glimmers of hope

With my niece on Table Rock Lake. If querying gets you down, go out for a while and enjoy the sun!

Week Two Query Totals (Agents Only, Cumulative Tally):

  • Submitted: 22
  • Rejections: 3
  • Requests for Partial/Full: 0

I promise I won’t be posting these numbers every week, in part because it’s going to get depressing pretty quickly. For the moment, I’m only counting rejection letters, but many agents reject by simply not responding. As those response times expire, 4-6 weeks down the line, rejection numbers will show a sharp uptick.

On the other hand, it’s hard to tell sometimes how to interpret no-response scenarios. I’ve seen agents give estimated response times of anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, only to write back six months later, long after I’d assumed they weren’t interested. Each of these cases was still a rejection, but it just goes to show: Sometimes a query can be in an agent’s queue for a very long time.

Another consideration is that I’m in high drive right now, trying to submit as many queries as I can before fall semester picks up and I have to return to campus full time. That means queries are being put out at a pace well ahead of responses, but once classes start, the rate of queries will be much slower. And statistically, most – if not all – of the responses will be rejections, so…brace yourselves. Those rejection numbers will be on the rise very soon!

This is the second round of querying for my current novel, and the latest in many rounds of querying connected to other novels that I’ve written.

Eolyn was the first novel that I queried, and the first to land in a traditional market. It was picked up almost right away by the then-up-and-coming small press, Hadley Rille Books. Through Eolyn, I applied some important advice and learned some sobering lessons.

The important advice? Research the publishers and agents you query. 

My editor at Hadley Rille, Eric T. Reynolds, often said that the number one reason he rejected manuscripts was that they simply weren’t the right fit for Hadley Rille’s markets.

Of course, identifying the right fit for your manuscript is easier said than done. As careful as I try to be about who I query, sometimes the information available doesn’t give a clear picture of their current interests and connections. And I have, on more than one occasion, come across someone I deemed a perfect fit, only to be told inside a few days that my novel, while it seems “well written” and/or “shows promise,” is not what the agent is looking for.

Those are nice moments by the way, when they personalize their response to say my work shows promise. But I’d still rather have a request for a full!

The research end of querying has become a little easier than it used to be. I’ve kept a personal database over the years of who I’ve queried for what, including notes on response times and any personalized messages included in those responses. Rather than start raw, I can go back to the literary agents’ web sites, check on their current status, and see how their interests have changed or developed.

This saves me time because, while I am still identifying new agents and markets, I also have a backlist of people I know might be interested in my kind of story, as well as a query package set up that already meets their specifications. And I can hope – just hope – that they start recognizing my name, too, and that the portfolio I’ve developed since the last time they heard from me provides evidence as to how serious I am about writing and publishing.

In some cases, I’ve acquired a feel for the way certain agents work and this helps me interpret their responses. For example, there’s one agent I’ve queried for all three of my previous novels. In all three cases, she responded with a form letter rejection in the space of one to three days.  As of this writing, it’s been almost two weeks since I sent her my query for The Hunting Grounds, so perhaps I can dare to hope that maybe, just maybe, she’s at least thinking about asking for more…

There are some things that never get easier in life, but querying and fielding rejections definitely gets easier. The more you query, the less odious it is to query again. The more rejections you receive, the more they begin to slide like water off your back.

The occasional personalized responses that say, “This is cool, but it’s just not what I’m representing…” become notes  of encouragement to keep trying.

The occasional personalized responses that say, “Neat premise, but the writing needs some work…” become rallying cries to revise and improve your novel in preparation for the next round of querying.

Perhaps most importantly, the messy and often disappointing journey of querying forces us to re-center our lives; to recognize that as much as we would love to land that dream contract, publishing is not the most important part of writing. Writing is the most important part of writing. As long as we keep our pens alive, no amount of rejections can dim the innate value of the stories we weave, whether those stories are meant to be shared with a handful of close friends and a select circle of fellow writers, or with tens of thousands of readers across the world.

5 thoughts on “glimmers of hope

  1. Dear Karin,

    I won’t post this reply. This is just personal. You read my first book, Maginaugh, and seemed to think it was quite good. In 2004 I wrote it in three months (rough draft) and spent two years rewriting it, getting it ready to submit to agents and publishers. During that time I attended a professional writer’s camp for three weeks and had my manuscript torn apart by fellow students and the four best selling authors who were our camp teachers. They taught me lots of bad things I eventually “unlearned” and I later rewrote my book again the way it read best to me.

    I say they taught me lots of bad things because after I wrote Maginaugh according to their guidelines, I submitted it to every agent and publisher in Writer’s Digest when there seemed there might be any glimmer of hope they would be interested in such a tale. I lost count of how many queries, samples, and sometimes full manuscripts I mailed off but I know it was well over 200. You say you’re sometimes not even getting replies and you think that’s the way some reject. If so, things have gotten even worse since the time I when I was submitting Maginaugh. I got polite form letters from every publisher and agent, all saying pretty much this: “Thank you but we are not taking on any new authors at this time.” They didn’t read any of Maginaugh because they had all the business they wanted to gamble on with well established best selling authors. They didn’t care if it was brilliant or rubbish, they just couldn’t afford gambles.

    I didn’t realize this at the time. I figured Maginaugh was rubbish. But then I read Stephen King’s wonderful book, On Writing, Memoirs of the Craft. In it he taught me that everything those hacks in my writing camp had tried to teach me was wrong. He also made me feel better about my rejections because he wrote that, after years of submitting his work to publishers, he could have papered the walls of his study with the rejections. He broke into publishing the same way Kurt Vonnegut did, by publishing his first book, The Gunslinger, in twelve monthly installments in a low class pulp magazine which paid him hardly anything. It gave him creds. Unfortunately, no such magazines exist anymore.

    I did more rewrites, following King’s guidelines carefully. I submitted to new publishers and agents I found in new editions of Writer’s Digest and I also did web searches for writing contests and also submitted to them. No joy. I still enjoyed writing but I was burned out on rewriting so I turned Maginaugh into book one of a series called The Fair and Fey with no idea if it would ever be published. I had one reader, Emma Hewitt and was basically just writing for her. Oh my husband read Maginaugh too but he didn’t like it because of the lesbian scenes. So in book two, Maahilund, I kept my protagonist and some of the other characters from book one but didn’t write any lesbian scenes. No pleasing my husband though. He didn’t even ever finish that one. He really doesn’t read much at all, he likes to watch TV more, although we do share a fondness for Stephen King’s novels.

    While writing Maahilund, I finally got my first response from a Maginaugh submission. It was from an agent. I had sent her the entire manuscript because her bio sounded like she handled mostly epic fantasies. I wish I remembered her name. I would give it to you. That was in 2011. She read the entire manuscript — OMG!! You can imagine how thrilled I was. She said it was quite good and that she couldn’t put it down until she finished it. She said I had a lot of talent and should not be discouraged. However she also said she had to be honest and tell me she couldn’t sell any new author, no matter how good, to any publisher because publishers were not taking new authors anymore. She recommended I look into Smashwords because self publishing was becoming more reputable than old-style vanity publishing and she thought Smashwords was a good entry into the world of publishing for authors like me.

    Long story short, I took her advice. Maginaugh was published on Smashwords and Amazon in 2012. I’m not getting rich from publishing but I’m not wasting time, paper and postage on querying publishers anymore either. I’m not that hung up on wanting to see hard copies of my books in bookstores anymore because I think the vast majority of readers are buying their books from Amazon these days, with good reason. It has all the advantages of browsing in a bookstore with the additional advantage of usually being cheaper and of course more convenient. Barnes and Noble is closing their stores in many towns and the few locations they keep they have basically turned into coffee houses with small inventory of books. Even if you do make it into a bookstore, they will only give you six months to sell and you won’t get much help from the publisher with marketing — the hardest part of our job right? After six months they “return” (destroy) the unsold copies of your book to the publisher (virtually) who subtracts the cost of the returns from your royalties.

    Your facebook post struck a chord. I hope you don’t mind that I had to reach out to you with this reply.

    Love, Jini xxxx ________________________________


    1. Thanks, Jini! I know this was intended as a personal message, but for some reason it showed up on my feed, so I will respond to it here. You can take it back down if you prefer, but I do think your experience is valuable and should be shared, so I hope you leave it up for others to read.
      Traditional publishing is certainly not for everyone, and yes it’s extremely hard – nearly impossible – to get one’s foot in the door. But even though you did not land a publisher or agent, you got something valuable out of the journey: in the end revising your book to make it the best it could be and finding an agent who, while they chose not to represent the manuscript, pointed you toward a path that has worked for you. This is very much part of the message of my new series on querying: It’s not really about the destination, it’s what we learn through the journey.
      The Hunting Grounds and its companion novels may not find a place in traditional publishing, but they deserve a chance at the querying table. I’m happy to give them that chance and to share the insights that come with my experiences here, whether or not I find representation in the end.
      I really hope that, through this series, we’ll hear from more authors like yourself who have also gone through the querying process and have some wisdom to share. Thanks so much for your comments!

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