Friday, December 17, 2010

The Tragic Rejection of My First Partial

Well, I got a response from the second agent who requested a part of my manuscript. He said no.

A partial rejection is a million times worse than a query rejection. When people don’t like a query, it could be for a million different reasons: the agent has too many clients, he’s not into historical fiction right now, he’s not into my time period, etc. It's cool because not everyone is going to like my story. When an agent rejects a partial, on the other hand, it means he would have liked my story if only I had written it well enough.

This agent gave me specific feedback. I thought agent feedback would be wonderful and helpful, but I don’t yet know if I agree with him. Usually when I get negative criticism, it’s like a revelation. Someone will point out a flaw and I'll think, “How did I miss this?” When I disagree with criticism, it means people might not like the same things I like, and that’s scary.

Here’s what he said:

There was a lot I liked about this, especially how you took the Roman religions at face value, instead of with a modern, dismissive attitude. My guess is that Romans took their religion at least as seriously as moderns take theirs.

The problem for me was in the set-up in the story. The first chapter is superfluous and the second doesn't pull it's weight. Your book really starts in chapter three. I know it seems that you should give us the setting before introducing the problem (that being Tuccia's selection among the other children), but this is backwards. Give us a problem from the first page, resist the urge to stop and explain the world, and let the details come out as the character falls deeper and deeper into it.

Of course these are only my opinions, and you will find others out there. If, by any chance, you find yourself still looking for representation down the road, I'd be happy to take a look at whatever novel you write next.

This rejection is a little frustrating because his complaint is the easiest problem in the world to fix. Just cut the first two chapters. I understand his reasoning, though; if I’m superfluous now, I’ll probably be superfluous later. He doesn’t want to sift through a whole book of irrelevant information.

Like I’ve said before, negative feedback is a blessing. I’m going to post the first three chapters online and see what other writers think. If everyone unanimously agrees that the first two chapters need to be cut, that means I’ve blown my chance with over 100 agents. If that's the reason I'm getting rejected, it's good to know.


  1. So I don't totally understand all the lingo and I'm wondering how you know he didn't read the whole book. Is that what the "partial" refers to?

    As frustrating as it may seem, I don't see this "rejection letter" as much of that. I think it's more along the constructive feedback lines. I even get a glimmer of hope after read the letter that even HE might be willing to take on your book at some point... down the road, after it is polished -with 'his standards' in mind. I realize, however, that it can't be easy trying to tailor your work to another person's specifications -especially if he isn't committed NOW to represent it and hasn't even read the whole thing.

  2. Hmm, I think it's good that you got such a detailed response - some would just say "No, sorry, I pass" and that'd be that. It does sound like he's interested in the premise. I'll be interested to see what feedback you get from others about your first two chapters.

    Sorry about the rejection, but it's all a learning process right?

  3. "When an agent rejects a partial, on the other hand, it means he would have liked my story if only I had written it well enough."

    Well, maybe. Sometimes it means they request far more partials than they intend to request fulls, and they may see potential in your query and be on the fence about requesting more in the first place.

    And if your MS needs revisions, you haven't blown your chance with every agent you've queried. Get some reader feedback from fellow writers if you haven't already on at least your first 3 chapters if not the whole book (warning: this can take lots of time. Months.) Get your query letter critiqued and revise it until it sparkles if you haven't already.

    Then take 4-6 months (or longer) to revise more, and start another round of queries with the new letter. Most of the time you can include about the first 5-10 pages pasted in the body of an e-query below the signature line.

    I like to start with maybe 5 or 10 middle-of-my-list agents. Save the top ones for when you know your query is working (i. e. getting requests from other agents). Then query 5-10 every week or two ad nauseum (until next book is ready).

    After a few months, they won't remember your old query if you query them again after revisions. If they DO recognize it and say something about it, well, oops. Admit fault, but no harm done; maybe they'll be glad you re-queried, if they want to read more.

    It's a long-term endeavor - like mountain-climbing or getting into the Olympics. Just keep going. . .and may the stars align in your favor! :)

  4. Thanks for the support and the advice. It is a long process, and everyone goes about doing it differently. Mr. Anonymous, it sounds like you have a good system. I've had the chapters and query critiqued many times, but some people will say it "sparkles" and then someone more experienced will come along and say it doesn't sparkle at all. I'll keep you all posted on what I decide to do for the chapters, but this was a good learning experience and I'm sure it will be the first of many rejections.


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