Letting That Manuscript Go: An Agent’s Struggle

ice monster

On the surface we agents may seem cold-hearted. We crush dreams on a daily basis after all. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find we truly do care. Sometimes too much. One of the hardest things I face in the slushpile is letting go of manuscripts that I know are good, but I just can’t take on. And the reason is frustrating. There are so many authors out there and so few agents. I just don’t have the space for all of the good ones.

Right now I’ve whittled my submission pile down to 33 full manuscripts. And that’s a win for me. It was at 80. My goal is to have answers for them by the end of August, but I can only take on 1-2 more clients this summer. As I whittle the decisions get harder and harder. Occasionally I can spot a needed revision, pass notes along to the author, and hope that they will take long enough with the edits that by the time they resubmit there is space for them. But more often than not, I have to let it go. I loved it, but not enough. Perhaps it was a bit too quiet, or the author didn’t have enough of an online presence, or I’ve already got a client with a similar style. All of these seem like silly reasons to pass, but they are reason enough. And so, with a sadly inadequate letter, I say goodbye, hoping that the author will persevere and find a home for their writing.

Then I turn around and submit my clients’ work to editors who are faced with the same damn dilemma. Who not only have to fall in love but also have to make the decision to champion the manuscript, fight for it in acquisitions and convince others, such as marketing, to take it on. So no surprise agents get a lot of rejections too.

This business can be heartbreaking, causing us agents to form an icy defensive layer. But we are not cold-hearted. We wouldn’t be in this if we didn’t love books and the artists who create them. I hope this perspective, for those of you in the query trenches, inspires you that we are cheering you on even as we let it go.

let it go


  • Melissa Phillips

    July 1, 2016 at 12:40 am Reply

    Thank you for your honest supportive post. It was shared on a writing FB group that I am in, which I was so glad to have found. I also heard that you are a great query rejector as a fellow member submitted to you and you took a moment to respond. Thank you again for being so kind.
    I was wondering your thoughts regarding online presence. If you have been creating a website/blog but are still working on how to market it to the general public outside of friends on twitter and FB does that mean you think the writer’s presence is not strong enough? OR do you see the fact that they have been writing on the website a good sign? Do you suggest that writers learn on how to market themselves more before they try to find an agent?
    If the writer’s website is full of multiple of writing styles and focuses on the nonfiction side of their life but they send out a manuscript that is fiction, specifically YA to agents is that too confusing for agents? Or does it allow agents to see that the writer has multiple of ideas not just the one story they are sharing with the agent?
    Thank you again.

  • Charley Daveler

    June 30, 2016 at 11:53 pm Reply

    For writers it’s too easy to put agents on pedestals, dehumanize them, and even forget that not only are they not coldly slashing through slush piles, but I don’t think it ever occurred to me that an agent would feel heartbroken about having to say no to a manuscript, even though now that you say it, it seems obvious. This post is great.

    • Mary C. Moore

      July 1, 2016 at 12:06 am Reply

      Happy it helped shine a light on the other side. 🙂

  • karen Hallam

    June 30, 2016 at 9:15 pm Reply

    Nice. I truly believe this ( in most all cases). It can be a heartbreaking business. We persevere. 🙂

    • Mary C. Moore

      July 1, 2016 at 12:07 am Reply

      We all do what we can!

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