What gives the dreaded “no”?

I’ve been following many agents on Twitter for a while now, and I always enjoy when some comment on the queries they’ve received. It’s always insightful to see what makes an agent ask for more, versus giving the writer a pass, even if it is subjective. Though I’ve noticed something that has been bothering me for some time now, and I thought I’d share it here to get some feedback, opinions, etc. I’ll see a Tweet starting something like, for example (just making this up):

Great voice, new concept, fun and original idea – writing isn’t quite there. Pass.


So one thing outweighs all the other great ones? Does a query/first few pages/synopsis have to be PERFECT in order to receive a request for more? So far, this seems to be a trend in many of the agents I follow, and it’s a little disheartening to think that because of one little thing, even if the rest is awesome, you get the dreaded rejection. Is this something that happens often where there are so many queries to go through that agents only request the perfect ones? I know that most of the time, writers don’t even know why they get rejection letters in the first place, since they’re often form rejections (understandable since agents receive a HUGE amount of query letters every day and cannot reply to all of them individually), but from the information I’m reading on Twitter, it does seem to be the case where, instead of asking the writer to review the one point they don’t like and resubmit, they completely reject all the good because of one poor aspect. Is this really how it works?


7 thoughts on “What gives the dreaded “no”?

  1. I just read a blog post by Janet Reid on this very topic. Basically, the agent giving that kind of rejection is saying, “I didn’t love it, and I want you to find an agent that will love it.”

    Agents hate having to say No to so many manuscripts, so often they will try to include one or two hints about what was working for them, and also what needs to be worked on. But understand that if the agent is passing, it’s for more reasons than is on that paper, and often for reasons they couldn’t express on paper (that gut feeling).

    Honestly, as disheartening as those form rejections are, I prefer them to “assume a pass if we don’t respond in X months.” Because it’s often faster than those X months, so I’m not holding out false hope on that agent. An agent can usually tell when a query is clearly not a good fit. For example, if they used to take on a certain genre and are no longer accepting that (despite the website info), I’d be grateful for quick form rejection that says “not for me.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree with everything you wrote (especially about getting a form rejection vs waiting and assuming it’s a no)!

      The only thing is, because it is form rejections, what makes it difficult is knowing why it was rejected in the first place – was it the query, the first pages, the synopsis, the concept as a whole, the voice – it can be so many things. Then I started watching agents on Twitter and I noticed this pattern about pointing out a lot of positive, but then saying one negative thing with a pass. Now, because they obviously don’t name the manuscript or the writer, we (including said writer) don’t know which query they’re talking about, so they certainly don’t need to include anything positive. That’s why I thought this strange – it was as though all the good aspects they made a point of naming were annulled by the one poor aspect, which made them give it a pass. The more I read those, the more I started wondering just how perfect everything needs to be before submitting to an agent. I mean, obviously, it needs to be as perfect as can be, but watching Twitter made it feel like if it’s, for example, at 99% perfect, that 1% wrong gives you a pass.

      I know they receive a ton of queries everyday, so it has to jump out at them, and they have to fall in love, but like I said, the more I read these, the more I wondered just how perfect everything has to be in order to get a request.

      Thank you for your response! 🙂


  2. Personally, I don’t think a work has to be perfect in the absolute. I think it has to be perfect ‘for that agent’.

    I took part in a few parties on blogs where you could pitch your novel. I read the pitches and I read the agent’s reaction. I’ve seen agents asking for more on the thread and often I couldn’t tell why one pitch scored and many others didn’t.
    My answer is that I’m not that agent and so I can’t say which idea or words strack what cord. I think everything is very very subjective, and it was kind of disheartening, because yes, this way you never know what will appeal an agent exactly. But then, could you tell exactly why an author is your favourite author?

    I’m getting the idea that there is a perfect agent for every author and a perfect author for every agents, you just have to find the right match. And if you can, it doesn’t matter whether your query or your synopsis or even your first three chapters aren’t perfect.

    Just my opinion 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely subjective, and that’s what makes it frustrating 😉

      I agree that it has to strike a cord with an agent, but from what I heard from a few agents, is that sometimes, if they’re having a bad day, sometimes nothing is good, so that might have been the perfect agent for you, but they happen to read your query on a negative day, and that’s it. The idea is definitely disheartening, and I’m starting to understand why more and more writers self-publish now 😉

      Still, I’ll query every agent out there until there are no more to query, and then, maybe I’ll think of that path 😉


      1. Well, a friend of mine would say that, if your query lands on a possibly good agent for you on a bad day and the agent rejects it, then it was not meant to be, normally because something better awaits you 😉

        Besides, it can also happen that your query arrives excactly at the right time to the right agents, so she accepts, when in another moment she might have passed.

        It’s part of the game, I suppose. Some people prefer not to play it, but, like you, I think it’s still worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I spent a long time trying to figure out what the perfect formula was myself. I went through the equivalent of chopping off my heels and toes for a shoe that would never fit, and honestly, looking back, it was a waste of time for me to try and follow every bit of advice to the letter instead of listening to my own voice and writing words that were true to my heart.

    Don’t worry about making sure everything is perfect. One agent’s “perfect” won’t match another’s. Stay true to your words and yourself. The rest will follow in time. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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