Why Literary Agents May Give You the Cold Shoulder

16 February, 2016

It’s often said that it is tougher to get a literary agent to represent you than to find a publisher.  That may well be AIbEiAIAAABDCLG685W5porlUiILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKDkxMTljMWNi_002true!  And yet, it’s essential these days to have representation.  With rapid-fire changes in the industry, including consolidation and the inevitable contraction that accompanies it, the chances of getting published by a traditional house are slimmer.  Agents form an essential bridge to the publishing industry.  It is also their job to negotiate strong contracts on behalf of their clients, which necessitates staying on top of the complex policies that underwrite contracts.  Reputable agents also guide their clients at every stage, from shaping the material that will be submitted to a publisher, to matchmaking their clients to the right publisher, to guiding their careers as writers overall.

When agents do not respond to queries, they surely appear mean and indifferent. When they do send a rejection letter, they often unleash wrath from the spurned writer.  Yet this is hardly the case.  Agents work incredibly hard, spending thousands of hours perusing unpublished pages, including query letters, proposals and manuscripts.  They don’t get paid directly for this labor.  In order to find what may be the right fit projects for a given agency, we sift and sift, and sometimes it feels like looking for a needle in a haystack.  We also read our client’s manuscripts-in-progress and finished work.  So when we don’t respond, it is not because we are truly heartless, but because, for whatever reason, your project is not right for us or doesn’t spark the passion.  It’s very much like internet dating!  You need to feel the chemistry, and sometimes it is just not there.

For every rejection or non-response, a writer should move on.  Every writer deserves to be represented with excitement and commitment.  Don’t take it personally.  Your work may be wonderful but if an agent doesn’t have the time to give it or the vision for how to get it published, you’d be better served by representation elsewhere.

I hate to be part of this discouraging process, but every once in a while, there is an up side.  I find something that I want to work on, connect with the writer, and we’re off and running to the races.  Sometimes, we can create a little magic for a writer, helping to make a dream of getting published come true.  And those moments are almost as exciting for the agent as for the writer.  It’s that collaboration, that very special partnership, that we live for, that makes us feel valuable and truly alive.  Every writer should hold out for that.

–Joelle Delbourgo