This question came up at the Writers’ Workshop Festival in York last weekend, where I met some very talented writers </P
The answer is, it depends. Despite our reputation, agents don’t like to be brutal. (And bear in mind this blog applies to agents submitting to producers and publishers, as much as it does to writers submitting to agents.) So we all try and find a logical and humane way to respond to something. How do you read between the lines?
1. ‘Your submission has not been successful’ or similar: You can try again – they may be so flooded with submissions that they won’t notice until they see something shining like diamonds in a mine. But don’t put them on the A-list for trying again.
2. ‘We liked XYZ but didn’t love it’: Truthful but a bit annoying. At least they’ve engaged with it, and you might try them again with something else. Unless they ask you, don’t try with a third work if the second is unsuccessful.
This is also a sign, incidentally, that you’re falling into the 90% of submissions that are good but rather samey or otherwise not distinctive or exciting enough to stand a chance with a publisher or producer. Don’t write something publishable / producible, write something you really believe in, and that’s ambitious.
3. ‘I’m sorry but I didn’t get on with it’ or similar: If they’re politely saying they actively disliked something, think twice about going back to them, even though they’ve thought well enough of the writing to engage with you. There’ll be a squelchy moment later on when you want them to try and sell it, because you like it. But they don’t like it, so how well do you think they’ll be able to sell it?
4. ‘I didn’t think I could sell this one, but would be happy to see further work’ or ‘Would you be prepared to re-draft, considering my comments on it, and re-send it?’: Definitely follow up! It’s not like we have a shortage of reading to do, so we’re serious if we say this.
A surprising proportion of writers don’t follow up on this, either because they think we don’t mean it, or somehow get distracted.
So a reminder to all of us to tune into the subtext, and try not to drop the ball when it’s coming your way.