Agents frequently hear questions like: Have you let many books slip through your hands that went on to be bestsellers? and… How do you feel when a book to which you said “no” goes on to success?
Most editors and agents have passed on books that went on to success (if not bestseller lists), and I think we all feel regret to a certain extent, maybe a little professional jealousy, yet we can’t lose any sleep over it. Most of us realize that if we didn’t recognize the “X” factor that makes a book a bestseller, we may not have been the best agent for it. The truth is, many bestsellers are freakish surprises, even to the publisher. So we cut ourselves slack knowing that most likely, we weren’t the only ones who rejected it, and just because we didn’t have that gut feeling about it doesn’t mean we can’t still recognize good books.
Sometimes an agent will “lose” a bestselling book not because they rejected it, but because there was competition for it (many agents offering representation) and the author chose someone else. There can be some regret in this situation, to be sure, because you recognized the good book and gave it your best shot, but weren’t picked.
Agents usually say “no” after careful and experienced evaluation. If they determine they can’t personally get behind a book, or they don’t have the right publishing contacts or it doesn’t fit what they represent, they make the right decision in saying “no” even if the book is a potential blockbuster. So that helps us to avoid living in bitterness over all those bestsellers we’re missing out on.
Sometimes I say “no” to someone for representation, and then I hear a fellow agent agreed to represent them. My response is generally to think, “Great, I’m happy for both of them.” Personally, I might re-evaluate whether I made the right decision, but I haven’t experienced much regret. I believe I have to keep moving forward with confidence. I try to be wise in making decisions, and I also want authors to find the best agent for them, even if it’s not me. That helps me to trust that everything is working out as it should so I don’t need to waste energy regretting a lost opportunity.
So how many bestsellers have been rejected by reputable agents? Probably something like, all of them. How many agents have rejected books that went on to become bestsellers? Probably a quite a few. Do we ever kick ourselves over it? Maybe sometimes, but mostly we just keep moving.
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