View Full Version : Decoding Rejections

03-07-2009, 03:23 PM

I've written a memoir and am querying agents. Right now, I've gotten requests for partials from about 25% of the 35-40 agents I've queried. Of these requests, I've gotten no further requests for a full manuscript.

My rejections are mainly things like, "don't feel strong enough about this to represent it" and "not sure if this is going to find it's audience". The only comment I've had on my actual writing is "you can certainly write".

Saying i can write is like saying someone can play the guitar, maybe the playing is adequate but not particularly beautiful. I'm wondering does anyone here think these rejections are indicative of a fundamental problem with the writing (i can't change the subject matter) and I should stop submitting and go back to the drawing board with my project. Or should I continue plugging on, assuming that if the manuscript was completely unpublishable I would've heard about it by now.

Thanks for the help, I've got no idea what i'm doing.

03-07-2009, 05:13 PM
Writers have been trying to decode rejections for years and they'll keep on doing it for years to come. Unless agents give you personalized, specific feedback, the letters are usually just form letters that mean "no." Agents don't want to hurt feelings, so they try to have letters sound softer.

Typical rule of thumb is this:

Query letter submissions - no requests for partials/fulls: either something is wrong with the idea, or the letter is not professionally written. Often you'll get comments like "Liked the concept, but the execution didn't work for me." That usually means the idea worked, the writing didn't.

Partial submissions - no requests for fulls: The query grabbed attention, but the pages aren't working in some way. Either the writing isn't professional enough, or the story isn't hooking fast enough. Too much backstory is a common problem in rejected partials.

Full submissions - no offers: The pages were good, but the book didn't hold the agent to the end, or didn't wow them overall. Perhaps it started strong and then failed. Perhaps it just wasn't for them. This can be VERY subjective, so the book might be fine and just not be with the right agent. One agent may say no, another will love it. Most of the time, when an agent rejects a full, you'll get some indication as to why.

If all you ever get are forms letters, that can be an indication that the writing isn't where it needs to be. Agents will often give personalized feedback when they see talent that isn't quite there yet, or see a book that's well-written but is one they think can't sell (be it the topic or something that's been overdone). It's not unheard of to get an "I just didn't love this enough, but do try me with your next" letter. The writing worked, it's now just a matter of finding the right story for this agent. (Or another agent who likes this story).

And of course, some agents use a form no matter what since they're overworked and have time to personalize every response. So there could be nothing wrong at all, it just didn't interest them and they passed. That's why it's helpful to look at the responses as a whole to see any patterns. Like any feedback, if several are saying the same thing, that tells your something.

03-16-2009, 05:16 PM
Good info... :)

I discovered I have a good query, as it gets a good response from agents. But when I send the first few pages, they drop me a form rejection. This told me that the writing was all wrong and needs to be sharpened up and reworked.

To the original question: Something else to consider is memoirs might be a very tight market right now. The agents might be looking for something specific. The fact that one complimented you on your writing does mean that it could simply be the subject matter and their needs right now.

Maybe pass the first three chapters by your readers and make sure that the 'voice' is everything it should be. If the readers can identify with your voice and forget that it's a memoir, then you are right where you want to be.