By Mary C. Moore at Kimberley Cameron Associates
On the surface we literary agents may seem cold-hearted. We crush dreams on a daily basis after all. But it’s the nature of the submission process that causes us to form an icy defensive layer. There are websites dedicated to analyzing agent responses with writers seeking answers, looking to understand why we respond the way we do. And like all online forums, some of it isn’t very agreeable. Every writer that cries foul because we sent a form rejection, pricks at us, every personal response that just causes the author to demand more reasons why, makes us withdraw a bit more. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find we truly do care.
Sometimes too much. One of the most difficult aspects of this job is letting go of manuscripts that have solid potential, but I just can’t take on. Statistically I don’t have the space for all of the good ones. But I expend a lot of my energy wishing I did.
On average I get 300 submissions a month, 3600 per year. About 15% of those I request to see more, so 15 a month, 180 per year.
I sign about 3 clients a year.
If we round up with 1-2 offers that take other representation, that’s barely 2% of submissions that caught my interest going to offer stage. Which means 98% of requested material I have to turn down. There is no other option.
Which brings me to the painful process of elimination. As I whittle the decisions get harder and harder. Occasionally I can spot a needed revision, pass notes along to the author, request a revise and resubmit. But more often than not, I have to let it go. I loved it, but not enough. Perhaps it was a bit too quiet, or the author didn’t have enough of an online presence, or I’ve already got a client with a similar style. Maybe I don’t have a clear editorial vision for it, or there weren’t enough editors popping into my head that would be interested. These seem like small reasons to pass, but they are reason enough. And so, with a sadly inadequate letter, I say goodbye, hoping that the author will persevere and find a home for their writing.
But know we understand the pain of those close calls. I submit my clients’ work to editors who are faced with the same damn dilemma. Who not only have to fall in love but also have to make the decision to champion the manuscript, fight for it in acquisitions and persuade others, such as the marketing team, to take it on. They have to convince the giant beast that is their publisher to take a risk, spend its resources on that particular book over all the other projects on the table.
So agents get a lot of rejections too. Statistically, it’s inevitable in this industry. And it hurts. We get hammered on both sides, from the publishers and from the writers. We don’t let that show though, because the bottom line is, rejection is not personal.
We are not cold-hearted. We wouldn’t be in this if we didn’t love books and the artists who create them. I hope this perspective, for those of you in the query trenches, inspires you that we are cheering you on even if we pass on your manuscript. And for those of you coming to the San Francisco Writers conference, may you be a little less nervous to meet us, despite our seemingly cold reputation.
Mary C. Moore is a literary agent with Kimberley Cameron Associates in Tiburon, CA.