blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
An agent says no. A writer is left wondering why unless the agent has the time and inclination to give a brief–or even more rarely, a lengthier–explanation why the answer wasn’t “Yes! I’d love to represent you!”
An author doesn’t “hire” an agent, in a traditional sense. An agent can work for many months or even years on behalf of an author’s interests with no more financial return than the hopes that he or she can sell the author’s work to a publisher . . . and keep selling. The risk lies heavily on the side of the agent, who internally asks, “Do I see potential in this project and this author? Do I see ENOUGH potential to warrant the work I’ll need to invest, the time I’ll spend? Do I truly believe that this project will sell? Is it worth my adding this author to my workload?”
Every time an agent opens an email query or a proposal, he or she hopes to be able to say yes. Or even, “I can’t wait to sign this client!” That happens far less frequently than a writer can imagine. The percentage of queries and proposals that rise to the top of an agent’s consideration is small.
What are among the reasons an agent does not say yes?
Great idea. Bad timing.
It’s a curiosity, but so often true that an amazing book idea occurred to another writer, too. Maybe a few months before you pitched your idea. It might even already be in the pipeline for upcoming publication. The agent may like your idea, but be hesitant to say yes to representation because publishers might find the idea too similar.
Great writing. Not a compelling concept.
No matter how polished the writing, a book will be turned down if the concept isn’t strong, if it’s unfocused, lacking meaningful reader takeaway, or not a match for publisher interests.
Great concept. Under-developed writing skills.
The best idea falters if the writing level needs significant work. A “no” at that point is a gift from an agent, a redirection to send the writer back to the classes, workshops, and craft books. Or an agent may suggest a collaborative writer.
Great concept. Great writing. But a tough to sell because of:
- Low previous sales
- Low social media engagements or built-in-audience (sometimes called platform) elements (See a recent PW article. Keep in mind that agents and editors are not “to blame.” It wouldn’t be as strong an issue to them if it weren’t a stumbling block for publishing decision-makers, including sales and marketing teams.)
- An over-saturated market for that genre
- Fading reader interest in the style or topic
- The writer shows unfamiliarity with how the publishing process works, or reveals unrealistic expectations.
Possible reasons the agent did not say yes:
The author would be in direct competition for publishing spots for a current client.
The agent’s existing clients keep the agent more than busy enough.
The query or proposal didn’t make the agent’s heart sing. An agent’s intuition figures heavily in a decision to offer representation.
It also means that writers can cut themselves some slack for the no’s that are out of their control.