Check Your Ego at the Door

If you’re a writer, make sure to check your ego at the door. Publishing is a very humbling and frustrating business. Sometimes, no matter how good you write or how good your book might be, it still won’t hook an agent or it won’t sell. Why does that happen?

There are many things that go into an agent’s decision whether or not to offer representation and a publisher’s decision whether or not to buy a book. Obviously, the story and the writing must catch their attention, but that’s not all. The plot and characters need to be different enough from other books already under contract or published, but not so different that it makes people’s eyes cross. So, if you’re a romantic suspense writer, you might want to refrain from adding that cupcake-eating alien to your serial killer story. Just sayin’.

Sometimes, an agent or publisher will pass on a book because it’s too similar to something they already represent. Or an agent might not have been able to successfully place that style of book and is nervous about taking on yours. Maybe a publisher doesn’t feel books with that theme do well enough in the market, so as much as the editor wants to buy your story, she passes.

Whatever the reason, you MUST accept the rejection and MOVE ON. You might think you’re the next big thing, and maybe you are, but regardless of whether or not your talent has been recognized, you need to treat people (agents and editors included) with respect. Replying to an agent or editor with threats or insults only makes YOU look like a jerk. Yeah, it does. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you know better than they do, and that they didn’t understand your story. If they didn’t see your vision, it might be because of the way YOU wrote the story. Maybe they didn’t like your style. Maybe they didn’t think you wrote well enough. Or maybe, just maybe, they enjoyed your book but, for whatever reason, couldn’t take it on. See possible reasons above.

But it doesn’t matter why they rejected your manuscript, you’re not going to be able to manipulate or convince them to work with you, so don’t bother trying. Thank them for their time. It’s okay to ASK for clarification, but don’t expect a response. Some agents will reply and go into details about what didn’t work for them and why. Most won’t. Why should they? You haven’t hired them. They aren’t getting paid to give you extra feedback. And, get this… It’s not their job to help you when you aren’t their client. If you need constructive criticism on your manuscript, join a critique group or hire a freelance editor (like moi). The agent doesn’t owe you anything at this point.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I recently came across a few agent comments about writers responding in a negative way to their rejection letter. I’m hoping people aren’t purposely being nasty to agents. I understand how hard it is to accept rejection and how frustrating it can be to have worked on your masterpiece for months or even years only to receive one rejection after another. But before you reply while your emotions are high, remember this is a small industry and word gets around. Agents don’t forget when someone has been rude to them or their colleagues. Some even keep track of these people to ensure they never work with them. Is that how you want to start your career? I didn’t think so.

When you receive a rejection—everyone does—don’t feel compelled to respond to it, at least not immediately. Let your emotions cool so you don’t come across in a negative way. Then, either respond by thanking the agent for her time or don’t respond. If you didn’t agree with the agent’s feedback, you shouldn’t argue with her. Simply accept she isn’t the agent for you, or this isn’t the right story for her. When you have the right story and approach the right agent, everything will fall into place.

Lynnette Labelle
2015 Daphne du Maurier Finalist
2015 Molly Winner

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