WHY AGENTS REJECT…is it because I suck?

Why Agents Reject…

Is it because I suck?

Could be…

I’m not an agent, nor am I currently represented by one, but my stories have been rejected enough times for me to consider myself an expert in the field of why agents say no. Again, this is pure speculation from the many encounters I’ve had with rejection. Here’s how it goes:

“I like it but…”

  • “…I have something similar back-listed or in production.”
  • “…I have no where to sell it.”
  • “…I’m not in love with it.”
  • “…I’m not able to take on new clients at this time.”

Many times my rejections are accompanied by verbage such as, “This isn’t right for me, but I like your style and would love to see more work in the future.” I liken this rejection to this: I don’t personally like Celine Dion’s music. However, I’d be a fool not to recognize the amount of talent and skill she possesses. It’s just not for me. That’s what I think of when I get this sort of feedback on a submission, and it helps me to keep shopping my work.

Of course, the truth could be that you do suck…

…in which case you will want to share your work with someone who is NOT a friend or relative, preferably before you query another agent.

The layers of rejections

On my journey, I have found rejections come in layers, not quite like Dante’s Inferno, although it can feel a bit like traveling through Hell, and not exactly like an onion, though you may cry. More like a ladder, where each rung takes you one level higher, one step closer, to your goal of publication.

1)        The form letter — Early rejections, when you are typically still learning your craft and probably have no business querying yet, come as form rejection letters, or Dear Sir or Madame letters. They are given often times because the business truly is subjective, and most agents are just too busy to answer each and every query. Santa gets away with it, why can’t a hard working agent?

2)        Personal rejection — You’re one stop closer! Someone actually thought enough of your work to take the time to reject you. And if you’re really lucky, they may even provide you with a helpful comment or two, which is invaluable to make your work better.

3)        Requested material — Whether a full or partial read, nothing validates you and justifies your efforts like an agent requesting to read some or all of your manuscript. Except maybe a contract, of course.

4)        Contract — The coveted golden ticket, the “yes” you’ve been waiting to hear since you first began writing. You’re already planning ways to spend the advance and casting actors for the movie adaptation.

Congratulations! You’ve reached the top rung. Now, you get to start at the bottom of a new ladder as your agent queries publishers.

It’s a business

Publishing is a business, and just like you wouldn’t sell ice to an Eskimo, you probably won’t sell a romance to a mystery agent. But what about a mystery? Even then you have to consider the salability and if the novel’s commercial enough to sell. Let me put it this way: you bake your Grandma Lou’s almost-famous cow patty cookies for your kid’s school bake sale. The recipe is tried-and-true, so you don’t have to worry about the mechanics of baking. They’re irregularly shaped and chunky, and don’t fit the typical mold of a cookie. They look like, well, cow poop…hence the name. But when you get past all that, everyone agrees they’re the best cookies. Ever.

So here you are at the bake sale, one cookie among many; snickerdoodles and oatmeal raisins and chocolate chips are flying off the table. They’re predictable, reliable, and people feel comfortable with them. Then there’s that fad cookie, the maple-bacon-brown sugar one, that’s almost sold out. Even the cookie-cutter store bought pre-made cookies are selling. But not yours. Nope. No one’s biting.

Does it mean yours tastes bad or you don’t have a clue about cookies or your cow patty’s suck? No. They just don’t work here. Perhaps at a southern home show or a petting zoo, you’d be the one selling out while the snickerdoodlers sat and…doodled. Agents know what the editors they work with want. And even if your manuscript is polished, poignant, and a wonderful read, they won’t offer you representation if they can’t sell your work. It’s a business, remember?


Find some books you like that are similar to yours and see who represents the author. Does your book read with the same level of polished professionalism as theirs? How does the back cover or jacket flap read? Does your query flow in a similar fashion? Check out the author’s bio in the back of the book. Can you highlight yours to mimic theirs?

WHY AGENTS REJECT…is it because I suck?

4 thoughts on “WHY AGENTS REJECT…is it because I suck?

  1. I guess it comes with the territory. I look at popular books today and wince at the plainness of many. I have begun writing a little at a time and have not yet tried to send out anything. I like your Challenge ideas and will keep these for my future when I send something out. Sirfelion


    1. Jaimie Engle says:

      I know exactly what you mean. I’m so torn between the difficulty of self-publishing, the uncertainty of small press publishers, and the impossibility of agents. I am happy to hear that you liked my challenge suggestions and may use them in the future. Good luck with your book!

      Sent from my iPhone



      1. I was wondering why agents were impossible. My big fear is that with self publishing someone could steal the work and make it their own and you are out your work, or a hacker gets into your work and harms it. My thought is an agent can head off these things and can rally legal aid to anyone who tries to steal/harm/modify the work. Just my thoughts. Sirfelion


      2. Jaimie M. Engle says:

        I wish I knew the answers or had the magic beans to grow the beanstalk. So, I guess we’re both in the same boat. Well, might as well grab an oar and start moving. 🙂


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