Monday, December 10, 2007

Jeff Kleinman's No Critism Rejection

A reader sent in this rejection. Note the praise. Note the despair. Note the smattering of jaunty agent lingo: "Alas!" "Let me know where it lands!" I declare this rejection a beautiful specimen, demonstrating just how lame publishing is right now.
"Dear [name of author]: This is beautifully done, but I think I'm the wrong guy for it. I passed it on to my colleague Laney Becker, who does a lot of women's fiction (I thought maybe it could be considered women's fiction, which is why I sent it over to her), and alas she felt that it wasn't quite up her alley, either. I don't have any criticism - it's gorgeously done - and I'm sure you'll find an agent and a publisher in a heartbeat for it, but I guess we just don't have the vision for it. SO sorry - would have loved to work with you on it - and do stay in touch and let me know where it lands!
All best,
Jeff Kleinman
Folio Literary Management"

It makes you want to shout at this dude: "So just publish the damn thing if it's so beautiful, gorgeous, and beyond criticism." I guess the book wasn't exactly Chick Lit, or probably Jeff's zany side kick Laney would have snapped it up. And what is Women's Fiction anyway? I thought most readers today were women, so wouldn't that make it Reader's Fiction or People-Who-Buy-Book's Fiction? But really, why bother to argue the point? Today, it all seems so futile. BTW, the author notes that her fabulous novel still isn't published. Something is wrong, my friends. Something is terribly wrong.


Anonymous said...

So what kind of stuff DOES "land" on (and stick to) Jeff Kleinman at Folio?

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I know Jeff (and the rest of Folio) used to use this elaborate form letter system where the form reads like a personal critique of your manuscript, going on about "you're a good writer and your characters are well-crafted, your dialog is fine and I liked the voice" ... but it's a FORM. In person Jeff seems like a nice fellow, which puts him two steps ahead of a LOT of agents, but I never did understand what Folio looks for or why they have to use "personal" forms like that.

Anonymous said...

If he only represents GUYS, why doesn't he just say so? Damn, publishing is looking more and more like ToysRUs, with the pink aisle and the blue aisle.

Anonymous said...

Well, guys, I may as well give my two-cents here. (This is Jeff Kleinman, and it totally weirds me out that this would be in someone's blog, but nevermind all that for the moment.)

1. I'm flattered and impressed that you think I'm writing "jaunty agent lingo" - it's the way I talk, so I guess I must talk the same lingo. It was actually *meant*, though.

2. The comment: "It makes you want to shout at this dude: "So just publish the damn thing ..." It's NOT my job to PUBLISH books. I'm an agent - I represent books, and send them to editors whom I think will fall in love with them, and those editors publish those books. There's a HUGE distinction here, and if you don't see that, then you need to do some more homework. There are a million reasons why I personally wouldn't want to represent a book, but could easily imagine other people representing it - as is the case here.

3. Women's Fiction is a distinct category in the publishing world. Laney does more of it than I do. I'll let all of you figure out the definition to women's fiction, but it's just wrong to say that because most women buy books, all books are women's fiction.

4. As to what does "land" on and stick to my desk? Not a lot. Fiction's tough, and I don't like to take it on unless I literally go crazy reading it. It's hard to find books that send me over the moon. You need to keep in mind that it's just not my job to find a home for every writer's work - or every 100 writers. My job is to take on books that I absolutely love, and want to sell, and sell them. And then work with the author on how to market them, and how to build the author's career. I could end up taking on 1 book a year, or 100; it's not a numbers game, though.

4. As for the form reject that reads like a personal critique - you're right, I did use that - because I got so sick of saying the same thing, again and again, to most of the writers whose manuscripts I read. So, instead, having gotten slammed somewhere else for using standardized language, I went for the real personal approach, as in the example cited here: A) I really liked it and it's not for me; and B) here's a REFERRAL to my colleague, whom I hope will like it even more. (Jeez, that sounds pretty nice to me - hardly a reason to be lambasted here.) But to answer the poster's question - the reason I used personalized rejections is because it was vastly easier than trying to say the same thing in a different way 10 or 20 times a day - when I could be out reading or working for my clients, and earning a living doing so.

5. I don't represent only men; I'm not even going to bother trying to answer this one. I represent books. I sometimes represent books that primarily appeal to women (and which would fall under the category of "women's fiction"); I sometimes represent books that don't.

Hope this helps.

All best,

Jeff Kleinman
Folio Literary Management, LLC

Anonymous said...

So agent Jeff passes on the manuscript to another agent - two reads for the price of one - and you tear him a new one. Brilliant! I thought the letter was kind. Then again, after 169 rejection letters even kindly worded ones probably read like YOU ARE A LOSER, KISS MY ASS.

Writer, Rejected said...

We don't claim to be fair here.

Anonymous said...

I feel compared to add my Jeff Kleinman experience. I met him at an ASJW Conference. A featured speaker, his arrogant and biased tone rubbed a number of attendees the worng way. Months later I querried him on my novel. He never responded to letter which included a stamped self addressed envelope. I followed up with a email 8 months later. It's been 2 years an the literary agent who's office is about 15 blocks from where I live has never responded to letter, email, or phone calls. Some regard him as some sort of literary agent guru. I found him to be something far less flattering.

Anonymous said...

I met with Mr. Kleinman a week ago at a writer's conference in Indiana to pitch my novel. He told me the idea was good but the book was not ready to be published. Although, this was a rejection, I valued his advice and after he told me what to do, I agreed and found the information helpful.

I think writers fail to realize this is a business, plain and simple. Agents may like many of the books they look at, but they only have time to represent the ones they love. I don't like form letters, but they are a necessary evil if an agent receives hundreds of query letters a month. Because really, when would they have the time to represent the authors they do have and make the money necessary to live if they spent time writing individual letters and going into depth about why they won't accept your manuscript.

It really comes down to this: if the idea and the writing don't absolutely wow the agent, they will not accept it. So you fix the problem, continue to learn, send a query letter to another agent, or you give up. But nobody has ever said that getting a book published is easy. Otherwise, everyone would have a story to sell. This career is only for those who don't give up.
D. Kollar

Anonymous said...

"We don't claim to be fair here."

True, but at the very least, you could strive for reasonably informed.

Jeff makes an excellent point: it's not an agent's job to "publish the damn thing." His rejection was more than will be sent by most agents. You're balking at a referral? Grow up.

For a "published, award winning author of fiction and creative nonfiction," your lack of industry savvy is astounding.

Writer, Rejected said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, touchy! I thought Mr. Kleinman's was a great rejection letter. And he sent your ms to another agent, yet. Stop being such a crybaby.

"Poor Carol" said...

You know, I have to say this: I just received my first ever rejection letter and I am proud that it is from Jeff Kleinman. I think that it was probably the nicest letter I am going to get :)
Three years later, I am sure you have learned your lesson, however I am curious to hear your progress since then and also your progress towards another agent.

Bent Gent said...


Okay. I have yet to be rejected by Mr. Kleinman, so that may color my comments. But I recently graduated from an MFA program in creative non-fiction, and I will be glad to share the comments he made during a "break out" session with us. I took four pages of notes, and I'm sorry that wasn't five. I'll explain in a moment. Here's what Mr. Kleinman (a perfectly charming fellow) had to say. Mind you, these comments date to the summer of 2007, so his attitudes/opinions may have shifted in that time. To wit:

Literary agents works as an intermediary between the writer and the publisher. Their rate of compensation is 15 per cent of what the writer earns.

What agents want are the books that get the bigger advances and earn more royalties.

Narrative non-fiction is very popular in publishing.

The two biggest factors affecting a sale are 1) VOICE and 2) PREMISE.

WHAT MAKES IT STAND OUT: The way it's told is a different way than he's seen before.

Jeff bought a book by Quinn Cummings. It was a collection of essays -- "I was only trying to help" may have been the title?

QC blogged. Jeff noticed that. He approached her. He liked her unique perspective and the way she phrased things.

Jeff poses the question, then: What are YOU good at? Figure that out, and do more of it.

He mentioned a book he'd acquired: This guy from the South -- who had to have the best of everything. He was really good looking, had to have it all, and suddenly, he ran out of money. So he began kiting checks. He was convicted and sentenced to a leper colony which had only then become a federal prison. He began to write about his experience (he came from the publishing world and was educated at Ole Miss). His story, which read like fiction to Jeff, was about transformation and redemption. Jeff cited a character, Ella, who had to have black coffee with lots of "sweets and low."(Memorable characters stand out.)

The book became "In the Sanctuary of OUtcasts" by Neil White. (Just read it, and quite by accident. I'd forgotten even meeting Jeff until I read the author's end notes. Hallelujah!)

more to come...

Bent Gent said...

TC cont'd:

Jeff: I find it really hard to sell a completed memoir. He sends stuff out on proposal in a much shorter document.

Jeff says better to send in 50 pages as a proposal and one sample chapter. (This contrasted with another agent named Gareth who espouses having your book done. Send in a proposal and three sample chapters is her thinking.)

JEFF: Avoid using "MFA voice." (OKAY: Now I'm ticked off at myself for not taking clearer notes here, because, for the life of me, I'm not sure what the hell he meant by MFA VOICE, and I've googled it only to run up against all this BS about theater and opera. Sigh. Anyone?)

Related, perhaps, to the last comment is this entry where Jeff talked about a dog that couldn't get up. And then he died. Jeff started crying by the second graf. "Editor says too much of an MFA voice" I have written here. The book is narrated by a dog. I do not understand what the heck that means.

Regarding the MFA, Jeff says -- do this to get the tools, then "kick ass."

Write your proposal, outline each chapter in a paragraph illustrating as you do a "narrative arc."

Next, go to a bookstore. See what's out there. What's going to make this leper prison memoir special (NO, he REALLY did say this, and YES, I'm betting it was tongue in cheek, though I have no written marginalia confirming now, two years plus later, that it was. "What's going to make THIS LEPER PRISON MEMOIR special?" Stop: Yer killin' me.)

Jeff: Write a sample chapter or two.

Next: MARKETING. What's going to make this book sell? Who do you know? Who can you get to endorse this puppy? Can you line up those people to endorse your work (give you that all-fired important back jacket quote). Maybe the people you know will give you entree to someone else.

This process helps you decide if there is a market for the book, can you get the endorsements, can you make connections with groups and organizations that can help get word out on your book.

JEFF: Ultimately, is your story somehow unique?

Can you tell your story to someone in 30 seconds? (The elevator pitch, we called it at Goucher.)

Go to BOOK SCAN. See what's out there.

Go to -- assocations of authorized agents who are reputable.

Go to They report the books they sell.

JEFF: find books you like by authors you really like. See what they've done.

JEFF: Next comes the QUERY LETTER. The cover letter should be polite, respectful, using concrete and concise language in a business mode. To it add: 2 pages of outline and 2 pages of chapter.

SEND TO JEFF via EMAIL ONLY. (I checked his website. This policy has changed since 2007. No more snail mail, please.)

JEFF: Hates, hates, hates being approached at writer's conferences. (Would you remember anyone at one of those things? Do you even want someone to take up your time at one of those things? No, of course you don't. Why should he?)

JEFF: Your relationship with your agent is ultra important because this can shape your ability to have the agent help with the editor relationship you develop.

JEFF: Be prepared to throw out as many platform ideas as you can to show that you are on board to be an active part of the process after you've finished writing the book. The book (sorry) does NOT stop here, Harry Truman (my words, not Jeff's.)

Hope this is useful. (Again, my words)

TC MFA Goucher 2009

Erik said...

I met Jeff a few weeks ago at SFWC. He is funny and witty on stage - realistic and distant in the elevator. I understand completely. This guy is not fooling around. It's written allover his face. Write the book. If I can sell it I will. If I don't think I can, I wont waste my time. I admire an agent who is direct. That way I wont waste MY time. I'll query him when I'm ready. But won't expect kindness or a helpful hand. In other words, if he takes you on. You're on. If you're not ready for the big leagues, or the big rejection don't send it to him.

Dennis Mahoney said...

I've had experience with Mr. Kleinman twice. The first time, his colleague Paige Wheeler offered to represent me, but I never got that particular novel off the ground. The next time, with another novel I'd written, Jeff himself expressed interest in repping me and spent a few days *passionately* discussing my work. I'm talking a dozen thoughtful emails and phone conversations over several days.

He was bright and funny and kind, and although I wound up going with another agent who seemed a better fit, I cannot agree with any of the criticisms leveled at him here.

He and every other agent receive something like 1,000 queries a month. That's 50 queries every work day, while the agent already has successful clients (always the priority) and endless meetings, calls, and manuscripts to deal with.

Mr. Kleinman gave you more care and attention than you'll get from a lot of other agents, and it's really unfair--and unthoughtful--to sully his name because he didn't love your book. Many agents won't even REPLY anymore if they aren't interested.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same as the person who received her first rejection from Jeff Kleinman. That was me this past spring, when I sent off a query and chapter that in my heart I knew wasn't quite ready.

Still, I had allowed myself to get excited from reading a few of his interviews as well as the novel of one of his more recent clients whose novel, while different, shared a similar spirit as mine. I was also reeling from an intense pitch conference that shook my personal confidence even as my belief in my manuscript held firm.

So you could say that I, in a fragile place, reached out - or rather lashed out - hoping for some confirmation.

Instead I received a well-earned rejection, getting that first rejection out of the way quickly. Yet I wouldn't have changed it. His rejection was kind and whether a form response or not, it was a "chosen rejection," meaning he provided a clear criticism in his rejection, praising the concept of the story while bluntly offering that the narrative needed more polish.

And he was right!

So, now, four months later, having rewritten the first chapter from scratch and completing countless edits after critical readings from colleagues, I am just now ready to put my effort out there for consideration again.

Regardless of what comes next, I know my manuscript is more polished now. So as far as I'm concerned, Jeff Kleinman gets credit for giving me the push I needed, right when I needed it.

I'll take that over a form letter that says NOTHING about my manuscript any day of the week.

If I were the writer who'd received the rejection you cited in the post, I would take that in what I think was the spirit he intended, which was to say the writing and concept are strong but that he simply wasn't the right person for it. I'd rather have an agent truly love my work than to take it on because they felt obligated to do so.

Linda said...

As an MFA program dropout, my sense of "MFA voice" is something that has been overwritten to empress other writers with the sophistication of the writing itself. It's self-conscious and egotistical. You're striving for the most unique and erudite words that show how talented and brainy you are instead of illustrating and serving the story. Beautiful language can't make up for a lack of story. Sometimes simple narrative speaks best.