clue that there is much more to this world than your office or small stable of writers who somehow bribed cajoled or kissed someone's ass to get there.

I'm not willing to cajole, I haven't the money to bribe, but I certainly kissed a lot of ass in the [xxxxxx] business for over 40 years but ran my OWN label and Production Company to cut out the non believing assholes.

Here's what you missed by overlooking my talent. IF you take the time to read this list you will see that I am not just another idiot looking for a deal.
The letter continues on in this vein for approximately fourteen more paragraphs, whereupon the writer lists every single (unsold) project that s/he ever wrote. Then, it continues (the all-caps, by the way, are the writer's.):

Can you write, paint, play an instrument, or compose music? If not, is that why you became an agent? If not, how can you judge another person's work if you don't have the talent to do it yourself? Is that the power derived from being a watcher and not a doer, a tight hand on the purse strings? IF you have written a thing I will look it up and read it so I know where your talent lies. I'm looking for a brave, fresh, innovative visionary who can actually realize the money to be made form a talented script such as myself. Seen a film lately? Hollywood is boring audiences to death with remake after remake. Play it safe, represent the same old BS.
Those among you who are writers may wonder why it is that many agents these days choose only to reply to those queries in which they are actually interested. The above letter would be that reason.

If you get a rejection, don't blow your top, lose your temper or otherwise behave like an asshole. Remember: A rejection isn't a value judgement on you or your work. It is simply an agent telling you that your particular manuscript wasn't right for that particular agent. Period. End of story. Accept it gracefully and move on.


Sue said...

Wow. What in the world did the letter writer hope to accomplish?

Somebody obviously forgot to take his meds.

hldyer said...

1. I'm glad you have internet access again.

2. Good grief.

S. E. Ward said...

Oh, my. This person should perhaps give up writing in favour of some long walks on the beach, or should at least put some effort into learning the art of brevity. 'Cause if the tirade is any indication of the query? Then eesh.

Good to see you back online!

Joya said...

LOL, at least s/he is published (in your blog) now! Mission: Accomplished?

And like everyone else said, great to see you online again. :)

Jinx said...

My goodness. It's no wonder you all don't like responding even when you aren't interested! Like you said, that was unprofessional and uncalled for. Personally, I like to hear from an agent either way so I know what's happening with my query. If someone's not interested, I'll move on, but in no way is it ever good to write a response like that to a potential agent.

And here's a thought: How about explaining in your synopsis what your material is about? That way the agent doesn't need to have ESP. Just my two cents. =)

Tia Nevitt said...

Since I started running Fantasy Debut, I've come to learn a bit of what it's like to be the recipient of queries to which I'd rather not respond. The best way I found to stop getting creepy emails? Stop responding.

Now when I query an agent, I'm totally cool with non-responses. I mark it after a month and move on.

Conduit said...

Wow. Even if this person had written the most staggeringly good book since the invention of the printing press, you'd never want to work someone so volatile. Rejection is a fact-of-life for every writer, even the very best, and why this person thinks they're the exception is beyond me.

Look at it another way - say if the did manage to get published. How would they react to a negative review?

Catherine said...


What exactly was this person hoping to achieve?

Obviously they don't realise that agents talk to each other.

archangelbeth said...

Oiy. Of all my sins, the only time I ever wrote back to an agent was to say "Thank you for your personal comment!"

I treasure my rejections! Each one was polite and hopeful. (Okay, I treasure non-rejections more, but I hope no one will hold that against me. O:> ) No, none of them pointed a magic finger at the actual flaw in my sample pages, but sheesh, not their job to realize I could do better. That was my job.

So. Ee.

And glad to see you back with computer access!

freddie said...

Yikes. This is bad.

Glad to see you're back, though.

Dan said...

Now, that's my kind of bitter right there. In fact, I may hire this writer to craft a manifesto to express my confusion surrounding my local McDonald's propensity for hiring vegetarians.

Aside from that, yeah. Rejection, however unwanted, is actually pretty damn necessary.

JD Rhoades said...

If Spielberg, Poe, or another great came to you would you blow them off too?

"I said, 'you know they refused Jesus, too,' the guy said, 'You ain't him." -Bob Dylan

freddie said...

I've been thinking about this a bit.

conduit mentioned reaction to bad reviews. I wonder how this "writer" would react—if s/he does make it through the submission and publication process to having an actual book on bookshelves—if the book doesn't sell? Does this person think s/he will be selling to other writers and artists only, people who are "qualified" to pass judgment on the book? I suppose then s/he'll have a change of heart in a hurry.

Erastes said...

Good grief.

Can you imagine what they would be like in the editing process?


NM said...

Welcome to my world. Here's a recent comment someone said of me and the guidelines to my more recent anthology:

Mamatas has missed the point entirely. It doesn't matter whether he ever tells anyone he rejected his story because it did not follow the guidelines; the point is, he's already justified using that excuse in his own mind, as is evident from his first post, with his long list of the kinds of people who were never meant to submit to the anthology in the first place. If he doesn't like a story or its author, but has no legitimate reason to reject it, he can just invoke his handy excuse. Whether he actually tells the author is irrelevant.

annathepiper said...


That *thud* y'all just heard was my jaw over here whomping on the floor. 'Cause this letter? It leaves me whomperjawed.

Margay said...

What concerns me is the writer's assertion that what s/he wrote is the greatest work ever before created and that everything else (i.e., all of the other clients of this agent) was drivel. Perhaps that is true, but how are we to discern this from the tenor of this email? And who would want to work with someone who has such an ego and can't stand a little bit of criticism/opposition? No matter how well a person writes, it does not guarantee that everyone is going to love what they wrote. It could be a matter of personal taste and we can't fault people for that unless their personal taste crosses the bounds of respectability and/or legality. If I were this writer, I would think hard on whether or not I am actually ready to publish. If the writer took this rejection hard, what about the critics out there who make their living reviewing books? Is the writer going to email all of them with this type of rant? I think this is just sad. In these days of instant internet gratification, some people should take a few minutes to reconsider before pressing Send.

folklorefanatic said...

...The hell?

Um, yeah. I swear we're not all this far past the stupid line. I promise. Good grief.

If this person had been fired from a job, THEN maybe I could understand the vitriol, but...a QUERY LETTER?

Aerin said...

Hi - I came over here because of "ps from the query wars" and had a giggle over annathepiper's whomperjaw.

I also love the picture of your Machiavellian kitties.

I hope your friend who's the agent has thicker skin than the would-be author who wrote this letter. (A person whom I'm guessing is around 12 years old BECAUSE OF ALL THE CAPS for emphasis.) Receiving a letter like that would upset anyone's equilibrium, however briefly. That's why God invented alcohol.

JD Rhoades said...

I see someone behaving like this and I can't help but think "Does this tactic usually work for you? "Cause it ain't workin' now."

Julie Weathers said...

Holy crap.

I've been debating about even sending a short, polite thank you to a rejection. I'm sure agents have enought mail to sort through without more. The southern girl in me, however, says it's only common courtesy to say thank you.

Exhibiting class and courtesy is always a plus and this person did neither.

I treasure my rejection letters. It means I'm one step closer to finding the perfect agent.

chang3002 said...

wtf, chuck?! This is especially helpful for me that when I wonder if my own work is ever going to see the light of day or be seen by an agents eyes, I see someone reacting like this and it reminds me to keep my cool and sit on it.

Thanks for the healthy dose of reality!
- Chang

p-n-elrod said...

Dear Writer,

I grovel at your toes. This was the BEST thing I've ever read or ever will read. You've spoiled me for the written word for the rest of my miserable, unfulfilled, and now quite empty life.

The truth is I'm utterly unworthy of doing you justice as your agent.

Seriously, there is no way I can rep this work--it's simply beyond my limited scope. Please, please forgive me for wasting your precious time!

I'm shutting my life down and moving to a religious retreat to pray that the Almighty will lead you swiftly to someone who CAN help you.

Yours truly,

The Bag of Human Misery Who Could Not Help You




There, you insane and likely to remain forever unpublished writer.

HAPPY now?

nymeria87 said...

Good grief...
This leaves me speechless...

Welcome back to the realms of the internet though and thanks for posting this shocking example of how not to get published. Ever.

Adaora A. said...

Good God.

Even if she didn't have the decency to respect another human being (being aware that she is a pot calling the kettle black by being the person judging this agent), at the very least this person should know that publishing is a small world. What are they playing at? People know who is who. This person really is showing a lack of respect for herself. Is this how she would be if she was lucky enough to land an agent? Who the hell would be interested in working with such a blundering idiot? Aside from the fact that this person didn't even follow submission policy, publishing is subjective. One person's cake is another person's liver. It's all a matter of taste. This person needs to develop a thicker skin, grow up, and learn to respect herself and other people.

Georgiana said...

The weirdest thing to me is not that they wrote a nasty email, or even that they clicked send, but the sheer amount of energy that had to have gone into this.

Wouldn't most people have run out of steam a couple of paragraphs in?

When you're this mad it's time to go for a walk or play some Wii boxing or something. Yikes.

Hope all is going well with the continuing home search.

Arachne Jericho said...

Wow, this hate mail is really making the rounds on teh interwebs.

I wonder if this person knows that all of the writing and publishing world, nay, even to the measly unpublished poetry writers, ar laughing at him/her/it.

Jamie Hall said...

If you want to read lots more of these whiney, angry letters, go to, which has also been extensively criticized by bloggers (see the famous "Slushkiller" post on Making Light at ).

iainjcoleman said...

What the author should have done was: write this letter, print it out... then put it in a desk drawer and never let it see the light of day.

Natalie Hatch said...

Perhaps the writer was Aspergic or BiPolar and having an off day? Or he could be like my students and think that everyone else is delusional and they're the reason for the sun shining daily. Either way I promise never to write one of these (might think it sometimes, but never write it).

leesmiley said...

In the same vein as Ms. Elrod (pun intended, as I'm a fan), I think I would have responded thusly:

Dear Writer:

I appreciate your concern regarding my qualifications to judge your query. As it happens, I am psychic. Good luck in finding representation.

Also, be sure you have lunch on the 14th with someone who knows the Heimlich Maneuver.

Psychically yours,

(Agent's name), aka Miss Cleo

violinkicksbras said...

Oh my god... I think a little piece inside of me just died, knowing that someone would respond with such crap.

Southern Writer said...

Personal note to the author of that diatribe: Repeat after me:

Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Thank you for your kind consideration.

Practice it until it becomes second nature.

Ulysses said...

1) I expect to be rejected. It's like darts. You shouldn't be surprised when you miss the target. You should be surprised when you hit it.

2) Unfortunately, in my experience, there is nothing anyone can do to change someone like this writer. They don't usually recognize the need for change.

John Cecil said...

Some agents get a hundred queries an week and this person thinks agents have time to read every one that someone sends them.

Who can read a hundred books in one week?

arcaedia said...

To further prove this person will be unlikely to make friends and influence people, I was just cleaning out my inbox and found a reply from someone a couple weeks ago and I think it's the same person based on the reference to ESP and the fact that I got a detailed listing of all the projects, too! Based on what I got, I think this person has gotten even more frustrated and abusive in the last few weeks:

"I'm not sure what it takes to raise your curiosity or enthusiasm but if you haven't read my material I'd think you had ESP to be able to judge its merits.

I believe it takes much more than a query or synopsis to know what a writer can or cannot do. Since I am not the agent in this situation I'd like to say that I recognize talent when I see, hear or discover it.

The whole epic series is complete except for moderate tweaking. What do you not recognize about the money to be made with this material. Are you so wealthy that
talent can be passed by without a second thought?"

Followed by the several paragraphs of description and ending with:

Thanks for nothing.

Oh, and I didn't get a sample either (though first five pages are requested on our official website and agentquery, among other places).

Jennifer Jackson

K said...

On the plus side, sounds like the Unknown Writer is at least getting some writing practice. On the other it's beginning to sound like the lead in to a Law and Order episode - leave us all hope s/he/it sticks to writing letters...

And I seriously wonder if the fatigue of cleaning the inbox from stuff like THAT outweighs the propriety of my sending a POLITE thank you to any agent/editor who has the kindness to look at my submission, and tell me they have, even if they don't need it.

Julia said...

Aren't you doubly glad you didn't stick your hand any further into the crazy?

La Gringa said...

Jennifer - mean this writer is using a FORM HATE MAIL in response to our form rejections?



Josephine Damian said...

Conduit wrote: Look at it another way - say if they did manage to get published. How would they react to a negative review?

Or worse! What I featured them in a "Why I Stopped Reading (This) Book" blog post?

My diagnosis? Paranoid delusional.

Ulysses said...

Form hate mail? It's rare one runs into an efficient idiot.

Lucy said...

You know, I've never had anything but positive contacts with agents, bless their hearts. I've even had one take the time to critique my proposal so kindly and thoroughly (even though he rejected it), that I sent him a Christmas card and a thank you note.

I still laugh, though, over one rejection I got. An agency -- very reputable, but also apparently a little too busy -- had requested to see my nonfiction proposal. Unfortunately I had had to pull it off the market at that time due to circumstances beyond my control, and wrote to tell them so. Imagine my surprise when I received a form rejection letter. They had rejected my rejection! I can only suppose that some poor secretary was having a pull-one's-hair-out day, and grabbed the nearest form response; but it was funny.

P.S. La Gringa, please give the agent who received that piece of miserable tripe some extra hugs from all of us!

FluffyBunny said...

The saddest part is, he or she is actually being widely read now.

What a maroon.

John Cecil said...

I'll admit that I have made a bigger ass of myself. I was young,though, and didn't know better. I don't think this person knew any better either. It could be worse. Maybe he/she just needs to work on his query instead of writing vindictive letters. From what I have read this writer has a lot of room for improvement, but don't give up! Take that energy and put it towards something positive. Everyone feels that was for a split second or two, maybe longer, but you need to get back to what you enjoy doing, or else you are not a writer. The fact is that with so much entertainment from TV, Movies, books, you have to come up with something that catches people's attention. Good luck though!

Nicole Lorenz said...

Wow, what a wanker. This is the kind of thing that might be understandable coming from a sixteen-year-old, but when someone's old enough to have "kissed a lot of ass in the [xxxxxx] business for over 40 years," they really oughtta know better.

The hate mail form letter idea is intriguing, though. I wonder if he spent as much time crafting that as he did on his query letter?

JuwBagel said...

Just one more reason to love Mr. Gore's InTrAwEbZ: Every time somebody makes an ass of himself and I'm not around to see it, somebody else takes it and puts it everywhere to make sure that I do get to see it.

I'm also waiting for the day an agent gets a response to a rejection containing one or more of the following: 2Girls1Cup, Lemon Party, Goatse, Meatspin, Tubgirl, Pain Olympics, etc.

(Note to the curious: Do not Google any of these terms. If you do and find yourself scarred, it is not my fault. Really, it isn't.)

All that said, I'm going to put my money on today's particular subject being in his mid-twenties: Old enough to have finished a few books but young enough to have fallen victim to the self-esteem generation. Remember, guys: Everybody wins, because if somebody loses, they'll be sad. If they're stupid, inflate their grade; if they can't write promise them a future in journalism; if they can't play sports, too damn bad because you can't kick them off the team.

John Cecil said...

They don't call it the slush pile for nothing!

In the future, just ignore situations like this, I know I will.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

I found this one on Absolute Write. Somehow, I suspect this hate mail excerpt will be the author's most widely read work.

Michael Devers said...

Sweet, karmic justice in all likelihood. If the author was in the music business for forty years and ran a record label, there's a 99% chance he/she doled out some rejection of their own. You get to eat what you make in this world.

Joseph said...

This is about the funniest damn thing I've read since beginning my exploration of agent blogs. Thanks for a good laugh.

roberto said...

Rob Stonehouse
Hmm rejection in the complainants case may be a failure to accept reality. several forms of rejection affect people quite severely. Similarity to sexual rejection seems to be the experience of this person as in inadequacy. Ah well it must have been somewhat entertaining for you all or it would have been shredded at the first paragraph. Rob