The Ones That Got Away

I divide my email into folders and sub folders to stay organized. I’ve got a folder for Request and within that: Offer, Pass, and…The Ones That Got Away.

Agents deal with rejection, too, and in those moments I have to remind myself of the same thing I tell writers: It’s not personal. Authors have a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to accept an offer of representation, and ultimately they need to go with the person they feel will best represent them and their work. That person is not always me, no matter how much I might believe or want it to be.

And most of the time, that’s ok. Rejection is a part of publishing, from top to bottom. And so when I get word from a writer that they have made the difficult decision (and in some cases I’m sure the decision isn’t a difficult one at all, but writers have been very kind to me and all of them have let me down gently!) to accept another offer, I usually send a quick note back, thanking them for letting me know, and for letting me consider their work, and I offer them my heartfelt congratulations. I move the email chain immediately into my The Ones That Got Away folder.

And then I go into my rejection ritual.

I step away from work for a little while. Anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I text my husband and let him know I lost the project. He’s been hearing me talking about it non-stop for a couple weeks at this point, so I lean on him and the other folks at my agency for comfort because discussing my disappointment publicly would be a terrrrrrrible idea. During my little grieving break sometimes I take a walk around the block, sometimes I watch an episode of tv or listen to a podcast or do some dishes (it seems like there are ALWAYS dishes that need doing in my house). I do something, anything else to take my mind off the one that got away. Then I take a deep breath, and get back to work. And as the days, weeks, and months pass, I cheer on the writer as they announce their new representation, and as their deal is announced, and as their book is published. And every time, I get that little pang in my heart. It only lasts a second, and it is quickly eclipsed by genuine joy. After all, I love these books, these writers. I believe that these books deserve to be out in the world–if I didn’t believe that I never would have offered in the first place. And as much as I wish I could have been the person to help get these books to bookshelves, in the end I’m just glad they got there.

Most of the time that’s how this kind of rejection goes for me. I’m wistful. I’m disappointed. But I’m also ready to fall in love again.

So a couple of months ago when I fell deeply, wholly in love with a manuscript, and had an amazing, extended call with the writer, and felt truly that the stars had aligned, and then….the writer accepted an offer from someone else….for the first time my rejection ritual failed me. No matter how much I told myself otherwise, I took it personally. I cried–a couple of times, actually. My husband brought me ice cream. I scrolled through my queries and I read a lot of manuscripts, things that were good, things that were great, but nothing that made me feel like that. I joked with industry friends that it was like a break up. “What if I never fall in love again?!” Except, deep down, I wasn’t joking. I really felt like I’d never love another book the way I loved that manuscript. That I’d never click with another writer in that way. That the stars would never align again.

I’ve been working in this industry for a long time. Long enough to not only know, but to truly believe, that despite all of the passion and emotion and care that I bring to my work–the highs and lows of publishing are part of the business. If I take each disappointment personally, I’ll drown.

Writers face so much rejection, a constant onslaught. And it doesn’t stop once you get out of the query trenches. There is rejection at every tier of this industry. As gatekeepers, we agents are responsible for a LOT of the rejections that writers get, and that’s not something we take joy in. It’s not personal, it’s business.

But please don’t ever think that we don’t intimately understand that heartbreak. We do. We know how painful it can be. We know how difficult it can be to pick yourself up and keep going. We also know that it’s all part of job. We will fall in love again, even after the ones the got away. I know; I did.


4 Responses to The Ones That Got Away

  1. Pamela D Pabst Jun 6 2018 at 12:11 pm #

    Wow! Thank you for sharing such raw emotion! It truly helps writers understand that even agents have moments of disappointment that make them take a pause, or perhaps even feel like the earth just dropped out from under their feet. But having people that support us and believing in our goals (whatever the goal might be for writer or agent) is so important and can get us through that rough time. I LOVE this post!

    • Kelly Jun 6 2018 at 12:54 pm #

      I’m glad it made you feel less alone! I can tell you that everyone who works in this industry knows the pain of rejection. Editors and agents lose out on projects to other people, people in the art department can lose illustrators, people in publicity can fail to land reviews or articles or awards they’re chasing. Every person in every part of the industry knows what it’s like to want and work for something and to be disappointed. But we’re all here because we love what we do!

  2. Susanna Jun 6 2018 at 3:59 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s so easy (despite many reassurances from agents) to forget that agents get attached to projects too! I honestly never would’ve expected an agent to be as attached as you’ve described, especially right at the beginning. That’s so awesome. This post is really encouraging (and I’m sorry you lost out on the project you were excited about).

  3. Julie Jun 6 2018 at 8:33 pm #

    Kelly, thank you so much for sharing this heartfelt post!

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