Tuesday, February 28, 2006


When I have a few free moments, I cruise the writer boards and it always strikes me that I see the same questions asked over and over again—and, of course, the same answers. One question that keeps cropping up is that of rejection and how agents feel about it. The reason, of course, is that no one likes to be rejected. I was shocked when a gorgeous girl told me once that her high school experience was awful. When asked why, she said it was because guys would not ask her out. When she finally did date a guy, in her senior year, she asked why he hadn’t ask her out sooner, he replied that he was afraid she would say no. How many times have you heard this?

Many really talented people never share their gifts with others because they are afraid of being laughed at. How many new writers hide what they have written for fear that someone will say their work is awful?

People hate all forms of rejection, thus it is somehow assumed that agents—purveyors of the word “No”—cannot be human and that being cruel is somehow a prerequisite for the job. We cannot be like everyone else because we reject people on a daily basis. Agents are thought to enjoy the power trip that rejecting writers gives us, because we reject so many. Yes, it is true that while most agents continually reject over 90% of what they see, I don’t know anyone who enjoys it. I certainly don’t. Unfortunately, it comes with the job.

What writers must understand, if they are to grow into the professionals they seek to be, is that you will always face the possibility of someone not liking your work. Rejection, after all, is just disagreement. A writer is saying that an agent should represent her work and that agent is saying no, for one of many possible reasons, he cannot represent your work.

There are very logical reasons why rejection occurs, and, if someone would ask why, I would tell them. However, most writers never ask. They just assume that I’m an agent and therefore mean and nasty and enjoy the power that comes with putting writers down.

Most rejections, at least 50%, could be avoided by doing a few simple things, the first of which is to visit an agent’s Web site (ours is http://www.wylie-merrick.com/). Because we despise rejection, we have posted there some things writers should know to avoid being rejected by us. However, if you blunder through and fire off queries in a haphazard fashion, you will get many, many nasty rejections, or just form letters. First and foremost, to avoid most rejections, you must be past the beginning writer stage and have attempted, and had critiqued, a few manuscripts. For instance, a woodworker usually crafts a number of pieces before he tries to sell one. However, writers seem to think a first draft of their first novel is somehow highly publishable. Sad to say, if you believe this, you have been sadly misled. Your high school English was right: Nothing is ever done on the first, or even the second, draft.

You want to know what I feel when I have to reject a writer? Mostly, what I feel is anger. Do you know why? Because with the information that every writer needs at his fingertips, there is no excuse for making the simple mistakes so many writers make. Yes, getting an agent is hard. Most times getting published is easier than finding and keeping a good agent. However, it’s nowhere near as difficult as many writers make it by not doing the required reading and researching. Even if agents overlooked what some writers consider little mistakes, like grammar and mechanics errors, many of the submissions we get are filled with other problems that could be resolved before the manuscript goes in the mail. Also, there is a certain amount of dues each person must pay to be accepted into any profession, and many of today’s writers want to skip over that part.

Every agent I’ve ever met is human, and I’ve never met an agent who was cruel—impatient, harried, absent-minded, overworked, almost blind—but never cruel. I also read somewhere it takes a two-year apprenticeship to become an agent. That’s way shy! Maybe two years before an agent can begin acquiring on his own, but people somehow forget that a person just doesn’t walk in off the street and become anything in publishing. You must have the required education and background before you are even considered to work the slush. Sure, many writers try to hang out a shingle and open an agency believing that somehow, through some stroke of blind luck, they can overcome the odds. Most of these agencies, however, wither on the vine after a year or so with zero income to show for their massive efforts.

So remember when you send us your work, make sure, first of all, that you’ve done your research, that we represent what you write, and that you have followed our guidelines.

Good luck in all that you do!!!


Zara wonders said...

Not trying to be offensive; however, when evaluating for an agent and they have a blog, should you expect them to have errors in their materials; e.g., whither instead or wither, etc. Are we to evaluate you as you evaluate us on our errors?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

I used the Russian spelling. "To whither is whence to go forth." That's what it means when freely translated.

Of course you can point out my mistakes. I'm human too and hence and whither am bound by nature to misspell and misplace. By the way have you seen my glasses?

Thank you, Zara!!!!

Zara wonders said...

Thank you! I think there should be a little leeway as well...just testing you out. I've seen a lot of good books from poor spellers who just need a good editor. But I totally believe that should happen before it gets to you! It's a shame though that a lot of writers cannot seem to catch their own errors... Additionally, for you, I think a blog is a little less formal than "a query letter" so I'm ok and just kidding you a little...

Jan Conwell said...

I have experienced a sliver of the choices an agent goes through--okay, the sliver was so small it was almost invisible, but a sliver, nonetheless. Edited the '92 Voices Magazine, MSU's literary journal. Box in the hall of the English department, haul submissions home ever day for a month, sort into piles: Yes! Maybe...and NO!!! Amazing how many people mistake their handwritten spiral notebook diary for a poetry submission. But what made it worth the hours of combing and sifting were those few jewels, the poem that gave me chills, the short story that made me wish it was only a first chapter...

I can see why you'd be an agent in spite of the thousands of rejections you're forced to send.

Diana Metz said...

Ah, Rejection. Almost as hated at the word Query.
I don't mind being rejected...if I know the reason. So many agents send a cover letter that is meaningless past the knowledge that I've got to scratch another agent off my list for this book.
The process of writing a book includes extensive editing to get the work just right. How can I get my query letters just right if I don't know WHY the project was rejected?
Is it proper to ask an agent their reasons for their rejection?

Anonymous said...

I can relate to the rejection concept, considering, it almost stopped me from trying to sell my book. I have had two people read the entire manuscript with another reading it for content. I am so afraid of it never being published, the idea haunts me day and night. I too would like to know why it is rejected and I have no illusions of it being accepted by the very first agent I query. My biggest fear is that I am a simple person, education is minimal, sentence and grammar strong, but wonder if the lack of large words might put off an agent. Any one have any ideas on this? Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Mr. Peterson:

Rejection is something we all fear. To be a successful author, or even a literary agent (yes we face rejection daily also), writers must have to ability to separate personal rejection from that of their work. Please understand that when someone—agent, editor, literary critic, reader, etc.—rejects what you have written, they are not rejecting you, personally, only what you have written, and they may do so for a vast variety of reasons. As the old saying goes, “You may please some of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all people all of the time.” If you make this your mantra, you will finally be able to view rejection as a by-product of living among fellow humans and thereby be able place it were it belongs—as one of life’s many gifts. Because without rejection we would never see our full potential and forever be fearful of going beyond where we comfortably live. Humans need that balance.

As far as using fancy hundred dollar words to flavor your writing to impress not only agents and editors but also your readers—don’t do it. Hemmingway wrote at a fourth grade reading level. Most newspapers are written at no higher than a sixth grade reading level and about the only materials that goes much above this are publishing contracts—pun intended.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Merrick,

I don't want to bother you with a thank you email so I hope this will suffice. You are the first agent I questioned regarding the concept of large words that suggested I stick with my own style and version of writing. Most of the responses I have received were to use a dictionary or get a word of the day calender. As if. I am trying to write, sell, and promote my writing. Considering the eiditing, trying to compose a well thought out and enticing query for an agent, and doing as much research as I can on the business of publishing, I am suppose to have time to learn a new word every day. It seems at my age I forget more words than I could ever remember. Thank you for your advice on the word and the rejection. It is an interesting mantra and I shall definately keep it to heart. Thanks again. I have spent a great amount of time on Miss Snark's Blog site, but find the personal touch you gave me far more rewarding. Thanks again. Your site is added to my list of favorites.