Even the best agents can disagree about submissions


Palto • iStockphoto

A recent conference experience reinforced for me just how subjective this crazy business of ours really is.

At the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in September, I pitched my novel, Alara’s Call, to two agents. I won’t name any names. (I won’t even reveal any genders, so if the singular “they” still grates on your nerves, stop reading this, and go read the linked article instead.)

I approached Agent A’s table, handed over my one-sheet, and said, “I have a Christian fantasy.” They put the sheet aside and asked me first to tell them a little about myself. So we spent a few minutes talking about my work in journalism and my writing journey. Then I gave my pitch, and they asked to see pages. Quite a few pages.

Go me. Or rather, go, Alara, because it’s not about me, is it?

An important lesson to learn — and ideally one learns it before one first gets a “this doesn’t meet our needs at this time” letter — is that rejection in publishing is not personal. It is about the writing, not the writer.

After my success with Agent A, I expected something similar with Agent B. But Agent B read my one-sheet right away, and then expressed concerns about the book’s “Pentecostal” themes.

Now, I’m not sure how any Pentecostal themes got into my book, because I didn’t put them there. I’m not even sure what Pentecostal themes are. I just put in some prophecy and speaking foreign languages because they’re, like, in the Bible and stuff.

Agent B didn’t ask to see pages. They didn’t know where they would place such a work.

Same work. Same writer. One agent asked for pages. The other didn’t. Totally not about me.

Sometimes rejection isn’t even about the writing. Sometimes it’s about the agent or editor. At another conference, I mistakenly pitched by book to an agent whose conference-program-blurb said they represented “all” Christian works. Only after my pitch did I learn that “all” didn’t include fantasy.

But Agent 1 referred me to Agent 2, who does handle fantasy and now has my ms. Same work. Same writer. Different result.

Here at NAF we have repeatedly seen brilliant works that collected dozens, sometimes hundreds, of rejections before finding their homes in print. There are many, myriad variables in publishing. Matching the book to the right agent, editor, publisher — not to mention readers — takes time, persistence, and, I suspect, some divine assistance. Frankly, it’s a miracle any of it ever comes together.

It takes time and talent and persistence. In truth, I’ve barely begun with Alara’s Call. It’s only been pitched to three editors and six agents. I’m not even into double digits yet! I promised myself that this would be the year I combed the Stuart guide and queried every applicable agent. Haven’t done it yet.

Guess I better stop here and go get to it.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

8 comments on “Even the best agents can disagree about submissions

  1. Good observations, Kristen. Even those of us at the indie presses can relate to you on this. Often (rarely) is it ever about the author (though sometimes it is), but yes, it’s primarily about the writing: can we place it, do we handle it, do we want to head in that direction, would it be better with another press? We’ve taken books that others have passed on, and we’ve passed on books that others have taken. I think this must be the most subjective, changeable, business in the world.

    Keep your chin up. As an author too, I’m certainly there with you on that journey to publication, next with a book of linked stories. When it’s done, I’ll be hitting the publishing trail.


  2. This proves your skin is properly thickened, Lioness. Your baby needs you to have tough skin so she can see publication. The thing about thick skin is it allows you to make logical conclusions like this instead of emotional breakdowns (I’m guilty of a few) in which you rant and devise it is all a conspiracy against you. 😛

    • Ha! Like real calluses, metaphorical thick skin only comes about from years of abrasion. That’s one of the many good things I’ve gotten from a career in journalism. 😉

  3. It’s fantasy. It’s allowed to have Pentecostal themes, even if you don’t know what they are! 😉

    Oh–and I believe in God healing people and giving other people dreams or visions of the future, and in still other people speaking in foreign languages to share God’s love (well, I do that, don’t I? I have been doing that ever since I was a child growing up in Indonesia, and I know of a whole tribe who didn’t know they weren’t allowed to speak in tongues to share the gospel with a neighboring tribe, so they went and did it–and weren’t their missionaries surprised…), and I do not consider myself Pentecostal.

    I just don’t feel up to shoving God into the itty-bitty “this is no longer the Apostolic Age, therefore He can no longer do those things” box.

    • Amen, sister! What a great story. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve been listening to an audio course about Spiritual Gifts, and the instructor will pull that “oh, but those were only for the foundation of the church and no longer apply” line out, and I keep thinking God may not use a particular tool every day, but that doesn’t mean he never uses it at all. Your story is very reassuring in that sense.

  4. I had a very similar experience. An agent told me Finding Angel needed to be shorter, more overt as far as Christian themes, the protag needed to be older, and the story needed romance. Hey, I suppose I could have thrown in a bonnet, too, and taken out the dragons :P,. NOT,

    But the editor that looked at it (fairly big name house, too) loved the first chapter. Unfortunately, they didn’t take fantasy at all, and she didn’t know of any houses that did. Sigh.

    Not that it matters much now ;).

    Anyway, most proud of you, Kristen!!!

    • Thanks, Kat. And I’m proud of you for not changing your story just to suit someone else’s whim. Knowing which advice to take and which to smile at, say thank you to, and ignore is an art in itself, isn’t it?

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