One thing I do daily is read query letters. We usually get about 10 a day, and whichever intern gets to them first gets to read them and decide whether to request more, reject, or assign them to a different intern. I try to err on the side of requesting even when I’m pessimistic about how it will turn out. Query letters are hard to write, after all, so I might as well give the writing a chance to speak for itself. Besides, the biggest thing I’ve learned so far at this internship is:
I hate rejecting people.
The query letters that I reject tend to be non-fiction where the author has absolutely no platform (in other words, is just an average Joe with no followers) because that is a MUST in non-fiction, even for memoirs. Then it’s easy for me to reject (although my heart still breaks a little for the author) because there’s really no way of getting around that.
But I have a harder time rejecting fiction queries. If the idea doesn’t grab me, I try to pass it on to another intern to see if it will grab them. The fiction query letters that I do reject are usually the ones that come with sample chapters (which, by the way, the writers are NOT supposed to send). I’ve also been rejecting partials that I or another intern requested. Generally, the partials I read will have an interesting plot concept or appealing characters, which is always good, but the writing is just bad. Plain and simple, they need to take writing classes. Or give up and get a ghost writer. Some of them are a stage or two away from having good writing, but it’s still painful for me to read because of their cliches or the way they’re trying too hard to sound like a writer.
But even though it’s obvious from the very beginning that they’re writing is bad and I’m going to have to reject them, I always read the whole thing. Why? Because I keep hoping it’s going to get better. Because I want to believe that they just didn’t revise the first page well enough and they’ll hit their stride once the story really picks up.
So far it hasn’t happened.
After reading the twenty or thirty or fifty pages, I put it down and know I have to reject them. But still the thought lingers in my mind: what if the rest of the book is better?
I’ll reject it in the end, of course, but it’s still really hard for me because I know the writer will receive the news and get discouraged. I might be the first person to reject them or the thirtieth. Either way, it’s not going to help them believe in their work or in themselves as an author. And who wants to destroy someone else’s self image?
Not me. Those of you who went to high school with me might remember a few teachers who I absolutely despised. (No names, please!) But at the end of the school year or after I graduated, did I ever tell them how I really thought? Did I even ignore them? No. I gave them each a smile and told them how much I had enjoyed being in their classes. Because I just can’t bring myself to hurt someone else’s feelings on purpose.
So rejecting people is really hard for me. But it’s not just the person side that’s tough. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have passed on a story because the idea was really good and if only the author revised it (a million times) it might be sellable.
That’s not going to happen. Part of this desire on my side to work with the author comes from my experience in writing, which has been in critique groups where we work together to help someone make their story better. And I know that writers really want feedback from agents on how to make their work better. They want the agents who read their partials and fulls to also edit their partials and fulls.
But Andrea told me something earlier in the week that really helped me (at least to rationalize my actions to myself). We’re not here to help people become better writers. We’re here to sell people’s books. Sure, when I reject a full I’ll give them reasons why, but that’s not the reason agents exist. Agents need to find manuscripts that are ready to be sent to a publishing house without needing lengthy edits (maybe some pinching here and there and a copy edit, but that’s it). If a writer really wants to get a professional’s help in revising their manuscript, they should hire a freelance editor.
So please, writers, send me good partials and fulls so I don’t have to reject you!