Despite the disruption of the coronavirus, life struggles on. It’s been a few months since I announced I would begin my search for an agent to represent my memoir. I have nothing good to report and have had 5 rejections. I expect many more. I’m not discouraged. As I learned while submitting short stories for publication, some rejections are meant to be encouraging. Here’s an example pertaining to the memoir:
Please know I carefully considered your project, but I don’t feel I can offer representation at this time. The marketplace is more selective than ever and I must keep a modest list. Keep going with it, there are numerous agents out there that may be a good fit. I wish you the best of luck.
Reading between the lines, here’s what I gleaned from the rejection. First, the agent kept the submission for over two months suggesting she mulled over it for a while. Second, she didn’t use the automated reply form from her website. Instead, she was courteous enough to send a personal message. Third, the word “selective” tells me she thinks the book probably won’t be a best-seller and that’s why she can’t afford to add it to her portfolio.
I‘m not stunned by her response. Memoirs by people who are “nobodies” usually are a hard sell, and agents have to eat. Their margin of profit is small and It may take up to a year or longer to get paid. What agents look for in this crowded field is a book with wide appeal, one trendy enough for a publisher to offer an advance to assume the rights. Advances are paid upfront so the agent gets his or her cut sooner and can keep the lights on in the office. Royalties—when the publisher isn’t sure how well the book will sell–are doled out periodically based on actual purchases.
None of what I’ve described is encouraging, so why do I take heart in this rejection? Because the agent paused before turning me down. Her reply was personal, not caned She didn’t kiss me off with simply, “good luck.” She nudged me to “Keep going with it.” Someone, she suggested, might take a chance.
A rejection isn’t a win. But no writer should be discouraged by a response like this one. That’s why I share it, hoping my fellow authors will learn that not all rejections are the same.