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.