How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

One of the main reasons I keep this blog is to be a resource for writers. As you realize, opening myself up to writers is a bit selfish of me. My target readers are people who I hope will reach out to me and maybe even become my clients. I’ll be the first to freely admit that. I write here to help writers but also to attract them, because I am very actively building my list and looking for talent.

However, this also puts me in a bit of a pickle. I’ve built up a great readership in the almost-year that this blog has been up and running. Some of my readership will end up querying me. The statistical probability is that I will end up rejecting most of these queries. People say that this blog is useful, but I can’t even begin to think it’s useful or instructive enough to overturn the 99%-or-so rejection rate I’m currently running. So, this means I’ll, at one time or another, end up rejecting most of my extremely charming, dedicated and enlightening readership.

Awk-ward.

You all appreciate getting little glimpses into my head, and I have to say that this is always a difficult moment for me. When someone mentions that they read the blog — and many do — in their query, I do brighten a little bit. It never ceases to amaze me how many readers I’m able to reach out to. However, it becomes that much more painful if I have to reject them. I wish I could give special consideration and preferential treatment to all my blog readers, but, at the end of the day, it’s the strength of the writing and the manuscript’s concept that count.

So, fine blog readers and enterprising writers, do know that it pains me greatly to have to reject my own blog readership. And I hope that you won’t stop reading if your query with me doesn’t go as you’d like. (In fact, it’s the people getting rejected by me and other agents that should probably keep reading… even if they happen to be crafting a voodoo doll in my likeness while they do it.) I don’t want to cultivate and then alienate my favorite audience. It’s just something that happens as a result of this blog, and it’s always a sticky situation.

Sigh. Just one of the perils of being someone who, essentially, crushes souls every day for a living. But then I do find a manuscript I love and I sell it to a publisher. Making those dreams come true for my clients can make everything else feel worth it and that’s, hands down, my favorite part of the job.

86 Replies to “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”

  1. I think most of us are just grateful that you’re willing to put your heart/ personality/ expectations out here where it’s easily accessible for hopeful clients. It’s comforting to hear that you really care about your readers, but hopefully anyone who’s serious about writing is already bracing themselves for a pile of rejections before their lucky break…even if it’s from their favorite blogging agent.

  2. I think all agents who blog face this problem. I believe Nathan Bransford commented on it within the first year of his blog. Will your rejecting my work keep me from reading this blog or querying you again?
    Naw, it’s a business and you have to pick only the works that you are behind 100% and believe you can sell. The one thing it does is force me to keep upping my game and trying harder to find my voice and write outside the box–not too much though, but enough to make it ‘different’.

  3. Still here, Mary! Anyone that misses out on the information in your blog because of a little ol’ rejection is a fool. I read a great line on this site (www.migwriters.com) yesterday: β€œIf you’re not failing on a regular basis it means you’re just doing what you already know how to do.”

    I don’t believe you can crush a true writer’s soul with a rejection. A person with that kind of soul will eventually brush themselves off and get back in the fight! (Er, I mean the wonderful world of writing.)

  4. An author who quits reading because of a rejection has missed one of the points you’ve raised in your blog – Acceptance or rejection isn’t personal. It’s all about the writing.

  5. I can understand how this must be hard for you, but I don’t think a rejection would turn away someone who really wants to be published (either with your representation or not). If there is one thing I’ve learned in this struggle, it’s that you have to take your rejections and use them as stepping stones to improvement. This may not be easy, but as you said in your earlier blog, we have to grow a thick skin if we want to succeed in this business.

  6. Hey Mary,
    Although you may crush souls for a living (that makes me think we should buy you a cape), you also open doors. Like Olleymae said above, the fact that you put yourself out there everyday to your readers says a lot, and that you even *think* about how your readers are feeling makes you a cut above. Anybody who would stop reading because of a query rejection of yours, I think, is missing the bigger picture.
    Now, onto finding that cape…

  7. Still reading Mary! There’s no substitute for straightforward, good advice. Besides, one of the by blows of being a writer is growing that thicker skin you referred to in another post. If we stalked off from every agent that rejected us, we’d have a pretty short list for our next project – well, I would anyway! πŸ™‚

  8. I’m still here as well, Mary! Checking your blog daily is part of my new “writer’s religion”. True, it hurts like heck to get rejected by your dream agent, but at the end of the day–I know it’s not personal. Many of us here are probably newer at the whole publishing game, so we have a LOT to learn. And you, Mary, are a GREAT teacher!

    Thanks for everything you do.

    :O)

  9. Mary, I think we all respect that you have a job to do and the decisions that you make are based on numerous factors. I don’t take this personally. What might be right for one agent isn’t right for another. I get that. I appreciate your honesty and when I am rejected (as I have been many times) I try to learn from my failures and move on.
    Here’s a column I wrote on failing and getting a rejection in the mail. Hope you enjoy it. And keep up the great work you are doing. You care enough to give back and I have enormous respect for people who are willing to do this. Good luck with all of your publishing endeavors in 2010.

    http://buffyswritezone.blogspot.com/2009/08/we-learn-from-our-failures.html

  10. Don’t feel bad. It’s all part and parcel of your gig. When I query you, and if you reject me, I promise to remain a faithful reader. In fact, I gave you a shout out on my blog the other day.

  11. You are indeed in an unenviable position. However, the problem of lost readers is not yours. It is the writer’s. If they are willing to give up a great blog like this because you didn’t happen to like one of their manuscripts, then they have no business continuing to pursue publication.

    Writing is brutal. But it is also rewarding for those willing to learn the craft, acccept rejection and persevere BECAUSE of it. Those writers will continue to read the blogs of editors and agents who have rejected them because they understand the process, want to learn more and are not being egocentric.

  12. Heck, if you ain’t getting rejected, you ain’t trying, right?

    I imagine the duty’s not as difficult as a doc having to tell someone a loved one passed (then again, neither is the compensation), but being a killer of dreams on a daily basis seems like it would be fairly taxing if you have a connection (even, merely an ether-thread one) with the erstwhile dreamers (turned voo-doo practitioners :)).

  13. Mary,

    My personal motto is: When faced with a challenge, grow. Rejection is really just an opportunity for personal growth, so instead of “soul-crusher,” perhaps you could dub yourself an “opportunity-creator.”

  14. Mary,
    Thank you for what you do. For your blog that gives me advice and actually makes me think I can improve. If I am going to be published I had better be ready for rejection, it’s just par for the course. I think that if I were to get upset by every rejection and suggestion for improvement, I’m not going to get very far. And if I’m going to turn my back on something that has helped me get where I am now just because I get rejected, then I had better rethink my motives and goals.
    So if I submit and you reject me, then I would still keep reading your blog. I am learning too much not to!

  15. Hi Mary –

    Being new to your blog, I have not had the experience of being rejected by you. But considering you entitled the post HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS… I think it is terrific that you consider your readers, friends and like any true friend we’ll stick with you through thick and thin. I think I’ll enter your contest before attempting to hurdle over the 99% barrier…
    Cheers!

    Laurie

  16. Yup, it happens. You rejected me. But that’s okay, because eventually, some agent out there won’t reject me. And in the meantime (well, and after I get an agent too) I can keep learning stuff by reading your blog! πŸ˜€

    Nothing is a waste if you learn from it!

  17. I never post a comment but I thought I would this time. I’m also a MaryKole-rejected blog reader. I consider it a mark of distinction. πŸ™‚

  18. Yes, you rejected me. I still read your blog daily, because you provide such great information. If my writing improves because of your blog, maybe you will say, “YES! YES!” to my next manuscript. πŸ™‚

    Thanks!

  19. To my fellow rejectees: it’s not you who gets rejected, it’s your manuscript. I realize a manuscript can feel like a precious little baby, but like a baby, it might just need some time to grow and blossom into a wonderful grown-up!

  20. I follow your blog to learn how to become a better writer. If you (and/or other agents whose blogs I follow) reject me, then it means I have more to learn. I’d rather have an offer of representation, but that’s life.

    That said, I received a strange rejection, which I just blogged about. Mary and commenters are invited to read it, and let me know if they’ve heard of or received something similar. Thanks!

    http://theresamilstein.blogspot.com/2010/01/agent-cheek.html

  21. Hello Mary,

    I’m still waiting for your soul crushing rejection. πŸ™‚ I’m a pb writer so I understand how it is. But still hoping for how it could be.

    I love your blog, it’s truly helpful.

    Thanks much.

  22. I can see how that gets awkward, indeed.

    You’re so sweet to worry about it. That tells a lot about you, Mary. But don’t worry, you won’t lose your readership if they are truly wanting your advice–even if you reject their queries. πŸ™‚

    If they leave, that’s on them. . .

    Have a great day!

  23. That has to be tough, reading a query you aren’t crazy about, knowing it was sent in by someone who reads your blog. But we are thankful that you and other agents have blogs to enlighten us and inspire. To quit reading a blog just becuase the person rejected my query would be foolish. I’d be that much more determined to learn more.

    Happy Wednesday,
    Jen

  24. I fiend your blog. You haven’t rejected me yet because I haven’t submitted. I’ve been studying your style and advice to make sure when I do submit (and I will, it’s coming), that it’s my best work. But even if I am part of the 99, I’ll still return for more advice so that eventually I might become part of the 1. So blog on, oh captain, my captain. You offer an incredible tool for aspiring writers.

  25. That’s it. I’m off to register a new domain name: http://www.rejectedbymarykole.com. We’ll have an advice section (getting through the grieving process, moving forward etc), online rejection parties (lots of virtual alcohol and chocolate eclairs), rejection party bags (filled with ‘how to write’ books and pen and paper). Oh and live guest chat with… you guessed it! Mary Kole! If only I had the time.

  26. To be honest, I’d rather be rejected by you than miss out on your blog (not that I can query you anyway as I live in the UK!). I love reading your posts.

    Thanks for all the guidance that you’re sharing with the (global) writing community. Long may it continue.

    Mel

  27. I’m sure I’ll one day join the rejection club (or the 1% club… a gal can dream!), but that won’t stop me from reading.

    And I wouldn’t say your job is essentially soul crushing. Glass half full, here! Essentially, your job is excellence seeking. You give that 1% a chance at publication, at living the dream — a chance they wouldn’t have otherwise! You help give the world great books!

    As I’ve used up my daily quota of exclamation points, I’ll sign off for the day. πŸ™‚

  28. Rejecting manuscripts is part of your job. I see no reason for you to feel bad about it. If somebody stops reading your blog over it, then it is their loss.

  29. Mel — I have a few clients outside the US! With writing, it really doesn’t matter where you live, as most business is done electronically.

  30. If we didn’t get rejected then we wouldn’t grow. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of rejections coming my way soon. I’m seriously trying to be a writer and I’m dyslexic. My brain didn’t develop like most because of my child hood. Writing is the best psychologist I could ever have. If I don’t get published, that’s OK because its better than a big bill.

    If you reject me, I’ll still follow this blog. What a great resource into what your experiencing on the inside. It’s great and intriguing stuff to know. Heck, if you reject me, let’s do lunch when you come to Reno. I’m now becoming a big fan of this blog and the comments are fabulous, love it!

  31. Ooo, support group! How does it work? Do we start with, “Hello, my name is X and I’m a Kidlit-aholic. It’s been 12 minutes since I last refreshed the page to see if Mary responded to my comment. Yes, that is only because I was busy refreshing Nathan’s blog…”

  32. Your advice IS priceless – being privy to an agent’s thoughts is an honor! If you reject a manuscript the author obviously still has some work to do….writing is such an art that you can never look at yourself in the mirror as a writer and say ‘Im perfect, I dont need to improve’ and if you do…well, that is sad..

  33. Mary, I think it’s wonderful that you actually take time out of your busy schedule to reach out to aspiring authors. And to admit that you do it partly to garner a solid client-base shows your honesty and your decication to your craft. If someone takes your rejection personally and stops reading this blog, then it only goes to show that you made the right decision in rejecting them.

    As an aside, your blogs and the requirements for the contest have finally pushed me into taking that last step of “letting go of my writing”. I’m in the process of creating a blog for myself — right now, I’m creating that crafty, irresistable first entry that will not only make the world sit up and take notice, but make the agents swarm to my doorstep ;-). Thank you, for that!

  34. Sometimes awkwardness is unavoidable. Every relationship encounters “awkward” at some point. No reason the blogger-reader/writer relationship would be different.

    I don’t see how people will manage to become writers if they take rejection so personally.

  35. Marvelous Mary, I’m so sorry that you have to deal with this awkwardness to begin with. It goes without saying: It’s business; it’s not personal.

    You are a jewel for continuing to blog and your kind professionalism is so appreciated by MANY.

  36. Your blog is one I’ve posted on my blog. I read you every day, and have already learned a lot, even though I didn’t “find” you until recently.

    Yes, i’m going to query you when my completed novel is polished as much as I can, without professional suggestions for revision! But if I end up in the 99% Club, I will consider myself in good company, and try again…someday!

  37. No no! That is your job. I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge and your heart with us!!!! Thank you for your hard work and for keeping us on our toes…er, uh, teaching us how to stand on our toes!

  38. Aww…bless your tender little heart. Painful as rejection may be, it’s really an opportunity to learn, grow and perfect their craft. If folks can lay their egos down, they’ll recognize that and be all the better for it.

  39. WOW. I think I am the only agent in the history of ever to pull off the feat of having writers comforting ME about rejection. Did I just break the universe or what?

  40. Your readership would do well to remember that a rejection is not just about the quality of the writing, but personal taste as well. That said, I have the perfect YA book about drugs, sex, and rock and roll for you! I’m sending the first 500 words into the YA/MG contest you’re sponsoring.

  41. Thanks for sharing your feelings on this and caring enough about us to share it. Like everyone else, I know it’s your job to, sadl,y mostly reject and I would still read your blog. I really learn a lot from it and don’t read it just in hopes of getting accepted by you. And you never know, you might like one of our second or third or fourth books. But mostly, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  42. What am I gonna do, stop reading every publisher that’s ever rejected me? Because believe me, I’ve been rejected by the best. I guess I’d have to switch to reading only adult books. [Shudder.]

  43. I didn’t find your blog until after I queried you, and even though you rejected my manuscript, I’m still reading the blog… because you have great CONTENT. I’m dedicated to reading everything you’ve written here, and all you will write here in the future.

  44. “Just one of the perils of being someone who, essentially, crushes souls every day for a living.”

    Ouch. Thinking like this is not good for the self-esteem. Get yourself a massage or at least a nice coffee, will you?

    Ultimately, we’re all responsible for keeping our own souls intact. It may not feel this way in the moment of rejection, but what you actually crush is a little less vital and a lot more temporary.

    (I haven’t actually been rejected by you. Yet. But I do have A LOT of practice with rejection, so I know what I’m talking about.)

  45. Mary, your concern for us and our writerly souls comes through, even if rejection letters. (Yep, I’m one of the ones that’s not in that 1%…yet!!) I keep coming back to your blog, however, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I didn’t take the rejection personally. It’s business and that’s just the way the world works. Until my manuscript lights a fire in your belly and makes your heart pound and you know exactly which publisher you’re going to pitch it to in an instant, how can you possibly say yes? So why on earth would I stop reading?? I put my hand up and entered the game of publishing, so I need to deal with the realities, which include rejections.

    That brings me to my second reason: I know there’s so much I don’t know. How else am I going to find out than by swallowing my pride and learning from those who know an awful lot more than me. You are one of those people, and I really thank you for taking the time to share your expertise and experience.

    And the final reason I keep on reading? Because I’d like to think that through your blog I ‘know’ you in some remote way, and you’re exactly the sort of person I’d love as my agent one day in the future.

  46. OK, so now it’s time to hold hands together and sing Kumbaya…

    This is great — having an online community in which to share the frustrations of getting published. Just never thought I’d ever hear about the loneliness of the long-distance agent.

    Rock on, Mary!
    d

  47. It’s all part of the process, I think. I would wager a guess that most aspiring authors realize that just because they read (and sometimes even study) a certain agent blog, that does not necessarily mean they are a shoe-in for a contract. I am also going to bet that most of the authors you have rejected are still poking around this ol’ blog, looking for tips and enjoying your views! Chin up!

  48. If a follower stops reading your blog because you rejected his query (or requested material), then the only one losing out is that follower. Thanks to your post on voice (and a few comments from agents who like my concept), my voice went from bland to strong. I never queried you (I queried someone else in your agency), but even if I had, and you had rejected my query, I’d still follow your blog. Yours is educational, and those are types of agent blogs I follow.

  49. I agree with Stina. I can’t query you because of agency policy but that doesn’t mean I don’t learn something everytime I read this blog. Its those who’ve been rejected who should be following you and whoever else can help them improve their pitch and product.

    That said, I understand how hard it is to have to say no all the time. I feel that way sometimes as a mother- as though all I’m ever saying is no. I’d like to be able to say yes. Its easier/much more fun to say yes you can have another sweet; yes, you can see that inappropriate movie; stay up so late… but it’s just not worthwhile in the end.

  50. If I stop reading an agent’s blog, it’s not because I got rejected, it’s because I no longer find it useful or don’t feel I can relate. Keep writing such informative posts and the mature readers won’t let a rejection ruin the relationship. πŸ™‚

  51. I love reading this blog, and I’ve been happily agented by Curtis Brown for over ten years now. I pay extra attention to agents because: (a) every one I’ve met has been a lovely person, and I enjoy seeing them out and about in book world; (b) I mentor a lot of terrific writers and often help point them in what are (hopefully) the right professional directions; (c) it’s important to keep up with the industry, no matter where you are in your career.

    Jeepers, I’m chatty today.

  52. Your blog is such a wonderful resource and those who would turn away a valuable resource are only hurting themselves. If I ever finish revising my ms and start querying, I’ll hopefully obtain an agent/publication/etc. However, I’ll still read blogs like this because there is always more to learn and more opportunity for growth. If I don’t gain representation right away, I’ll use the info to make my next book better. Either way, I’ll still be here!

  53. if you be professional about it and if your readers/writers are professional, then I don’t think you should have any problem, but I also think it’s hard to expect everyone to behave professionally, so just don’t get discouraged if some people get upset when rejected

  54. Rejections are hard, but the more you get, the less they affect you. I’ve had lovely rejections in the past, hand written notes that give me hints and tips, and others where my package (50 pages of requested material) is sent back with “sorry, too busy.”
    But honestly, I can’t even remember who has rejected me nicely or not.
    I’m sure your readers will come back…if your prose is good πŸ™‚

  55. In order to represent someone, you’d have to more than simply enjoy their work. I’ve read many books, that if asked about, I’d say I really enjoyed reading them and would recommend. However, there are very few that I will go out of my way, calling friends and family and say, “I have a book you simply must read!” Therefore, I feel that, as an agent, in order to represent someone, you must absolutely love the book, not just enjoy it.

    I doubt many would fault you, or any other agent, if they understood this. You have to fall in love. And just because one agent doesn’t, does not mean another won’t.

    Keep sharing your insights. They are appreciated.

  56. The agent blogs, yours included, Mary, are a wonderful resource for writers. I learn a lot about writing and the business of publishing from these blogs. Plus it’s a great, needed, reminder that it IS a business, but a business that is subjective. The rejections aren’t personal.

  57. I keep wondering about this. If you are an avid reader of an agent’s blog, should you mention that in your query letter or not? On the one hand, it might show that you’ve been doing your research and really think that this person is right for your manuscript (or your manuscript is right for them, whichever way you want to look at it). On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to imply that I’m seeking preferential treatment simply because I read your blog. What is the best way to approach this issue?

  58. Your blog is full of wonderful inside information, and that’s one reason that writers read bogs, right? (Oh, is that a tongue twister at the end there?).

    Rejection comes with the territory when you’re a writer looking to be published. It’s always a bit disappointing when you think you’ve targeted the right person and it doesn’t happen. But you move on until you do find the right person.

    As was said above, your insight is appreciated.

  59. Veronica — Lots of people mention that they read my blog. It makes me smile but that fact can’t affect a person’s writing. So I smile if it’s mentioned, then I go on to evaluate the writing. πŸ™‚ Either way, it doesn’t make much difference to me.

  60. Mary, Thanks for clearing that up. (Is it silly that I feel a jolt of excitement when my favorite bloggers take the time to answer my comments?) I never really feel very comfortable mentioning “oh, and by the way, I read your blog like a crazed fan” (not that I would really put it in those words, you understand). It’s nice to know that it doesn’t really make an impact in the long run. I’ll just leave my blog stalking out of the query letters πŸ™‚

  61. I must say the first few rejections I received were nearly soul crushing. However I was one of those silly people who thought that all you had to do to become published was write a book. Had I known then what I know now, I might not have started writing novels. Since then I’ve learned how to take advice, understand that harsh critiques are valuable, and have grown thicker skin.

    I’m sure that most new writers have the same growth period. Blogs like yours are essential to learning and I (among many) appreciate the effort put into writing them. Thank you!

  62. Since I am not anywhere near ready to query anyone about my book, I’m happy to learn from your blog while not getting rejected. : )

    Wait, I’m going to submit the first 500 pages to your contest, so that means I might still get the pleasure of a rejection.

    Life is good.

    Phee

  63. Your blog is useful and interesting and the fact that you can’t possibly agent every single one of your readers (and therefore will of necessity reject some of them) can’t change that. I suspect that you (like Nathan Bransford) have readers who will never query you because it wouldn’t be a good match, and yet they will find useful and interesting news and insights on your blog.

  64. You’re right, that IS awkward. But I’m willing to be the kind of friend that chills around at a yard’s distance, attempting to begin conversations with “Soooo…” as we sort of grin and nod at each other, because what else can you do in a relationship that is too uncomfortable to continue but too insensitive to destroy?

    And I’ve just written a freaking H.G. Wells run-on, so you can no longer have any desire to represent me…

    Right… *nods head and grins* Soooo…

  65. I just started reading your blog today when a friend pasted your link in my blog comments. But I’ll be back. I did add a link to my blog sidebar (www.joycemoyerhostetter.com) And I posted links on Facebook and Twitter as well.

    Now I’m going to send you less than 500 words of my completed YA novel.

    And I’ll be back whether I win the contest or not. Thanks!

  66. Anyone in the writing business has to get used to rejections – it’s part of the apprenticeship of writing. And of course, even established writers get an occasional knock-back on their work.
    So just keep doing what you’re doing, Mary – providing a valuable resource for serious writers.
    And if you get an occasional gem – that is your reward! πŸ™‚

  67. It must be really hard trying to maintain a relationship with your readers when you most likely will reject some of them at one point or another. I think this post is good insight into your mind and a good reminder for bratty writers. Not everyone is going to love our work, but that’s okay πŸ™‚ What you offer is a wonderful resources for us all to learn from.

  68. Your blog is a huge help to all of us out there who want a glimpse on what really goes on in an agency. I read your posts religiously and have been helped enormously. I think if people get upset over being rejected (and stop reading your blog over it) then it means that they aren’t willing to learn and determined to do even better.
    I haven’t submitted a query to you yet, but I’m entering the contest you’re hosting right now. I’m very excited about it and I can say that whether I win or not, I’ll still keep up with your blog.

  69. Eh, don’t worry about the rejections. It’s the nature of the biz, right? We’ll get over it, and hopefully our writing will get better. Thanks for posting this blog!

  70. Jack London had a reported 608 rejections. We all know about Dr. Seuss. Thanks for the blog. I am currently blogging with my Critique group (Four of us) at http://thepenandinkblog.blogspot.com/
    My fellow blogger Lupe Fernandez has just posted a hilarious article on the top ten ingredients for a successful YA novel.
    Please stop by when you can!
    Happy Week
    Susan Berger

  71. Despite the rejection, I still read your blog. I like the craft-based posts.

    I’d even say hello if we ever ended up at a conference together. πŸ™‚

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