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What I’ve Learned from Agent Rejections

What I’ve Learned from Agent Rejections

Two years ago, I got an agent. He loved my middle grade fairy tale novel. While we worked on edits, he asked me, “so, do you have any other middle grade fairy tale retellings?”

“Um, no,” I said. I had a YA book that needed revisions, and an adult novel I was working on.

“It would be good if you could write one. It doesn’t have to be a sequel, but something similar to your first book. Publishers want to know you’ve got something else coming down the pipe. Maybe we can get you a two-book deal.”

Sounded good.  So I took his advice. I wrote another middle grade fairy tale retelling.

Seven months later, we finished revisions on my first novel, and my agent drew up a submissions list of New York editors from all the big publishing houses.

Then, he had a mid-life crisis. Or something. I don’t know what happened exactly, but he went incommunicado on me for months, and when I finally heard from him, he told me he had quit his job and was no longer agenting. He suggested I find a new agent.

And for the past year, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.


This is face I felt like making when my former agent told me I needed to find new representation.


I suppose you could say it has not been going well. After all, it’s been a year and I still don’t have a new agent. But, instead, I choose to look on the bright side. I’ve had a lot of interest from agents. My query letter is obviously working because I get a lot of partial and full requests. And my rejection letters are usually quite encouraging. In fact, I’ve been noticing something similar about my rejections lately.

Let’s take a look, shall we?


Dear Eva,

Thanks so much for sharing YOUR NOVEL with me. I really enjoy your writing style and think it’s spot-on for middle grade readers. Unfortunately, I’ve found the fairy tale retelling cannon to be so saturated of late. I simply don’t think I can sell another retelling right now unless it’s wildly different from the pack. I’m sorry not to have better news about this project, but if your agent search persists, I’d be delighted to consider any other middle grade or YA projects that you might have. Please keep in touch!


Agent X

Dear Eva,

Thank you for your patience while we considered your work. In the end, while there was much to be admired, we did not fall in love with the overall execution in a way we need to take on a project, especially given this is such a difficult time for fiction.

For what it’s worth to know, we think you have talent, and would consider other works from you in the future. With that said, the problem with this ms was that while not bad, and definitely better than most we see– retellings are VERY difficult to sell… It’s a breezy and interesting read, but in the end we don’t think it’s strong enough all things considered, again, since it is a retelling.

With much respect,

Agent Y

Dear Eva,

Thank you for sharing your work with me– for your lovely note — and for your patience in waiting to hear back. You write well, but I’m afraid that I just didn’t have that “Yes! This is for me!” feeling–so I’m going to bow out.

That said, I’d be happy to hear about any future projects you may have.

Whatever happens, I hope you will continue writing and sending out your work.

Again, thank you for sharing this with me.

All best wishes,

Agent Z


So they rejected me — at least they were nice about it!


And that’s just a few of the many nice rejections I’ve gotten over the past year. In a lot of ways, these letters are encouraging. In all of them, the agents say I am a good (or at least not bad) writer. That’s something to celebrate, right?

The problem seems to be that I’ve written something that is — at least for now — difficult for agents to sell.

It’s frustrating. It’s really hard to motivate myself to write a new novel when I have TWO completed fairy tale retellings just sitting around gathering dust. But as much as I want to throw up my hands and say “I give up,” I know I can’t. Because there’s something else those agents said: they would be interested in seeing other projects from me.

I guess that means I need to get busy writing something that ISN’T a fairy tale retelling. And that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’m 50-plus pages into the first draft of a middle-grade contemporary novel, and I’m feeling good about it so far.

I am sharing my rejections with you guys in part to show how difficult and fickle this business can be. Two years ago, my agent literally told me to write another fairy tale retelling. Now, agents are telling me that fairy tale books are nearly impossible to sell.



Maybe I just need a little literary luck!  (Photo by Umberto Salvagnin)

At the end of the day, traditional publishing is about the market and about what will sell. But you can’t write to the market because it takes ages for a book to get published, and what’s popular at the moment might not be two years from now.  So basically I’m getting rejected, at least in part, because of something outside of my control. And as frustrating as that can be, I have to take comfort in the fact that at least I’m not getting rejected because my writing is bad. In fact, I’m getting told that my writing is good.

So I’ll keep writing. And I’ll cross my fingers that the next novel I create will not only be well-written but also something that an agent thinks will sell. I won’t try to predict what that might be. Instead I’ll write what I want to write, hope for the best, and accept the fact that the road to publishing is a long one.



About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

3 responses »

  1. I don’t know your particular feelings on self-publishing, Eva, but if the work really is publishable (and that can be hard for any writer to gauge), and it is only the vagaries of the marketplace (and fickleness of its gatekeepers) keeping it from publication, you could always go the indie route. That way, you’d have some published credentials, and that might even make it easier, down the road, to go legacy-pub on a subsequent book. In other words: Instead of chasing after them, make them come to you. It’s not without its risks, of course, but a change-up in strategy is worth considering if you reach a point where you feel you’re just spinning in circles…

  2. Sean certainly has a point: it is important to pursue publishing your work by whatever means and in whatever format you choose, considering them all. It is great that you’re finding the positive in the rejection letters. It takes forbearance and self encouragement to do that. You should be encouraged by the comments on your talent and invitations to send the agents other work. These rejections really are telling you to have faith in your writing and to keep producing your work. So keep on keeping on. There is a market for your work and either you will find it or it will find you.

    • Thanks, Judy and Sean! For now my dream/goal is still traditional publishing. I really want the collaboration and professional experience that comes when you work with an agent and editor and publishing house. But I’m not opposed to a smaller house than the Big Five! We’ll see what happens, and I’ll keep trying!


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