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How agents handle rejection: Juliet Pickering interview

Juliet Pickering is an agent at Blake Friedmann, representing a list of both fiction and non-fiction authors. Her interests range from literary to bookclub fiction, from memoir and humour to food and gender issues. You can follow her on twitter @julietpickering – here Norah Myers interviews Juliet about handling rejection.

1) Please tell us about a recent submission you made that an editor rejected. How did you use the rejection to determine the next steps?

Manuscripts are rejected all the time! It’s part of the process: if I’m sending a novel to 15 editors, 14 of them may not love it as much as I do but our role is all about finding the one (and hopefully more!) editor and publishing team, that will.

If we don’t succeed in a first round submission then the author and I take stock of the feedback, we might want to edit the manuscript accordingly and then make a fresh submission.

2) How have you learnt to deal with rejection as part of your relationships with publishers?

It’s part of the job. There are some rejections that are harder to accept than others – if the editor loved it too but has been unable to get the support of their colleagues, for example – but it means that the agent and author regroup, take on board the responses from publishers, and think about the best way forward.

3) Has rejection helped you better assess why a book might or might not work?

Absolutely. I try harder than ever to pre-empt any publishing concerns before a book goes to editors (by editing the book with the author), but for each publishing team the concerns will be slightly different.

4) How has rejection helped you become a better negotiator?

I don’t think rejection helps negotiation as much as it’s helped build my knowledge of the publishing industry. The parameters of publishing successfully are always changing, along with the market, so I feel better equipped to send a new book to editors when I know the teams behind them – the teams who express their views on submissions I’ve made and reveal their approach to publishing in doing so.

5) How would you coach a new agent through their first few rejections?

I think it’s very important to trust your instincts: every single agent in the business deals with rejections, but arming yourself with editors’ likes and dislikes, and an effective pitch, means you’re making informed submissions and doing the best you can. You have to keep trying, and be ready to manage the authors’ expectations along the way. I pass on all the responses from editors to my authors, so they know the reasons for a yes or a no. It’s important to be honest and open.

Ultimately, we take on our authors because we believe they’re great writers and have several books ahead of them. If we can’t sell a book, we’ll work with them to find an idea for a book that will succeed.

6) What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned through being rejected?

To always treat authors kindly and with respect; the rejections that show an editor clearly read and considered a submission I made, make all the difference and soften the blow.

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