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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why You WANT An Agent to Reject You

I came across a post on Absolute Write today that was more passive-aggressive than Emperor Palpatine on sedatives--in which a prospective author said an agent could 'drop dead' for rejecting him.

Okay, maybe that's not passive-aggressive. Maybe that's straight up aggressive.

Here's the thing, everybody--you want rejections. You need them. Without them, you will not survive in the writing world.

What was that? And who am I to say such a preposterous thing?

I'm a ghost. An invisible nobody. No, really, I'm not kidding--I ghost-write for a living--and I'd be humiliated if some of the things I wrote even just three years ago saw the light of day. Thank God I got rejected. That's not blasphemy. I mean it. I write so much better now because some folks looked me in the eye across the internet and shot lasers at me until I stopped vomiting adverbs and purple prose. So maybe you're not like me. Maybe you wrote like Shakespeare's Muse from the day you burst out of your mother's womb. But you still need rejection.

No, I'm not gonna break into a spiel about how it makes you stronger and increases your soul's power to over 9,000 or anything like that. That's been said.

No, you want rejection because you want to avoid the terrible things acceptance could do to you under the wrong circumstances. Would you rather become trapped in a legal contract with an agent who actually hates your work, or would you rather get a pleasant rejection? Would you rather humiliate yourself and destroy an agent's reputation by forcing her to represent sub-par work, or would you rather improve? Would you rather deal for years with an agent who doesn't really understand your subject and can't figure out where to pitch your work, or would you rather he told you, "hey, I'm not really into superheroes, I'm gonna pass"? You deserve an agent who's crazy about you and your work--and your agent deserves a client who can keep her career on the rise. Anything less than that, any kind of compromise, will only damage your career in the long run.

Back in 2011, Wendy Lawton of the Books and Such Literary Agency wrote a post that involved these five words about her agenting approach: "Speak the truth in love." She doesn't give out manuscript requests too liberally at conferences, she says, because she doesn't want to raise the hopes of an author who really needs to do some polishing first. I'm not going to say I hate getting manuscript requests--oh gosh I don't--but please just reject me if it's not going to work. Waiting and waiting for a manuscript request that really only holds me back from much-needed revisions? No thanks. If my partial is so bad you're only reading to see where the trainwreck goes, please, please don't request the MS. That's just mean. I'm not saying agents do this. I'm saying I'm so glad they don't. I'm so, so happy that agents take the time to send kind, honest rejections, whether or not they have time to give a line of feedback.

So, dear writing friends, this isn't a "quit your whining" post. God only knows I'm here with you. This is a post to tell you how much you need rejection to protect you from the scary publishing world, to cleanse your writing, and to strengthen your character. Please don't go sending a 'thank-you' to every agent who sends you a form rejection, now, but do say an honest thank-you in your heart--or a prayer, if you can--for each rejection you get. Don't let it hurt.

These are only the pangs of the rebirth of your muse.


  1. Great outlook. I noticed a patter in the rejections I received on my partial and full requests, which helped me pinpoint the weakness in my book. All those changes were necessary, and I needed to hear it. Painful to be rejected by top level agents, but I was happy enough they wanted to read my material in the first place. Brush yourself off and move on!

  2. Nice post! Agent requests (of anything) are a blessing and a curse.

    The great news is that you know your premise and first few chapters are good enough to peak someone's interest. You've got something cooking. But a rejection means they either weren't feeling the whole thing or your execution wasn't good enough.

    It may just be the kick you need to give it another look.

    Thanks for writing this!