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Friday, August 10, 2007

Anon Agent's Sample Rejection

An anonymous agent (commenting here under the name Good Copy) sent this as an example of a very kind rejection letter. It says: "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read [title of novel], and I am sorry not to be offering to represent it. Your writing is fluid, funny and energetic and I enjoyed many aspects of the novel. However, I feel that there are too many threads in the book that do not contribute to the overall narrative, making the book seem slightly unfocused. When you write about the relationship between the narrator and his dying mother, the writing seems more focused and poignant, and I found myself wanting more details of that relationship, or family history. I was completely absorbed by the intensity of these passages—much more than the passages devoted to _______and _________. Also, I was a little distracted by the ghosts that appear throughout the book, despite the fact that they provide colorful dialogue and comic relief.

I am sorry not to be more helpful, and wish you the best of luck elsewhere."

What do you think, bloggers? Is this a rejection you'd like to get in the mail?


Anonymous said...

I think it is a very respectful letter, even though the agent isn't going to represent the writer. It shows he/she took the time to read the manuscript with some interest in order to offer some construvtive crticism. I would rather have a letter saying "You are thw writer I've been waiting for!" but it is very nice, considering.

Pants said...


It's okay - not offensive. What strikes me is that the agent is looking at the work as a 'product' which is odd because neither readers nor writers do that. Perhaps it's a kind of expertise but what the letter does betray is a refusal to accept the world the author has created on the author's terms.

The agent is boxing clever by praising the writing while refusing the content, thus indicating that he/she would be receptive to future submissions. All things considered, quite diplomatic.



x said...

Humble. Respectful. Gives the impression of having been read, at least. Shows how much is matter of personal taste.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't know. We're grateful now for any little tidbit of praise? Doesn't it all seem a little forced? Do agents spend most of their time coming up with creative phrases with which to bolster our sagging egos without really saying anything meaningful or helpful? WR's question was whether this was a rejection you'd be happy to get. The answer for me is NO.

Writer, Rejected said...

It's hard for me to know how I would feel about getting this rejection in the mail. For instance, if I were writing a ghost story, I'd be pretty pissed about the last little throw-away comment in the letter that the ghosts are distracting. And if I were experimenting with point of view and the disintegration of narration, I might think that the agent simply didn't "get" my work or was one of these professionals who always urges you to write a different book than the one you are writing.

Indeed I have had this experience more than a few times in my career--not with ghosts or experimental narration, but with a kind of authoritative external pressing about what book I really *should* be writing. This seems to happen a lot, as if the sales side of the business has a very limited idea of what a novel can be. And often since we writers send our books out before they are fully cooked, the editors and agents don't know what the hell to say to be helpful. They are reading for McDonald's cheeseburgers when you are writing sushi. Not everyone likes sushi. Not everyone likes distracting, unfocused ghosts.

So, in my opinion, it is important for writers to be careful with advice received about "improving" the old novel. And I think editors/agents should also be a little more cautious when doling out this quick (even well-considered)advice because sometimes it really messes a writer up and just isn't that helpful.

Mary Witzl said...

I have a few rejections like this and I treasure them. They show that I have graduated from those curt little slips of paper that say, essentially, thanks, but this is not for me.

Just because someone gives you advice that doesn't mean you have to take it. If you like your ghosts and believe that they ought to be there, stick to your guns until the 100th agent -- or editor -- says that they doesn't work. Then you might want to reconsider them and get rid of some of those loose threads.

Gratuitous advice from a genuine nobody. Personally, I could use a few more rejection letters like this one and eagerly await them.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with Mary Witzl and writer, rejected.
Advice is a very tricky thing. A few years ago, an agent refused one of my novels because the Russian names were confusing. Ah...Given that the story was played out in the Ural Mountains in the 1860's, I just didn't feel it in my heart to rename everyody Joe-Bob, Luanne and Mary-Sue.

Granted, that was an easy one. Sometimes very bad advice comes under the guise of helpful suggestions - that's when when you can really screw up. I totally destroyed one book in trying to "go with" the POV of another character in the story. I ended up with a mess - and no further response from the agent.

All I can say is: if it doesn't feel right, DON'T DO IT.

Alexandra Erin said...

This rejection shows the kind of outlook that convinced me the publishing world wasn't worth the trouble in the first place. As that's so pants suggested, they're evaluating the work as a product to be placed, not a book to be read. I don't think multiple plot threads or unorthodox elements like ghosts bother readers quite as much as they bother marketers who don't know what shelf to put a book on.

I can usually spot the "professionals" reading my online work because they're the ones telling me to tighten it up and "refocus" and that it's confusing because they can't tell what it's supposed to be about... the just plain folks are busy just plain reading to be confused.

RaineWheat said...

Funny. I'd like this rejection letter. I always like to hear what's wrong with my novel. Then again, someone is always going to find something wrong with it.