I’m going to say something that might not be popular, but if you take a moment to think about it, I think you’ll agree.
As writers, we create 50%+ of our own rejections.
No one likes that ‘no’, unless there are a few masochists in the pile. Wait, I’m talking authors, so that is likely a given, anyway – back on topic.
Those ‘no’s can take a toll on your self-esteem. It’s not an easy thing to hear rejection time after time. The rejection letter, form or personalized, still has a bit of a sting. No matter the lovely sentiments that might wrap it, it’s still a ‘no.’
And I’m saying we bring most of these rejections down on ourselves. How?
Well, first, there is the unfinished or incomplete manuscript. That’s kind of a given, but there are folks out there who have gone this route. I suspect in the fiction or literary world they didn’t meet with much success. Non-fiction plays by their own rules.
Secondly, there is the ugly book baby. I am guilty of this one. And I suspect I’m not the only person who has thought “I’m ready” and sent queries out only to hear a lot of ‘no.’ I went back and looked over my manuscript 12 months after the last ‘no’, and I couldn’t believe what I had sent out. Man, my book baby was butt ugly.
How had I not seen this? I felt like writing little apologies on cardstock to the agents I had queried. It was that ugly. I can only guess that I was suffering from being too close to my work. So close that I couldn’t see the telling, the lack of depth in the prose, the typos (OMG, the typos). I brought every one of those rejections on myself by not having a polished manuscript. Lesson learned.
Third possible reason – not enough research on the agents to whom you send your work. I’m guilty of this one, too. Last time through, if an agent represented my genre, I sent them my query. Right? That’s what you do?
Well, yes. And no.
By taking a shotgun approach, I bought a lot of future ‘no.’ Think it over. If an agent is looking for a type of book, and they have gone to the trouble of putting it up on the internet in a manuscript wish list, and if you send them a space opera when they are looking for urban fantasy – what do you really think will happen?
Keep in mind many agents face overflowing inboxes. And I’ll be honest when I have had to sift through thousands of items to find the one I want, I don’t give every single item the same level of consideration. You sift.
For example. How many of you have gone to a big warehouse or discount store? Think something like TJMAXX or Leohman’s, or Burlington Coat Factory. You walk into the store and are immediately confronted with literally thousands of items to choose from.
I suspect it is almost universally true that if you are looking for baby shoes, you don’t look for them in men’s athletic wear. A shopper can immediately take all those options out of consideration and focus their efforts on the area likely to provide what they are looking for.
Then there’s another easy cut when looking for our imaginary baby shoes. Are they gonna fit? Too big, out of consideration. Too small, likewise, out of consideration. So now we have all the right size baby shoes, great. But we can only buy one pair. So this is where we start evaluating on our taste and what we think we can get the baby to wear. (Not as easy a task as you might think.)
The poor dejected men’s wear ain’t getting any love. But this shopper was never going to go in that direction. So why chase them?
It is a waste of your time to chase an agent with no stated interest in your product. And, let’s be honest, a waste of their time, too.
A better use of your time is searching for the agent who wants your story. It’s not as much a mystery as it was in the 1970s. Geez, those really were the days of sending your typed manuscript off into a black hole. Does anyone else remember the tome called “Writer’s Market”?
(Good grief, I just Googled it, and it still exists. Wow.)
These days there are so many other resources to search through to find just the right cross-section of agents for your work. Looking before you query will save you time and heartache in the future. Don’t offer an epic fantasy (men’s shirts) when the agent is looking for a cozy mystery (baby shoes.)
In other words, don’t buy yourself a ‘no’ for no good reason.
This time through, I am putting a great deal of effort into trying to match what I am offering to what the agent has stated they want. I started with the agents who were not my top, top choices because I wanted to fine-tune my query. But batch two, with a polished package, went out to the folks who seemed to have a manuscript wishlist that read like my novel.
I can hear some folks saying, “Well, my manuscript is the exception.” And “Agents should carefully consider every query because they could be passing on a potential Pulitzer, aka, my manuscript.”
But, let’s be honest, if you are looking for a winter coat, you don’t really spend your time in the store at the perfume counter. (And there will undoubtedly be someone who objects, but I’m sure the rest of you get it.)
In a perfect world, we would all have the time to leisurely troll through everything that even slightly piqued our interest. However, last I checked, the laundry needed doing, the stair needed fixing, a bulb needed to be replaced, and the kid needed to be picked up from Camp Grandma. And, he still needs those shoes.
And one more thing that we should all keep in mind, a big reason for receiving that ‘no’ is if you don’t follow the directions on your submission. Really. Remember when I talked about the easy criteria that agents make decisions on? Yeah, this is one of those criteria. Why does it matter if you use 1″ margins vs. a 1.5″ margin? Or if I use 10 pt. type instead of 12pt. type? Well, it tells the agent something about you. Are you thorough? Are you willing to put in the work, even minor work, to see your book through the various hoops of the publishing world? Are you willing to work with them? Are you flexible?
All things an agent will likely value if they take you on as a client.
So, for all that is upright and proper, follow the agents directions about how they want to see your query hit their inbox. I could insert the story about the Rock group and the green M&Ms, but I’ll save you all the time.
So, in short, save yourself some heartache. Find an agent with a good to great fit for your work. Send them the very best polished manuscript you can. Send it to them in the format that they request.
There is no guarantee this will work but it might save you a few instances of ‘no’.