Deb Erika gives thanks to agents who were more than kind…

Erika MarksRecently I was asked to speak with a high school writing club about my long and winding road to publication, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to revisit my extensive collection of rejection letters from agents that I had amassed over the twenty-plus years of querying as a way to show students the power of perseverance, and I am so glad I did. Because in the midst of years of rejections, I was repeatedly given gifts of advice from so many wonderful agents—some of whom are no longer in the business, some who are.

So in honor of this week’s Agent theme at the Ball, I thought I would share with you, dear friends, some of the generous, wonderful and truly kind words that returned with my rejected queries. You may think I’m being facetious; I assure you, I’m not. What came back as a rejection often included some words of wisdom that helped me to grow as a writer, words of wisdom that I am forever grateful for.

So if I may take this opportunity, I’d like to speak to all the agents over the years who gave their time and their insight to me when my work was hardly deserving of a read, let alone a kind word–I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your comments were nuggets of gold. I promise you I treasured—and took to heart—each and every one.

Here are just a few…

“Although REASONS OF THE HEART shows a fluid, enthusiastic writing style, I’m afraid it lacks the sort of emotional, internal romantic conflict that our market demands. Both Lauren and Tyler are colorful characters, but their carefree, materialistic lifestyles and constant bickering make them difficult to sympathize with.”

For one of my historical romances, ONCE A HELLION:

Page 250 – scene at bar is typical

Page 268 – when the plot is obvious, it takes away from the mystery

Page 295 – It’s a typical device for heroine to make hero jealous

From another agent for the same manuscript:

“While Hunter is a strong and sexy hero, there are times when he seems rather insensitive. He may be something of a scoundrel but he should always be a sympathetic character for the reader.”

For my Viking-themed romance, LORD OF DREAMS (wince-worthy—I know):

“My problem with your hero, Roar, is that I find him just a little too coarse, a little too much the buffoon when he is with his kinsmen. He needs more dimension besides being a lusty guy with tremendous faith in Odin. His complete faith is nice, on the one hand. On the other hand, the lack of doubt takes away from the suspense the story could have.”

“Once Willow is ensconced in the Viking keep a lot of action just stops.”

And my personal favorite:

“Too much talk of big bosoms!”

So to all the agents over the years who took the time to tell me what worked—and more importantly, what didn’t—thank you. Whether you knew it or not, you helped to steer me through some very treacherous waters, and you led me to the one I am so proud—and grateful—to call my agent today, Rebecca Gradinger.

Now it’s your turn, writer friends: Tell me the gems that you’ve received from agents, the morsels that made you—and made you want to be—better writers.

15 Replies to “Deb Erika gives thanks to agents who were more than kind…”

  1. What a gracious post. You clearly have the right attitude about rejection, Erika, and your agent is surely proud and grateful to call you client.

    I think the most valuable rejection I ever got was the very first one I ever received. It was a strip of paper – literally a strip – stapled onto my query (hard copies back in those days) that said, simply, “Too much niggling detail.” It stung, but it was true. Back then, I had no idea how to do transitions and leave out the unimportant stuff, so I didn’t.

    1. Thank you, Joanne, for saying so!

      Oh, the stapled strips! I got several of those too, yes. And I love that piece of advice you got. One sentence that says so much and can make such a difference, can’t it?

    2. It’s all a learning process, isn’t it? Heck, I’m still learning, and I expect I will be for as long as I keep writing.

      1. I think that is what I love most about writing–are those Ah-ha moments when we feel our writing growing stronger, improving–and when it comes that much quicker. Not always, but those times are previous and very encouraging.

        1. Yes – writing is one of those things where we can always learn more and do better – a constant challenge. I see that as a very good thing, as one who bores easily!

  2. Great post, Erika! I too value the rejections I got before I found my wonderful agent.

    One in particular (the very first query I sent out, actually) really kept me going through the whole find-an-agent journey. She told me that while my book wasn’t for her, I had “voice,” and that I should definitely keep trying because she knew the right agent for me was out there. It’s amazing how good a rejection could make me feel.

    1. Linda, I love that–and you raise such a good point. Whenever I got back a pass with feedback I could never call it a “rejection” because I felt as if the advice was ultimately so positive to my growth as a writer.

      1. Exactly! I’m so grateful to the agents who took the time to point out flaws, and, even better, make suggestions for improvement. There was nothing in it for them–they were just being helpful to an aspiring writer.

  3. So hard for me to comment this week, other than to say maybe I need a new career as an agent, then none of my Debs would ever be rejected.

    How’s that for positive thinking. Nice to read about the journey you are all taking.

    Have a great week.

    1. Oh, thank you, Deb Mom Marcia! I love your positive thinking–and speak for all the Debs when I say so 😉

      Wishing you a great week too–we’re all getting very excited here for Deb Joanne’s launch week! Bet you are too!

    1. Most of the general advice I definitely took to heart–issues with plotting or character development. Like many things, if you start to get a lot of the same advice, I think you assume it’s an issue in your writing you need to address, and for me, I kept hearing from a lot of agents that I had weakness in my plotting structure so I definitely took that advice.

      Like so many things, when it comes to advice on the specifics in your manuscript, I think you often have to go with your gut. It’s important to be flexible to criticism and be willing to make changes where they are needed, but you also have to feel they are the right ones for you and your novel. It can be a hard distinction to make sometimes, for sure! 🙂

  4. Oh Erika I couldn’t agree more! Being a writer means needing to look past the rejection for the nuggets of helpfulness…. The words of agents I haven’t signed with have been some of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.

  5. Wow. Impressive. Do agents even have the time to DO this any more? I didn’t get any specific feedback from the partials and fulls on my first attempt at a novel. Well, um .. yeah… there was the, “Your characters talk in cliches.” Ouch.That’s when a Iearned that, even if people in that part of the country really DO talk in cliches, fiction cannot always mirror reality!

    At any rate, most agent responses were very cryptic and needed a manual to decipher. My interpretation was: “Your work’s not strong enough.” So I shoved it in a drawer relatively early in the process and started again. And, yep, I had something better in me. No doubt.

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