On Querying , Subjectivity and Getting Contradictory Feedback from Agents

Hello gentle reader,

I’ve blogged before about the Querying Process and the 4 Stages of Rejections. In my previous post, I explained Stage 4 as the moment when you’re getting requests left and right, which all turn into “I like it but I’ll pass” rejections.

Today I’d like to expand a little bit on this type of rejection.

If you’re in the querying trenches and getting a lot of form rejections, you might think that receiving personalized feedback from agents is great: at last, agents take time out of their busy schedule to let you know WHY they’re rejecting your manuscript and what you can do about it! When I was querying for the first time, I thought so too.

Except that sometimes, the agent’s feedback isn’t as helpful as we hope.

When I queried the manuscript that led me to signing with my agent, I had 19 requests. I received personalized feedback from 16 agents (which, incidentally, means that two agents form-rejected my full manuscript – that can happen too).

Now, if half these agents had given me the same reason for rejecting my work, I would have gone back to the drawing board and revised. But it’s not what happened.

Instead, I received a lot of “I’m not the right agent for this” replies. Fair enough. I understand an agent has to believe in a project with a fiery passion to sell it to editors.

But then I also received the oh-so-confusing Contradictory Feedback (NB: my main character is named Lily):

Agent 1: “I had some trouble with Lily’s voice.”

Agent 2: “I just didn’t find myself to be as hooked by Lily and her narrative voice as I had hoped to be.”

Agent 3: “I thought the voice was great.”

Agent 4: “I’m afraid I wasn’t able to connect to Lily’s voice.”

Agent 5: “I just LOVE Lily’s voice.”

These quotes are not made up. They are straight from my inbox.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Yes. It’s the Pattern of The Contradictory Feedback From Agents.

Now, what does this tell us? It tells us that when you reach Stage 4 of the Querying Process, it’s likely your manuscript is polished and good enough to find representation. And when agents reject it, it reminds us that the publishing business is subjective.

And it’s an important lesson, because the rest of our publishing journey will also be affected by subjectivity. From editors to readers, we’ll have people who won’t like out story, hopefully not because it’s bad, but because it just isn’t their cup of tea. And it shouldn’t get us down: we can’t please everyone. We just have to be grateful for the people who do enjoy our stories.

And don’t forget…

What about you? Have you been confronted with subjectivity in your publishing journey? How do you deal with contradictory feedback? Make sure to leave me a comment below!

7 thoughts on “On Querying , Subjectivity and Getting Contradictory Feedback from Agents

  1. Miss Cole says:

    I just had silence after two full requests which is pretty tough to deal with ^^; Here’s hoping I get some better news this time.

  2. On my experience all response to writing is subjective. In the case of agents or publishers, that’s filtered by questions about how the audience might also receive it.

  3. I’ve yet to have detailed feedback from agents, but this is the first time I’ve had personalised responses (all of which have been along the lines of “I like it, but it’s not for me”). It’s so subjective! But readers are the same. As I’ve seen in reviews for my own books as well as others’, what one reader loves, another will hate – everyone has their own opinion!

  4. littledbl says:

    I get that from my critique group and just want to scream. LOL.

  5. I not sure what I prefer, the contradictions or the form rejection. It’s all so frustrating. I guess that’s why I decided to self publish. haha.

  6. I think you are so right about this business being subjective. I usually don’t read amazon reviews, but the other day noticed a whole lot of really bad reviews for Patrick Rothfuss who is one of my favourite authors. And these people really didn’t like it. It was really hard for me (5 stars all the way) to understand it – except that it falls to taste. I’m so glad you found the agent who got Lily (and I can’t wait to read it).

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