I love getting post.  I love getting signed contracts, proof copies, invitations to parties… and I love receiving unsolicited submissions, because there is always the possibility that one of them is going to change the course of my career (and the author’s, obviously!)

I don’t think I’m alone amongst Literary Agents when I say that the working day starts the moment I wake up and check my phone for overnight emails from abroad, or early risers, or night owls – and there are always several.  I’m certainly not alone when I say that the working day ends when I turn off my bedside light.  

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I absolutely love my job, but there is never enough time.  I would love to be able to hold down a full time job, and read four or more novels a night, but sadly that is not possible.  I have a house, a husband, teenagers, a dog, parents, friends, siblings, sibs-in-law, nieces, nephews, a garden, laundry… and there is very, very rarely time to read during office hours.  

We have to give priority to the authors we already represent, because they pay our wages, so sadly the unsolicited submissions gets smooshed into a very short reading window – almost always in my case an hour or two over the weekend.  

Now you know what it’s like when you go into a bookshop:  you have a fairly good idea of the shelves where you are likely to find something right for you.  You can flick through a book and pretty quickly get a sense of whether you’re interested or not.  Like it or not, that is often how I prioritise my own reading.  Something will grab me, quickly get under my skin, excite me. Something else… just won’t.  I’ll read a few pages, and if the book isn’t getting to me, then I recognise that I’m not going to be the best person to champion it through the publishing process.  So it goes on my ‘no’ pile.

And then, because of the aforementioned teenagers, great-uncles, dog and laundry (just checking how closely you’re reading this  – he’s ninety-nine) I send a fairly standard ‘rejection’ letter.  I try to be very clear that what doesn’t grab me may well thrill someone else: there are hundreds of books in my own house that I’d never dream of reading, my sons and husband just don’t share my taste. But there simply isn’t time to write and tell you why it’s not for me.


Now I know – honestly I do – what courage it takes to send your work off to agents at all, and I can well imagine how disappointing it must be to get a response that hasn’t been personalised to you. The good news is that if you are looking for feedback, there are other places to try.  Try critical but supportive friends, consultancies, freelance editors, writing workshops, writing groups… anyone who reads A LOT and will be honest (so not your mum, or someone who owes you money)

This isn’t an apology but I do wish I could give every unpublished author who approached me  some personal feedback. It feels discourteous not to do so.  But it’s just not possible.  There are pants to wash.  And I STILL haven’t read Wolf Hall.







25 thoughts on “FEEDBACK

  1. I very much appreciate you taking the time to write this post and I understand exactly what you’re saying, but…
    Wouldn’t it be possible to have five or so standard rejection emails with each one indicating how close it’s got to exciting your interest enough for you to ask for more?
    They could be as brutal as showing 1/5 – “I never want to see anything from you again” to 5/5 – “Oooh, so close, please send me your next manuscript before all other agents”
    Not only would this standardised method help hopeful authors measure their progress (or lack of), but it might whittle down the amount of unsuitable queries you get.

      • The irony of taking up your time querying you without sending a submission is not lost on me and I’ll understand if you don’t reply to this and/or leave the comment in moderation.

        Since you’ve returned to the agenting world you’ve given the impression that you’re one of the most approachable agents out there. You seem extremely keen to try out ideas that might bring you into contact with new talent (The dog walking, the writers’ retreat in France, etc), so please believe me when I say my griping has very little to do with you.

        My last rejection from you was perfectly nice. “Now look. I like your writing. It’s spirited and light, but this isn’t for me” which sounds fairly specific and fairly broad. I decided that it was a near miss.

        Realistically, however, I had no idea if it was a personal or standard response. For a writer the process is binary. You are accepted or rejected. I don’t expect feedback on the actual manuscript, but your subjective yet qualitative scoring of how close it came to being accepted would be useful as a reference for the next time I submit something. If all agents did it, we’d soon get a feel for who we should be sending our stuff to.

        Does this make any sense?
        (Marks out of 10…)

  2. I never realized all you do – nor did I realize that people send you their words to be then again sent to agents (? do I have this correct). Be assured, I am not a writer looking for anything other than utter enjoyment via your blog! I have to admit, it was lovely to get to know you more in this post!

  3. The analogy of going into a bookshop and browsing through lots of books before finding one that really grabs your attention makes so much sense.

    One practical question: how do agents prefer to be addressed in a query letter? By their name or Ms, Miss or Mrs? There is no way of knowing so I think it must be on a first name basis?

  4. How do you feel about authors submitting something else if you’ve rejected their first sub? Is it ok or would you suggest they sub elsewhere? Thanks for your helpful post.

  5. I really enjoyed your informative post and wonder if I can ask you and agent-related question, please?

    After a couple of ‘near misses’ with other agents, I recently had a full manuscript request. The agent said they hoped to read my MS within a fortnight or so, but eight weeks later, having heard nothing, I sent a polite email prompt. The agent was very apologetic and said they hoped to get round to my MS within the next 2 weeks, but it’s now 14 weeks since I sent my MS and I’ve still not heard back.

    I suppose what I’m wondering is, is it reasonable to send another polite prompt? I don’t want to look self-centred or pushy – had the agent not given a time frame in the first place, I would probably have just waited it out – but I’m left wondering what to do, and how long this could go on for (no one else has my MS currently and I don’t feel I can query other agents while someone has it). An agent’s advice on this would be greatly appreciated!

    Many thanks.

    • Don’t worry! Of course it’s reasonable – it’s YOUR book! Just let the agent know that you want to query a few others – but don’t forget you hold the reins! Good luck x


  6. Reblogged this on sjoecable and commented:
    I have to say that I respect all those agents out there and wouldn’t want to do their job in a million years, however when it comes to the rejection letter they have to realize that to see a email that is standard typed throughout doesn’t tell us anything. We send off say ten queries, each sends back a “sorry that’s not for us but there will be someone who will” speech. From this web learn nothing, what was wrong with it, what worked and what didn’t? I have a group of people at work who have read my work and not to be big headed but they ask me when the next one comes out, that is my motivation. I know people enjoy my work, so it is confusing when agents don’t. Now if the problem was the query why not say! 4-8 weeks is a long time to see the same email and for some that is a long time to ponder “why should I continue? “.

    • You need to reread my blog – you get feedback from other people. Agents are just looking for clients and not able to work with/for people who aren’t their clients!

      • I read with interest, my points hopefully were to say how hard it is for anyone to receive the same letter back for many agents. Agents are the busiest people on earth and have my utter most respect in what they do, but sometimes you do get one that breaks the mold and actually gives you feed back instead of the standard letter (which tells you nothing). But back to your blog, I found it very informative and interesting , can’t wait to see more of your blocks, keep it up mate.

  7. I’ve been in the query trenches a while now and had my fair share of rejections, along with quite a few partial and full requests. And I totally get why agents send form rejections. The shear volume of queries is frightening.
    What I don’t understand is when there’s no feedback when a full is rejected. Any insights as to why this happens?

  8. I’ve been in the query trenches a while now with my fair share of rejections and a number of partial and full requests. And I totally get why agents send form rejections. The shear volume of queries is frightening. And I much prefer a form rejection to the no response approach.
    What I don’t understand, though, is why agents send form rejections after a full request. Any insights?

    • No – I think if someone has requested the whole manuscript they really should give you a bit of feedback. That being said, noone really owes you anything… unless you’re paying them!

  9. Hi Jo,

    I totally see your point of view on this one. As you suggest the feedback resources are out there just not from agents. I think this is fair do’s (fair deuce – for those fastidious people). One day (fingers crossed) I hope to be wedded to an agent that prioritizes championing my work over sending out copious mini critiques to unpublished authors.

    I’ve had a fair few rejections and after the initial sting of disappointment I pick myself up and take positive next steps. To those that read your blog… I saw a great poster the other day that spoke to me. It had a photo of a little cat clinging onto a washing line and underneath a quote by William Feather: Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.
    That.. and writing talent (obviously) will get you there in the end! Perked me up no end and I’m going to visualize it next time a rejection pops into my inbox.

    Jo, keep the blog coming – it’s certainly entertaining as well as informative. Just wondering who is the ninety-nine year old? (Yes I was paying attention). I’m guessing the great-uncle, having whittled out the teenager,dog and laundry!

    Anyway, I’m off to pick up dirty pants from a crisp packet, smelly-shoe infested bedroom floor (yes I have a teenager in the house). Sun’s shining so perfect day for doing laundry! Oh and after that I’ll knuckle down to writing. The inbox and its rejections can wait!

    Bev Rigden

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