My agent search is just beginning, but for those of you who know a writer who is going through the same thing, here’s a handy list of things not to say to them.
“Well, the important thing is that you’re trying.” This is like saying the important thing about me doing my day job is getting into the car every morning.
“Have you thought about making some changes to the book?” Why, no! Of course I haven’t! What a novel idea! (Okay, sarcasm is unattractive.)
“I heard that if you’re any good, you’ll eventually find someone!” So…this is a nice way of saying I stink?
“Sometimes the first one doesn’t sell.” I suspect this is somehow intended to give me incentive to pour my heart and soul into something else, since things are not working out so well with the one I poured my heart and soul into already.
“It’s OK; I love you anyway.” Also known as “I am unsurprised by your abject failure.”
“You should write something more marketable.” …Nah, I got nothing for this one.
And for those who might want to know what you should say to your favorite writer while they’re going through this:
“It’s only business.” This really does help, believe it or not. Being the wrong fit for an agent just means they don’t represent/don’t feel they can work with your book. Yes, quality is a common reason…but there are a lot of others.
“Keep trying.” Your favorite writer may or may not take this with grace; but the truth of it is unless the possibilities are exhausted, there’ll always be that doubt: What if I would have found someone after all?
“Listen.” Your favorite writer may REALLY not take this one with grace. But if a rejection comes with any personalization, it’s worth trying to be open to what is said. And sometimes there are actual compliments buried under the ultimate bad news. Not all feedback is going to be bad, even if the answer is no.
“Rejection does not mean everything.” This is different than saying it means nothing; of course it does not mean nothing. But it does not mean the book will never be published, or never find an audience. All it means is that one set of people believes they cannot sell it. I started with 28 agents on my list, and a lot of them are long-shots. That’s a pretty small target.
“I really enjoyed your book, and I hope you keep writing.” Only say this one if a) you actually read the book; and b) you genuinely enjoyed it.
Actually, that last one is good for all occasions, not just the querying season.