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"Can't Connect" Rejections???

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about problematic query rejections: agents rejecting a manuscript because they “couldn’t connect to the voice” or “just couldn’t relate to the character.” This is a problem if the main character is from a marginalized background. So, I decided to look back at my querying stats to see how many of these problematic type of rejections I received.


How I Compiled These Stats: I took a look at all of the partial and full requests I got during my five years of querying. I did NOT look at each individual query, just requests. I queried four books during that time. I’ll be honest here, the first book got zero requests! None at all!


So, in calculating this data, I only looked at rejections for the next three I queried.

The first book, THE OTHERNESS OF BEING LO, I queried very heavily. Too heavily, in hindsight. The second book, FOLLOW THE SUN, had about half the amount of queries as the first. The third, THE BLACK MARIA, only had about 24 queries. The second book, FOLLOW THE SUN, was the book that got me my agent.


All three of these books were historical YA featuring a biracial protagonist, interracial relationships, interracial family dynamics, racism, and class issues.


I went back through all of my rejections from these three books, which (side note) was really a strange experience!

I could remember exactly where I was when I received some of the more crushing passes! Then, I tried to categorize (as best I could) the reasons for the rejections. I tried to only focus on the reason for passing, not the positive stuff the agent may have said.


Here are the categories I came up with and the specifics of each along with the data for each book:


No Response – Agent did not respond after requesting a full or a partial, even, in some cases, after multiple nudges.

OTHERNESS - 12%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 6%

BLACK MARIA - 0

Form Response/No Feedback – Agent sent a form rejection on a full or partial request OR just sent me a “pass” with no reason why.

OTHERNESS - 3%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 13%

BLACK MARIA - 0

Didn’t Connect – Agent said they didn’t connect to the voice or narrative or character, but they actually used the words “didn’t connect” somewhere in the rejection.

OTHERNESS - 15%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 6%

BLACK MARIA - 0

Not the right agent/Not the right fit – Agent might have given some complimentary notes about the manuscript, but ultimately said they weren’t the right agent for the book or it wasn’t right for their list. A few of these passes referred me to another agent who might be a better fit.

OTHERNESS - 15%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 6%

BLACK MARIA - 0

Didn’t Like Some Style/Technical Aspect – I know this is a broad category, but let me explain. Here, an agent’s comments made me believe (in reading between the lines) that they just didn’t like the book for some reason or didn’t think it was quite ready yet. Maybe it was a style thing or something technical about my writing. Which I understand. There are a lot of books out there that a ton of people love and I just don’t. I’m not into the author’s style. Some of these passes gave specific comments about what they didn’t like. For example, dialogue heavy, exposition heavy, not enough urgency, etc.

OTHERNESS - 36%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 40%

BLACK MARIA - 100%

Contradictory – Agent explained how important they thought my book was for young readers and how much the world needed more books like mine, but then proceeded to pass on it without really giving a good reason as to why.

OTHERNESS - 9%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 0

BLACK MARIA - 0

Liked but not falling in love – Agent specifically said they liked it, but not enough to represent it.

OTHERNESS - 3%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 0

BLACK MARIA - 0

Other – This included one rejection from an agent that was extremely helpful and told me that the book just wasn’t ready yet and what I needed to work on. Another rejection in this category was a situation where I did an R&R for an agent and then they decided to pass after I finished because they signed someone else in the meantime who wrote with a similar style.

OTHERNESS - 3%

FOLLOW THE SUN - 6%

BLACK MARIA - 0

Problematic – I had one rejection for my book THE OTHERNESS OF BEING LO, which I considered specifically problematic. The agent assistant (who was white) wrote me a detailed email of everything that was wrong with my book and how the biracial character developed. It was very hurtful and almost felt like she was sticking it to me because I nudged the agent after not hearing anything for over a year. I honestly think this agent assistant intended to be cruel in her rejection. I thanked her for her “opinion” and promptly deleted the email forever. She's currently building her own list at that agency. I hope she doesn't treat other Black authors the way she treated me.

OTHERNESS - 3%

Passed when I had an offer of rep – Three agents had my manuscript when I received an offer of rep. One never responded until months after I’d signed with my agent, and the other two passed. One said she didn’t have time to read it.

FOLLOW THE SUN - 13%

Didn’t think they could sell – I got several rejections along these lines, but some of them may have been queries, not requests. This agent, after going through several rounds of looking at revisions and taking a look at another of my manuscripts, told me she liked my writing but wasn’t confident that she could sell it.

FOLLOW THE SUN - 6%



Final Analysis: Lol. I feel so official here! Looking back at these rejections now, after being with my agent for going on two years and being on sub for over a year, it’s easier for me to decipher what some of these meant. But I struggle with others. Let’s start with the “easy to decipher” rejections.


My first book got a lot of rejections in the Didn’t Like Some Style/Technical Aspect category. I believe that, in the case of my first book, looking at some of the specific comments that I didn’t mention here, many of these agents didn’t believe the manuscript was ready. THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN WONDERFUL TO KNOW! I understand it’s a difficult position as an agent. You don’t want to crush a writer’s dreams…I get it. But if someone had said, Hey…this is a great start, but maybe have a few more CPs or betas take a look at it and try to work more on your craft…that would have really helped me. I queried this book into the ground just thinking I needed to find that ONE right agent. Looking back, the book needed some work. And I can see that a lot of these agents are noticing the same thing, but not coming out and saying it. Instead, they focus on some technical aspect, which is probably just a part of me needing to improve my craft.


I got a lot of rejections for my second book in this same category, but they seemed to be more genuine “just not my style” type of rejections. A couple of agents didn’t like the structure (it’s dual-timeline) of the book, some just didn’t feel pulled in enough. They had a lot more compliments than my first manuscript. I didn’t get the “not quite ready” vibe from these rejections.


All of my rejections for my third book fell into this category and they were very specific in what the agent did or did not like. Many of them also offered to take a second look if I made some revisions.


What does all this tell me? That my writing and craft improved! The first book, THE OTHERNESS, is such a great premise. I still love it! And I got a lot of requests, so obviously agents loved the premise too. I’m not giving up on it, but now that I have an agent, perhaps I can really nail down what needs to be fixed.



The more difficult to decipher rejections were the Not A Right Fit and the Contradictory rejections. I don’t understand what not the right fit means. I’m guessing there’s something else going on there that the agent just doesn’t want to say, so they use that as sort of a form rejection. The contradictory rejections are particularly troubling because it hurts to be told how much kids would benefit from my book, but the agent doesn’t want to represent it. It seems like if an agent thought a book was really that important, they’d work with the author to revise it before going out on sub.


Now to the Didn’t Connect rejections…well, that was kind of the whole point of doing this, wasn’t it? To see how many agents couldn’t connect with my main character.


15% for OTHERNESS

6% for FOLLOW THE SUN


15% is a pretty decent amount of agents to say they can’t connect to my character. Especially with that book. It is very much an “issue” book about racism and classism and a lot of other serious stuff. Plus, it’s based on my experiences growing up as a biracial kid in a mostly white suburb. I really hope that the agents in that 15% have thought deeply about how they word their rejections and how they consider their manuscripts. If they don’t connect, but feel as though readers could connect, I hope they’re willing to give more books a chance.


So, now I’ve come to some advice after looking back on all this.


Advice for Querying Authors:


1) Make sure to take your time. I often hear writers say to send out two new queries for every one rejection you receive, and that’s fine…to a point. If you get rejection upon rejection, though, you need to stop and take a look at the manuscript again. There is a limit to how many queries you should send before you do some revising! Find some new CPs and/or betas and do another round of revisions. Try to read between the lines of the feedback you receive from agents.

2) Don’t be afraid to nudge an agent OR even requery an agent if you make significant changes. I got some requests this way. Just make sure to tell them you queried them before and ask if they’d be interested in seeing the changes.

3) Don’t get too caught up on the rejections. I know, that sounds kind of contradictory! But, for some of these rejections, I honestly think the agent just threw out a form, which probably wasn’t anything specific to my book. Trying to read too much into it will only cause stress. For instance, I got a rejection on a partial from an agent who said that for whatever reason her mind kept bouncing off the narrative while she read. To me, that meant she wasn’t able to stay focused or interested enough in my book. Now, this book was OTHERNESS and the sample pages she had were the first fifty, which really digs deep into how the main character feels as a biracial teen living in 1963 amongst a ton of white people. It was incredibly personal. For her to tell me her mind kept bouncing off the narrative, was like a slap in the face. But then, I noticed that the exact same wording showed up on Query Tracker as a form rejection that another agent from that same agency used. So, I honestly think it was just a form…a form that should be revised and possibly never used again because it’s hurtful and problematic…but a form nonetheless.

4) That leads me to another piece of advice. Check out Query Tracker. A lot of people put the actual wording that agents use in their form rejections, so it can make it easier to decipher if the rejection you received was a form or some type of personalized note.

Advice for Agents: If any are reading this…lol

1) Please respond to a full or partial request. ESPECIALLY if the author is from a marginalized background. Saying that you want to support marginalized authors but then not even bothering to respond even when they nudge is just not a good look.

2) Please think and rethink the wording of your form rejections. A simple bit of wording like “didn’t connect, mind kept bouncing off, or didn’t find this interesting” can really ruin a writer’s day, or week, or month…or make them stop writing entirely.

3) If you think a book isn’t ready yet, tell the author! Maybe suggest some new CPs or betas or have some craft books on hand that you can include. I know it takes an extra minute to include this information, but in the case of reading a partial or a full, it would really help us as writers if you told us that the writing wasn’t there yet.


Well, if you made it this far, thanks for reading! I’m going to try to start blogging more on here. I’ll talk about writing, querying, being on sub, advice for writers, teaching, and advocating for diverse books and Rett syndrome awareness. Plus, probably some other stuff about books and movies and TV shows I like.





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