Dear (insert name),
Really you shouldn’t have bothered replying, certainly not after so long. I know you think you are doing the decent thing rather than keeping me hanging on. But I can assure you I have not exactly been waiting with bated breath all that time; I’d given up on any response months ago – ten weeks is about the limit. Life goes on, so many other things to get depressed or just irritated over. There is always the anxiety phase for about two months after a query submission, checking the inbox with squinted eyes, or only at a time when I can think I might handle it best (though there is never really a good time, but it should generally be on a week night). And then out of the blue in pops your email. Just as well I wasn’t having a good day anyway because that would have certainly spoiled it. Yes, your words were polite, measured, even well-wishing, and your reasons for not replying sooner perfectly understandable. But it comes across as sugaring a bitter pill. After such a long time it is doubly disappointing to get nothing better than what could be the same letter sent to the many others but with my name inserted.
I guess it feels better to get that query in-tray cleared.
So please, any other literary agents, don’t bother replying. Unless of course you are interested in my work.
You are welcome to comment here though.
Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)
Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)
Worlds Beyond Time (intro)
…that precious manuscript to an agent is probably the most delayed action in every writer’s life. At least once you’ve had the experience of rejection. You never feel adequately prepared, remembering – in my case – more than one example when I sent an MS off to an agent only to later bitterly regret it. Oh, no wonder they rejected it, it was inevitable, I think to myself with typical 20/20 hindsight. And yet at the time my novel seemed perfectly honed, that covering letter just right. But if only I’d given it a bit more time. So won’t be rushing to send it off now, whether post or email.
Not that rejection could definitely have been avoided. I might be fooling myself into thinking the work had commercial potential if only I’d got the presentation right – the pitch, or made that change to the first page and chapter. Fact is, there are always things you think could have been done better, but you have to eventually move on to the next one. Science fiction is especially tricky when you’re pitching it through a synopsis; it can seem to get bogged down in fantastical-seeming detail which requires too many words to explain why in fact it’s not so fantastical.
I don’t think any author can really know what will meet with wider approval. Even those who are supposed to be objective about these things can often get it wrong. And usually their default judgment is negative.
Here’s an extract from a Guardian interview with this year’s Booker winner Marlon James, who had one novel rejected 78 times.
“No! No,” he says, shaking his head, as if it is the question that is mystifying. “This is why I tell students when they ask for advice, if you’re a writer, you have to believe in yourself.” He bangs accompaniment to the last three words with his hand on the table. “Because if you’re a writer, you’re going to come across that moment where you’re the only one who does.” He sounds freshly disappointed when he adds: “And I failed that test.”