Tag Archives: Literary Agents

Near Literary Abortions – Books and writers that almost were not published

Publishers and literary agents do not always know better. Here are some books / writers that almost did not become published:

“Not only does this bog down in the middle, but the author tends to stay too long with non essentials. He seems to have little idea of pace, and is enchanted with his words, his tough style, and that puts me off badly.” Re: The Ipcress File, by Len Deighton.

“Things improve a bit with the rebuilding of the village but then go to hell in a hack at the end. Perhaps there is a public that can take all this with a straight face but I’m not one of them.” Re: Welcome to Hard Times, by E.L. Doctorow

“It does not seem to us that you have been wholly successful in working out an admittedly promissing idea.” Re: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding.

“A duller story I have never read. It wanders a deep mire of affected writing and gets nowhere, tells no tale, stirs no emotion but weariness.” Re: In the Cage, by Henry James.

The novel is “… rather discursive and the point of view is not an attractive one.” Re: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Re: Untitled work by Rudyard Kipling.

“You’re welcome to le Carre – he hasn’t got any future.” Re: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John le Carre.

“… superficial and unconvincing. I do not see this book as a very well told story on any level.” Re: The Assistant, by Bernard Malamud.

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” Re: Animal Farm, by George Orwell.

“A long, dull novel about an artist.” Re: Lust for Life, by Irving Stone.

“It is not interesting enough for the general reader and not thorough enough for the scientific reader.” Re: The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells.

“It contain unpleasant elements.” Re: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.

Frederic Forsyths The Day of the Jackal was rejected by nearly 50 publishers.

Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles was rejected by six publishers.

Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October was rejected by over two dozen publishers.

Jack King’s The Fifth Internationale was rejected almost 500 times.

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was turned down by 28 publishers.

Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times.

The list goes on… As George Bernard Shaw said: “I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them. They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettishness, without being either good business men or fine judges of literature. All that is necessary in the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without the intermediate parasite.”


What do Pimps and Literary Agents have in common?

According to this Nobel Prize recipient: “Agents have strong nerves and stamina. To them the term  ‘sensitive soul of an artist’ means the same as DAB beer, and any attempt at serious conversation with them about art and artists would be a waste of time. They well know that even an artist without a conscience has a thousand times more of it than the hardest working agent. Their weapon lies in understanding that an artist cannot do anything but create, whether paint pictures, perform, sing songs, or carve in stone, or granite. An artist resembles a woman who cannot do anything else but love and falls with every kind of male donkey that falls in her ​​sight. Artists and women are particularly well suited to be exploited, and each agent is ninety-nine per cent a pimp.”
Heinrich Böll

Like pimps, literary agents are on the way out. The Internet has changed everything:

“the use of the Internet for prostitution as well as other changes in the sex industry have resulted in the disintermediation of prostitution, allowing prostitutes to deal with clients directly. This has rendered pimps largely superfluous, at least in the United States.” Source: WikiPedia

The use of the Internet has allowed writers to bypass the pimps literary agents and reach readers directly, via e-books…

How to Persuade a Literary Agent or an Editor to reply to your Query Letter

So, you wrote a book, and want it published. You follow the established path: query literary agents, only to find, and likely to great perplexity, that most don’t bother to reply. You may be puzzled, or angry, and wonder what to do next.

Turn to psychology. Randy Garner presents details of an interesting study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (2005).

Researchers studied the art of persuasion based on similarity. They mailed surveys of varying information on the cover letter: one set of surveys where the name of participants matched the name of the scientist, and the other set where the names did not match.

In the matching surveys, the name of the researcher was Fred Jones, and the participants’ names were Fred Smith, Fred Something-or-Other, etc. On the non-matching surveys the names of researches were different from the participants’.

“Four studies examine the influence of attaching a seemingly insignificant Post-it note to a survey packet on the likelihood of completing the survey. Participants who received a packet with an affixed Post-it note request had significantly higher return rates than participants who received the identical survey with (a) no sticky note, (b) the same message written on the cover sheet but without a Post-it or (c) a blank Post-it with no message provided. Furthermore, they returned the materials more promptly with higher quality responses. A more personalized Post-it appeal increased returns when the survey was long and time consuming but was no more effective than a nonpersonalized Post-it when the survey was easy to complete. Results suggest that the Post-it leads the request to be interpreted as a solicitation for a personal favor, facilitating a normative compliance response.”


  • Surveys sent to non-matching names resulted in a 30% return rate
  • Name-Matching surveys were returned by 56% of participants

What’s behind it? Another study concluded that we like people who share certain similarities with us, such as name, dress, habits, political preference, background, etc.

Thus, one may conclude that by finding literary agents, or editors, who share your name may result in higher response to your query letters. Adopting a pen-name makes the list virtually limitless…

The point: Never address your queries to “To Whom it May Concern”, or “Dear Agent”. Always address your recipients by their name. It’s not just common courtesy. There’s basic psychology in it, too.

More tips in:

Are literary agents ‘Gods’?

“Having finished your first novel, you have polished it to the best of your abilities, got rave reviews from your peer group of ‘wanna be’ authors, and you think the most difficult part of your journey, of becoming an internationally published author is over. But, it is not. Before you seek an international publisher in mature markets like London or New York, you have to find a literary agent. ‘Finding a literary agent is akin to finding God […]

Many first-time writers, especially those not familiar with the ‘behind the scenes’ of publishing industry, would ask: Why do we need a literary agent in the first place? To answer this question, we need to understand what exactly an agent does. An agent, for an author, is an editorial consultant, a writing coach and a critic rolled into one. She markets your work to the right publishers. She also takes care of your financial interest. Above all, she understands the nitty-gritties of publishing, everything from e-book royalties and permission forms, to movie option agreements.” source

Are literary agents Gods of the industry? Do you need a literary agent to publish a book with a ‘traditional’ publisher? The title says it all:

Literary Agent, the oracle of literary taste

Toronto Star: “Once upon a time, when you finished that book you’d either take it to an agent or simply send it to a publisher and pray someone might read — and like —it. Today, that’s not enough.

There are now fewer publishers and they have fewer employees. There aren’t as many people around to read manuscripts on spec — those works are usually relegated to that heap of unsolicited manuscripts called “the slush pile” — and people in the book business are more bottom-line oriented than ever.

For the most part, manuscripts today will only be considered if they’re polished, promising, and endorsed by a reliable agent, from a respected (and commercially successful) writer, or an impressive prior track record. […]

“In some cases, agents are very important. We rely on them, because that’s all they do.” says Pepper [publisher]. “They go out there and find stuff, and they cut a lot of the dross out. There’s agents I know, they have fabulous taste and they’ve backed it up with success. When they tell me to read a book, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to agree with them, but I’ll read it. It will mean a lot to me that that agent says that.”

You can  dream, or you can wake up and take charge.