"Your dialogue pulled me in."
"The voice of your pages is dead on."
"I don't think I can sell this."
This has to be the hardest rejection letter I write. When it's clear the author has talent and the book is a good one. But because of the genre, subject matter, writing style, etc., I don't think I can find an editor to take it on in the current market.
It must be a hard rejection letter to receive, as well. To know you did everything right except pick the right thing to write about. So I'm not surprised when authors write back, explaining they don't expect a miracle and asking me to give them a chance.
Here's the deal, though. I can't just give you a chance.
Because every "chance" represents countless hours of time that I'm not spending helping my current clients sell the books I actually thought I could sell. Next time I start new project, I think I'll log my full time spent getting a book ready to pitch. Until then, here's a short list of all the things an agent does in order to give a book a chance.
Initial read for offer of representation
Second read for editing
Third read after initial edits
Possible fourth read for additional edits (see why we really have to love a book)
Craft a pitch
Determine editors to pitch at each house based on imprint and editor preferences, current books they are working on and books they will release in the future (read: lots of research time here)
Send out full pitch to each editor
Track all responses, determine next editors to pitch and evaluate feedback for any needed edits
Continue until book sells or editors are exhausted, whichever comes first
And that's only the formal process. None of that includes the 3am "panic" emails, the mid-afternoon "just curious" emails or the first thing in the morning "is it supposed to take this long" emails. This is why the relationship with your agent is so important. We do more than just sell your book. We're the cheerleader, psychiatrist and industry expert there to answer questions, hold hands and reassure. I love this part of my job. Honestly, I do. But it all takes time.
And if the book doesn't sell? None of that time represents an actual paycheck. Agents don't have billable hours (so if you find one that does, run far, far away). We only get paid when the book sells. It's a risk that everyone takes and it's understood by everyone. And that's why I (or any other agent) can't take the risk of spending dozens and dozens of hours on a book we don't think has a legitimate chance of selling.
That's not to say we're always right. Sometimes agents can fight over a book, and yet it doesn't sell. Other times, an author can finally get an agent after hundreds of rejections and their agent sells the book in three weeks. It happens and if you could figure out the magic behind it, I'll be your new best friend.
Until then, I have to focus my time where I think I can be the most effective. I wish I could give every good story a chance. And I know I'm not the only agent that feels that way. After all, I ask editors just to give my clients' books a chance every day.