Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Do We Request Then Reject?

I am sure a lot of writers begin to question this. Why do agents request material after hearing a pitch and then reject it? In this case, I am talking about those energetic requests from the agents and editors. You know, the ones that say, "Wow, that sounds like an exciting project, why don't you send me a full." As a writer, you hear this and scream, woo hoo, "I've bagged the elephant" (sorry, another WALL STREET quote). And then, the rejection comes back and it sounds as if it is the complete opposite in tone from what you heard with the pitch.

The submission process is a funny thing. Today, I want to focus only on the written pitches. The face to face pitch process is a completely different matter and really, IMHO opens up a big bag of worms. So, let's start from the beginning and we will deal with my submisison process.

STEP 1 - THE QUERY - If you submit to me, you are asked to send a very small amount of material. For the e-query I only want the pitch. No synopsis, no partial, no nothing. For a snail mail query, I want that 3-5 page synopsis, and the first 3 pages only. In this case, I am simply looking at the basic premise of the story. You get to submit more material via snail mail since the turn around is a bit longer, but the idea is still the same. As I said, I am simply looking for the initial premise of the story. Is the over-all concept something that I think has some potential. For those sending the snail mail, I am also looking at the initial level of writing to see if the voice is heading in the right direction. If that initial premise looks, good, we are off to the next round.

STEP 2 - THE PARTIAL - If your premise looks good, I will often request a partial. In this case, the first three chapters only and the synopsis. It is generally at this point when the truth about the writing comes out and when that rejection occurs. There are several reasons here:

  1. The synopsis sends the story in a tail spin completely differet than the initial premise. Here I see writing that suddenly is filled with plot devices, plot lines that have no purpose, endings that never occur.
  2. The writing doesn't live up to the expection. There are some of you that can pitch a great story but the writing simply isn't what you pitched it as. You pitch it is epic and it reads like a chick-lit.
  3. The writer commits professional errors (all of those we have talked about). In other words, the writing might be fine, but how they send the material demonstrates they are far from ready to move on. This one really is a different issue.

Now, for those sending the snail mail queries, I can often see those mistakes early on with the synopsis and the partial. I have often read the cover letter and thought "Wow, this sounds good" and then read the partial and thought huh? I still went through the same process as above, I just left the writer out of the loop.

Writers need to know that we are not trying to drag you along in the process of things. There is simply a point when the writing has to live up to the standard you set. For this reason, I really recommend taking a lot of time with that query. Make sure you say what you want to say. Make it clear to the reader what you are proposing. The closer you can come to representing truly what you are writing, the better the chance it will move further along the process.



  1. This is a great article, Scott. In fact, your blog is very informative. I appreciate this opportunity to look into the mind of an agent. A question: if an agent asks for a full manuscript and then rejects, should the writer consider that there is probably something intrinsically wrong with the story? Did the agent read the full ms? Is it time to go back to the drawing board or just back to the agent hunt?

    Okay, three questions. :)

  2. Michelle, great question. Agents will request fulls for several reasons. Sometimes it is simply because they always request a full. The idea is that if they do like it, they don't want to have to wait. For myself, when I request a full, there was something in the initial submission that screamed to me to see the full. Now, if there is a rejection, the reasons are varied. It may be that the writing fell apart. It may be other factors. Can't really pin that one down. you would have to look at the comments they made.
    Should you go back to the drawing board? Again, it all depends. If you have had the same comment over and over again, I would say so. It might simply be the wrong agent for you or the wrong project for the agent. Still, it means you go back to the intial comments the person made then learn and grow with it.

  3. Thanks, Scott. That actually does help a lot. I've been struggling to decide if it's more encouraging to have a full ms requested or discouraging to then have it rejected. :) As you say, however, it's all learning opportunity.

  4. Well, I think that's what I would assume, is that if they were excited over the pitch but rejected the partial, then my writing didn't grab them.
    Thanks for the post. :-)