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Colorful Rejections: Landing a Literary Agent

January 28, 2012 by Kiersi

Colorful Carousel in Buenos Aires, Argentina

A strange, graffiti-mottled carousel I photographed in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Life over the last week has been a stark contrast of, well, everything: there’s gorgeous, sunny weather outside (yay for the southern hemisphere!), all the time in the world to work on my books and hone my craft, and to top it all off, an endless supply of kind-of-encouraging rejection letters from literary agents.

On the one hand, at least they haven’t all been form letters. Even better, I’ve actually been getting responses. From what I hear (and read), that’s unusual at best. And strangely, it seems that from the agent perspective, my writing is good. The pitch is even good. It’s just not great.

The responses I’ve received read along the lines of: “We really liked it, but it’s not what our agency is looking for right now,” or, “the prose was great, but the premise, we didn’t love it.” (Kind of the way your mom says “I don’t really love it” when your new shirt is a little too revealing.) Probably the cream of the crop was, “It just didn’t pull me in, the way I would need it to in order to represent it, but there is a lot to admire about your work.”

The one I got today was probably the best and the worst, because it was the most flattering, and in the same exact moment, the most totally depressing of the bunch. I won’t name the agent, mainly because it was really quite sweet of him/her to write me this personalized letter, and it would just seem rude.

Thank you for the chance to look at a bit of your story. While I think that you’re hitting on some of the current memes (maybe it is time for angels and demons again), this is not the sort of story that I’m looking to add to the agency’s list at this time.  I am sure though, after looking at the prose, that you’re going to find an agent out there who does love this.  We’re a very small agency and can’t take on everyone we like, only the ones that we absolutely love. I regret that I can only offer you all my best wishes for your future success.

It’s frustrating to get a letter like this because you want to be upset, but you just can’t be. Sometimes you just want an excuse to let out a little choked gasp or sink your head in your hands, but you feel a warm glow inside because a real agent out there in the big, wide publishing world actually thinks your stuff might be okay.

It did bum me out, though, that he/she thought my book was about angels and demons. It just sounded so shallow, and it makes me wonder if perhaps my pitch comes off as shallow. The series isn’t about Heaven or Hell; the purpose of it is to chip away at that stupid dichotomy of good versus evil, to show that someone could be born a god or a devil and all that matters is what is inside him.

But, c’est la vie. Like everything else over the last few weeks, receiving five rejection letters in the course of a week has been a learning experience. It has imparted upon me the knowledge that I need to better hone my pitch; that the book is not gripping from the get-go and needs some reworking; and that, in the end, at least these agents seem confident I’ll find someone to represent me eventually.

Man, I hope they’re right.


  1. abi says:

    Those are definitely the good kind of rejections! What a great spirit you’re taking it in, too! You’re clearly on the right path. 🙂

  2. These are terrific redirection letters, as my agent calls them. And when their this positive, you can stay positive because they don’t hand out compliments like that if they don’t mean it. Usually, they’re looking for a way to just say no. As Abi says, you’re clearly on the right path.

  3. Kiersi says:

    I love you guys! Also, I get a kick out of that term, “terrific redirection.” At this point it feels like a game of Minesweeper–JUST TRY AND TRY AGAIN AND MAYBE YOU’LL FINISH THE GAME ONE TIME. I guess that one time is all you need.


  4. Mo says:

    I know you and I know that you are definitely on the right track. And how many writers do you know who admit to all the rejection letters before they hit “the big one”? The commenter is right, too, to point out that receiving a personal response is very positive and encouraging!

  5. Sounds like you’re nearly there. Hope it happens soon for you.

  6. Jim Snell says:

    As rejections go, I’m not too sure you could get any better ones – but you’re right, in a way the better ones do seem a bit harder to take.

    But I’m glad I read your posting. I’m not quite ready to send out the query letters yet but I’ve been doing a bit of research on which agents I’ll send to. And I’ve been surprised that a number of them want only the first couple of pages of the novel. Even if I kinda squeeze those first two pages pretty full, that’s still only 650 words of an 85,000 word novel – and that’s all of the story they’ll use to make their initial decision from. Amazing.

    I do totally understand the need to pull the reader into the story right away, and I’m all for that, really. (And I think I’ve done it, but I’m guessing everyone feels that way – at least before they start sending the letters out.)

    But thanks for emphasizing it to me once more.

    • Kiersi says:

      My theory for the reason agents only want a few pages of dialogue is that they are simulating the publishing house’s editor’s experience, and eventually, the reader’s. Everyone seems to make decisions in the industry based on how readers will react to the book. Readers generally decide yay or nay on a purchase by the first few pages, so agents and editors put those in super high esteem as an indicator of how well the book will eventually perform.

  7. Margo Kelly says:

    Hello! I’m new to your blog from the critique blogfest, and I’m happy to meet you!

    Regarding the query letter rejections! HANG IN THERE! The fact you’re getting personalized letters is a GOOD sign. I know they often hurt worse than the form letters (trust me … I KNOW!!), but it means you are moving in the right direction.

    Regarding your blog critique: I think your blog looks wonderful and interesting and I will definitely be back to visit again.

    Happy writing!

    • Kiersi says:

      Yay!! The critique blogfest has begun! I’m really pleased to make your acquaintance, Margo. And thank you for the compliments on the blog! The next thing I want to do is make a bigger “subscribe” link, but the custom work is more than I know how to do.

      And, thank you for the encouragement. It sounds like you’re in the same boat as far as query letters.. or perhaps you have finally surpassed??

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