First, I know form rejections are necessary evils. As writers, we totally understand why agents must employ them–too many queries and not enough time. Understood. As a busy mom and wife and writer and chef/chauffeur/maid/active member of the community, I get it.
However, as a writer in the query process and frequent visitor to querytracker.com, I’m seeing some real damage being done by form passes.
Most writers only submit what they feel is their best effort. If it’s clear that the agent has been given a first draft or terribly sub par manuscript, then by all means, send a form reject.
However, many of us send manuscripts that have been through a critique group. And beta readers. And rounds of revisions. And still get form passes. These vary from very kind forms, some slightly personalized (thank you!) to (I kid you not), three-word rejections. A fellow writer on querytracker reported getting a pass that read: “No, thank you.”
Seriously? Despite the “thank you,” where I come from that’s just rude.
Those of us who have put monumental effort into our manuscripts are left wondering, “What am I doing wrong?”
Just a few words of direction from an agent would give us a hint as to why our manuscript is not successful. Perhaps it’s just not the agent’s style or what they’re looking for at the time. Maybe there’s something too similar coming out.
OR, perhaps the manuscript just isn’t up to snuff. Okay. Tell us why. Obviously we don’t know and can’t see it or we would have fixed it already.
Form rejections cause damage on several fronts.
Until authors are told what needs improvement (or that maybe professional writing isn’t for them), agents will keep receiving not-quite-right submissions. This is frustrating for everyone involved. It’s a waste of the agent’s time and all the following ones who get the same manuscript. Some may say, “Why should I give you advice to fix your manuscript just so you can query another agent?”
Karma. Paying it forward. Do unto others. You get the idea. One day, YOU will be the agent who gets that improved manuscript.
Now, I know this will come as a shock, but many writerly-artistic types are sensitive. Many have not yet developed thick skin. What a shame if a really great writer gives up because they received all form rejections, even though the manuscript was fantastic, just not quite right for one reason or the other. What a waste. An encouraging word from a seasoned agent might have convinced the writer to keep going.
Whose job is it?
I can already hear agents picking apart my arguments. No, it is not an agent’s job to teach writers how to write. It’s not even can agent’s job to edit their own clients unless they choose to be that kind of agent.
I’m just saying that those who choose to go the traditional route to publication are frustrated because the keys to the kingdom are so elusive. As gatekeepers, agents have a lot of power and influence. I’m asking them to be benevolent rulers. Between whip lashes of, “This just isn’t right for me,” consider throwing out a few words of personalized praise or direction. It will come back to you.
And one final word to writers who respond to helpful rejections with misdirected anger: STOP.
You’re ruining it for everyone else.
Mike Reimer said:
You’re right. I guess agents would say they’re too busy for feedback. But it would be nice to get some kindness. I guess if one find an agent who will respond in some detail that’s great.