Everyone who works in Hollywood knows that no one ever says “no.” If an agent, manager or producer asks for your script but doesn’t like it, he rarely tells you outright. He’ll simply stop returning your calls or emails, or tell you it’s with his partner, or out to an actor, or they’re waiting to hear back from … someone. The conventional wisdom behind this is that no one wants to burn bridges. Your next script may be fantastic, the thinking goes, and therefore the agent/manager/producer doesn’t want to insult you by actively turning down this one. Apparently you’ll be so grateful at having been given the run-around that he’ll be the first person you’ll turn to with your next gem. (And yes, my use of “he” is deliberate.)
That’s how you can “die of encouragement” in Hollywood.
Thankfully, New York, where the literary agents live, plays by different rules. And I’d like to take this opportunity for a shout out for everyone there who has given me an unequivocal, no-doubt-about-it no:
To the agents who post on their websites that “if you don’t hear back from us after 6-8 weeks, it’s a pass:” Thank you for giving us a timeline and holding yourself accountable. A soft “no” is easier to hear than a hard “no,” and your timeline tells us exactly when we might hear from you, and when we know the material’s not right for you.
To the agents who reply “no” to a query: Instructions on a web site are enough. That you took the time to send a personal email to let me know that you read my query and pages, and they aren’t what you’re looking for, is very much appreciated. Yes, I can tell it’s canned language, but so what? I don’t have to wait eight weeks or wonder if the email got lost in spam or somehow overlooked.
To the agents who requested a partial and then sent the standard “pass” email: Thank you for letting me know where I stand with you. Yes, it’s disappointing that you were intrigued by my query but did not find the story or writing to be what you were looking for. Now I know it might be time for a rewrite, and to keep looking. You didn’t keep me hanging or wondering. Thank you.
To the agents who requested a partial and then sent a personalized “pass” email: Thank you so much for taking the time to craft a personal reply, letting me know exactly why the story didn’t work for you. I’m am so grateful you did this, even though you only looked at 50 pages or three chapters. I might not agree with all of your points, but I really appreciate that you reached out to give me your opinion. And some of your notes were absolutely spot on! I know you’re professional and thoughtful, and hope to have the chance to work with you someday.
To the agents who requested a full and then sent the standard “pass” email: Thank you for letting me know where I stand with you. Yes, it’s disappointing that you were intrigued by my query but did not find the story or writing to be what you were looking for. Now I know it’s time for a rewrite, and to keep looking. You didn’t keep me hanging or wondering. Thank you.
To the agents who requested a full and then sent a personalized “pass” email: Thank you so much for taking the time to craft a personal reply, letting me know exactly why the story didn’t work for you. I’m sad that you didn’t do this as an R&R letter, but honestly, if I agree with your notes, I’ll be doing a rewrite and querying you again anyway! Hope springs eternal, and your professionalism and thoughtfulness make me very eager to work with you. I’ll keep trying!
To the agent who requested a full, rejected it, and then read and rejected the rewrite: I thanked you personally, but I will do it again here: You were under no obligation to read it again after sending the standard pass. I am so grateful that you chose to read it anyway, and let me know that it still was not the right book for you. I envy those writers who have you as their representative! I still hope that someday we can work together.
To be honest, rejection hurts me just as much as any other writer. But what writer hasn’t received rejection after rejection? All of my literary heroes have stories of rejection letters tacked on walls or hidden in shoe boxes underneath their beds. Hard work and perseverance are just as important as talent in this business.
What these rejections tell me is that these agents see me as a professional. By sending along that “no,” they treat me as a mature, level-headed person trying to build a career in the publishing business. That unequivocal no means I am someone who is thick-skinned enough that she can take rejection, hear criticism, and keep writing and rewriting.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for that message.