Why an agent can’t give you feedback at the query stage

29 Jul

I tweeted the following tweet this morning:

“A lot of replies to form rejections today, asking for feedback. No matter how tempting, resist.”

Here’s the thing, guys: If an agent had a strong opinion to share with you AND the time to share it, they wouldn’t have used a form reponse.

I sometimes get queries for things that are not even YA or MG (the only “genres” I represent) and the time it takes just to copy/paste a seperate form for those folks was throwing off my rhythm. I went back to a blanket form for all.  To actually type up specific notes–even just a sentence– for each query means I’d be spending a half hour of every day writing responses to writers I did not plan to work with. That means if I stay away from the query box for just a week, it would take me almost four hours to type up responses.

Any time I send out more than a dozen rejections at once, I can count on getting a few “thank you for your time” responses (not neccessary at all at the query stage, but harmless) and one or two asking for feedback.

I know it’s frustrating to get nothing but forms. The first project I ever queried got twelve of them and no requests at all. 

I know you can’t learn anything from them, and you don’t know what to do without actual feedback. But there are many, many resources for you– Absolute Write, Verla Kay, SCBWI, RWA– the list goes on and on. Other writers can help you build and hone your query.

The other thing is… I’ve passed on a half-dozen projects which had offers on the table from other agents. I pass on queries every day that are well written, accompanied by solid writing. .  Those writers probably will  sign agents, it just won’t be me. Did you read and love Twilight? Wicked Lovely? Anna and the French Kiss? Thirteen Reasons Why? The Forest of Hands and Teeth? Hatchet?

You might love some of those books. But I bet you don’t love all of them. I don’t love every well-written query + sample no more than I love every book I buy at the store.

And if I did love every project that was well-written, I’d have 100, 200, 300 or more clients by now. I have to pick and choose projects the resonate specifically with me, because I’m the one who may spend months pitching and submitting your project. I’m the one who has to write up a pitch and convey my enthusiasm.

I finished a full manuscript this week and I thought to myself– If this was a published book, I could see reccomending it to X friend. And I mean that. It was well written. Interesting. It kept me turning pages.

But the commitment and effort it takes to represent a project is on a whole ‘nother level than enjoying a book just for the sake of reading it.

That’s why, then, it’s so hard to give feedback. A book is not a widget, or a car, or a house. I can’ tpoint to a crooked wall and say, unequivically, it needs to be fixed. I can’t say that you should tighten those two bolts before you show it to the next person.

Because the things I say could be wrong. The next person you query could love it as it is. So If I haven’t even read your full manuscript (I DO provide feedback on fulls), then I’m not going to be able to provide you feedback– both becuase of time and becuase in most cases, what you’ve sent me is perfectly good. It’s just not for me.


D4EO Lit


Twitter: @Mandyhubbard


9 Responses to “Why an agent can’t give you feedback at the query stage”

  1. Claire Dawn July 29, 2011 at 5:58 AM #

    Actually wanted to say that I think it’s awesome that you do provide feedback on fulls. (I have no idea if that’s industry standard or not.)

    Logically, I understand that not every book is for every person. Of the books you mentioned, there’s 1 I’ve never read and 1 that just did not do it for me at all. But that’s all logical. And I’ve never queried. I may feel differently after a rejuection or two under my belt.

  2. Savannah J. Foley July 29, 2011 at 11:02 AM #

    Thank you for writing all this out and explaining it, Mandy. That was informative and fun to read.

  3. Stacy Green July 29, 2011 at 11:02 AM #

    I would never expect feedback with just a form letter/rejection. My hope is that through the query process I will get requests for a few fulls and hopefully learn something from there.

    Yes, every book is not for every person. That will be important to remember when the rejections come in.

    Great post!

  4. Asia Morela July 29, 2011 at 11:50 AM #

    An interesting piece of info for those of us who’ve never approached an agent yet. Thanks!

  5. thegildedpage July 29, 2011 at 2:01 PM #

    I know that, personally, I would want an agent who did focus on a) finding the best projects she could and b) spending her time on those projects. An agent owes their allegiance to their authors; the authors who query an agent owe them respect for their professional time. o : When you apply for a normal job, you only expect to hear back if they’re interested in giving you an interview. And then, after the interview, you only expect to hear back whether or not you got the job.

    Ya don’t call them up asking “WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME”, hahaha. It makes sense. : )

    – Kae

  6. Mac_V July 29, 2011 at 8:55 PM #

    REALLY great post. I’m not quite to the query stage and any and all advice I can get is great. The reassurance that getting a blanket form rejection back doesn’t necessarily mean my story or query is bad is a great thing to know. I can totally understand the time commitment you want to give to the people who you actually represent vs. someone whose story just isn’t for you. Really such a great post! Thank you! 😀


  7. Sammy Bina July 29, 2011 at 11:06 PM #

    Thanks for this, Mandy. I think sometimes we all need a little reminder as to much much work agents do withOUT personalizing every query!


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