Why most agents use form rejections

The other day I wrote 80 rejections in 30 minutes. I was proud of that: my fastest time yet. Not because I enjoy taking authors down a notch — far from it. But I have a lot of other things to do.

Intern duties aren’t as demanding as agent duties, of course. (Though most interns aren’t full-time or paid.) Still, it’s a busy life.

Here’s a taste of all the other things agents do:

  • submitting to acquisitions editors; researching editors to decide where to submit what; checking up on editors who have clients’ manuscripts; maintaining relationships with editors and forging new relationships
  • checking in with clients; making editorial and developmental calls to clients to discuss their projects; calming frayed author nerves and boosting author morale
  • reading and editing clients’ manuscripts, sometimes multiple times; going over revisions with the author
  • getting rejections from editors, getting that “ugh” feeling, and having to tell clients
  • looking over publishing contracts; negotiating back and forth with publishers
  • selling the rights we retained from that contract (maybe we sold English rights to North America to someone, but we can still sell rights for other countries, other languages, audio, film, etc.)
  • receiving royalty checks and statements and keeping track of payouts; sending check to author after the agent’s cut along with statement; auditing publishers (you’d be amazed how many mistakes happen: most publishers are still on paper filing systems despite the computer age)
  • reading requested manuscripts and making a decision; sending personalized rejections for fulls; making offers of representation and giving prospective clients all the information they need to decide
  • updating website, MSWL, and blogs; doing interviews and blog tours; staying active on social media; attending conferences and workshops; doing giveaways (query critiques, etc.)
  • promo for clients — this can mean a whole host of things
  • protecting the agency, self, and clients from people like David Benjamin; dealing with hate mail; defending ourselves when we have to because this industry runs on reputations and sometimes assholes decide that’s a great opportunity to rip into us
  • keeping up-to-date with market trends and book news; maintaining friendships and connections within the literary community
  • taking on interns and assistants and training them in agent work; mentoring newbie-agents (this is how all agents start)
  • keeping track of every detail of everything in spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets
  • maybe, just maybe, reading a book for fun here and there; I put this as part of agent duties because reading is important for knowing what’s happening in books; however, few agents have the time
  • taking a few hours to eat, sleep, and prove our existence to family members; the work never stops and we love the work too much to force ourselves to take breaks as much as we should

If you were a client, what duties would you want your agent to prioritize?

Reading incoming queries is important. It’s how agents get new clients! But the job entails so many other things. There isn’t time to personalize rejections except in rare circumstances.

6 thoughts on “Why most agents use form rejections

  1. I’m considering using my writing degree in some capacity, because unlike most arts degrees, it’s actually useful in ANY office. (Insert not-entirely-untrue Starbucks joke here) And seeing if I can get some experience, even volunteer or intern or the like, in the publishing industry – in my country especially – would be a great learning experience for a writer. And if it were paid, I could better finance my self-publishing (“I’ll ace this,” I said, perhaps over-confidently).


    1. Sounds like a great idea! Internships (usually unpaid, sadly) are the way everyone starts in this industry, whether you’re heading into agenting or editing. It’s very much an apprentice system.
      Opportunities are opening up all the time. Follow agents on Twitter and ask around with your industry friends. I got my internship through friendships I have with several agents. More and more places are doing online/telecommute positions (sadly though, you’ll still find a lot of the positions are on location in New York City).
      Best of luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there! I want you to know that I LOVE YOUR WORK! Just wondering if we could have an email chat about whether you consult? I’d like to hear your thoughts on my query letter and I’m happy to pay you for your time. All the best and thank you.


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