Over the last few weeks I’ve devoted a significant amount of my time to researching literary agents. I’ve been stalking their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. I’ve been reading blogs. Anything I can do to help navigate my way through the process. During that time, I’ve seen quite a few people complaining about the industry standard of form rejection letters, or in a lot of cases, no response at all if they’re not interested. A lot of people don’t understand it, but I’m finally starting to get it.
I could never make it in the world of a literary agent for two main reasons. For one, as I discussed in my blog on rejection, I am terrified of calling people on the phone. (It’s seriously giving me palpitations just thinking about it. They certainly couldn’t be caused by my breakfast of coffee and cough drops.) But most importantly, I’m really bad at telling people no.
I’m not sure where it comes from. Maybe it’s an innate desire to make people happy. Maybe it’s a reflection on my own fear of being disappointed. I don’t know what it is, but when someone approaches me face to face and asks me to do something, it’s really, really hard for me to tell them no. When we went to Las Vegas a few years ago, the guys were standing along the strip handing out cards that advertised “escorts” or exotic dancers. I wasn’t looking for company, but I still took all the cards that were offered to me. I mean, these guys were just doing their job. (Of course, Jason and I turned them into a trading card game, but that’s not the point.) A few months ago, one of those scammy magazine salesmen came by the house. I knew it was a scam, but the guy was so enthusiastic and upbeat that I had a hard time telling him no. So I gave him $10 as a “donation” so that I didn’t have to cancel my credit cards. Pathetic, I know.
That is where I would get myself into trouble. Literary agents have to be willing to say no. Yes, there are a lot of great, undiscovered books out there. But there are also some really bad ones. (In fact, I just finished one that fell in this category, despite its existence on the NYT Bestsellers list.) If an agent offered to represent everyone, they’d be totally overwhelmed and no one in the industry would have an ounce of respect for them. You can’t go around offering a subpar product and expect people to bite. Yet every time you turn down, your crushing a little bit of someone’s soul. (Might be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly feels like it sometimes.)
There are only so many ways to creatively tell someone you’re not interested. There’s another blog where the author likens his rejection letters to love letters. His blog can be found here: http://rejectionloveletters.com . The funny part is the fact that it’s true. Especially when it comes to form letters, most agents have gone out of their way to let you down gently. And it’s easier to not have to explain it, because sometimes the explanation hurts worse than the actual no.
So I’ll take the form rejections. I’ll take the radio silence that means they’re not interested, even though I would love for someone to sit down and actually be honest with me about my work. What it comes down to is the fact that, as long as you have something to offer, there is someone out there for you. And sometimes, you just have to say no.