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A couple weeks ago an author on my mailing list, trying to stay afloat in a flood of rejection letters, shared an article with me that he’d written. It talked about the stupid things literary agents say and do when rejecting authors.

He made some
good points.

One of them was that rejection letters often contain “misguided, clumsy attempts at soothing the sting of rejection and that most of them are about as conciliatory as an upraised middle finger.”

The article was
pretty funny.


It inspired me write my own article on the topic. This article. It’s my reply to the author, the flip side of the subject, my attempt to balance the argument.

Why is this important?

My article will help you have an easier time dealing with the inevitably emotional journey of getting rejections. And, the more you understand about what agents say and do (and why they say and do it), it will be easier for you to get literary agents reading your work… and, hopefully, fighting over the opportunity to represent you.


Let’s take a look at all the “stupid”
things agents say and do
(and why they say
and do them).

* * *

The “Stupid” Things that
Literary Agents Say and Do


1. Rejecting authors quickly

Literary agents sometimes respond
to query letters quickly.


For example, some of my coaching clients have gotten requests for more material (sample chapters, complete manuscripts and/or book proposals) in just 2-1/2, 3, 4, or 5 minutes after sending out their queries.


You can get a rejection
letter just as fast.

It doesn’t mean that the agent didn’t carefully consider your material. It means that the agent was checking his or her emails when you submitted your query.

Authors gripe all the time about agents who take weeks or months to respond to queries. Those authors can’t also complain about agents who are quick.

You simply can’t
have it both ways.


If you got a request for more material from an agent, or an offer for representation, in just a few minutes, I’m pretty sure you’d be bragging about it.

* * *

2. “Dear Author”

Why do literary agents write form letters?

First, because most established agencies get
more than a thousand query letters each month.

Second, if an agent writes anything that seems even remotely personal or individualized, the author who receives the letter will be twice as likely to respond with: comments the agent will feel obliged to respond to; questions the agent doesn’t have time to answer; or emotional venting from the author in the form of accusing, begging, crying, ranting, or threatening.

As a former literary who “tested” several
different methods of rejecting
authors, I’ve seen it all.

99% of the time,
form letters
are best.


If you write a great query, you’re more likely to get some type of personal feedback from someone at some point (if you keep sending queries out).

So, keep sending
them out.

* * *

3. “Good luck!” or “Keep trying!”

In case
you’re wondering…

Just because someone wishes you well or encourages you in a rejection letter… doesn’t mean they think you need it, or that you and your work are pathetic.

And, the phrase “Good luck” doesn’t imply
that getting published is completely up to chance.

If an agent says those things,
he or she is trying to be encouraging.

Would you rather get a response like that, or have someone tell you that you and/or your writing and/or the publishing industry suck… and you should give up?

That’s what
I thought.

* * *

4. “We’re very picky about what we accept”

This isn’t an elitist statement implying
that you and your work aren’t worthy.

Don’t read it
that way.

Think of it
this way…

Every person on this planet is entitled to spend time with people and projects they enjoy and/or they feel are a good fit for them–and that’s a highly subjective process.

For example…

You might like vanilla and
I might like chocolate.

Or, I might be burned out on ice cream entirely because my cousin works for Baskin-Robbins and recently gave me ten gallons of Rocky Road.

Even worse, I might be
allergic to nuts!

(Insert joke here about
some writers being nuts)

* * *

5. “Please understand that we receive thousands of submissions, and that we can’t possibly…”

Some authors get annoyed because,
when they read a phrase like this,
it seems like the agent is
asking for sympathy.

They’re not asking
for sympathy.

They’re asking
for understanding.

Literary agents know that most authors don’t realize how many submissions they get. As a result, most authors also have unrealistic expectations about how quickly agents will get back to them.

And, they have unrealistic expectations
about the type of responses
they’re going to get
(personal vs. form letter).


This type of statement by literary agents is actually an attempt to help appease authors who might feel like no one reviewed their submission.

If you don’t get represented by an agent right away, it doesn’t mean your work isn’t any good. It means there is a helluva lot of competition.

* * *

The Bottom Line and More Information

Face it…

A rejection
is a rejection.

Is there really anything that a literary agent
who’s not interested in your work
can say that won’t sting?

I doubt it.

If an agent doesn’t say enough (or anything at all) you’re likely to get angry or, at the very least, discouraged. If the agent does say something, even if he or she has the best of intentions (like the things I shared in this article) you’re also likely to get angry or discouraged.

And that’s my point.

You get to choose (no, you have to choose) what you want to think, feel, and do when you get rejection letters. Are you going to let your fear or disappoint get the best of you and consume you like cancer? Or, are you going to stay positive and productive… and keep going?

Don’t be critical.

Be practical.

Focus on doing all you can to improve your query letter
and your book (and your book proposal
if you’re a nonfiction author).

Get feedback from someone who knows what they’re talking about
(who isn’t a friend or relative) who will be
positive and productive as well.

And, make sure you read this other article
I wrote about Literary Agent Feedback.

Agent feedback is often completely misinterpreted by authors–and that can be fatal. Click here now to find out if the literary agent feedback (rejection letters) you’ve been getting are personal… or form letters.

And keep sending
out your work.


Getting published isn’t luck,
it’s a decision.

–  Mark

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