At the end of November in 2015, I sent off my very first agent query. When I was rejected a few months later, it was 2016, and I committed to spending that year sending out more queries. It was a big step, and a process that saw me question if my MS was ready, stop submitting to have it professionally assessed (for the second time), and give it to a new round of beta readers. All of this confirmed that the book was ready for submission and that I just needed to keep querying.
I persisted for that year, and on the advice of the editor who assessed my MS, I switched to querying publishers in 2017.
While that process is still ongoing, it has been made easier by my year of agent rejections and what that taught me. Things such as…
Queries Aren’t As Scary As You Think They Are
Sending your MS to an agent is a major deal. Not only are you sending something you’ve poured your soul into to a complete stranger, you have to do it in a query letter that requires you to whittle your book down to a snappy, few-sentence sell (see my blog, Writing a Query Letter that Works for hints). I expected an uphill battle of no responses and was pleasantly surprised to find only one agent never got back to me. The rest asked for samples or the first three chapters. The real battle was getting an agent to request more than that, which unfortunately never happened. Still, the experience made me a stronger writer, and I’m no longer scared of sending out queries.
Just Because It’s Rejected Doesn’t Mean It’s Bad
This is something that I struggled with. It’s hard to not take it personally and it’s even harder to not wonder what you’re doing wrong, especially with multiple rejections. Unless you get actual feedback telling you the specific story is bad or that you need to invest more time in working on it, it’s more than likely it was rejected because that particular agent didn’t like it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it wasn’t for them.
I really wanted feedback to know if my story was good, so I invested in having it assessed (and by invested, I mean I borrowed money from my wonderful and supportive twin sister). The assessment covered the plot, characters, writing style etc, and gave me the confidence to keep querying. If it flagged major issues, or let me know to keep working on the story, then I certainly would have. Sometimes you just need more than your friends and family reading your work, and a professional assessment is a great option if you’re able to do it.
You Need To Get Out Of Your Own Way
By the time you’ve gotten to the point where you’re ready to submit, you would have read your MS a million times. You would have had others read it, you then would have read it again. If you haven’t done that, do it. If you have, get out of your own way.
The MS is ready, you’ve read it until you’ve hated it, and you’ve run the gauntlet of best-writer-in-the-world-smugness to self-doubt-central and back again. You’ve gotten to the point where you have made it as good as you can—so just send it out!
If it’s good it’ll pick up interest, and funnily enough, it won’t be because you rearranged that perfectly fine sentence for the one-hundredth time.
It Makes You Feel Like A Failure
As much as you know to expect rejections, and as much as you prepare yourself, you will feel like a failure. The first rejection will be the hardest. After that, it’s an emotional free-for-all of sadness, bitterness, indifference, and acceptance.
It might not seem like it at the time, but it will make you a stronger person, and a more determined writer. One who will hopefully one day get a response that will make you feel like the success that you are.
It Lights A Fire
I didn’t stop. I switched gears, I’m still submitting. I might not have gotten anywhere with agents, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t in the future, or that my MS won’t ever make it to a bookstore shelf. I was (and still am) determined to try every agent and publisher who accepts within my genre, because I want to know that I’ve done all that I can. That fire hasn’t extinguished just because the first agents I reached out to handed me buckets of water instead of something to encourage the flames. I’ll keep going for now, and see how far I get, and I hope that any other writer at the same point is doing the same.
For those who have yet to reach the submission stop on their writing journey, and are wondering what agent rejections look like, I’ll finish up with some snippets of the ones I received.
The Short And (Bitter)Sweet…
“Unfortunately we are unable to offer you representation. This is a very subjective business and another agency or publisher may well disagree.”
The Rejection Without Having To Give A Rejection…
“Your query has been received… if you don’t hear from us within one month, it means that we will be passing on your work. Please don’t take a pass as a comment on you or your writing ability; it isn’t intended to be one.”
The Spiel To Promote The Agent’s Other Business (they ran one of the appraisal organizations suggested, and I had already had my MS assessed by an editor before submitting to this agent, so I took their suggestion as a sell and not as a comment on the quality of my MS)…
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity of reviewing the above manuscript. I do not think I can express interest in the project at this stage. Getting an agent or publisher to review and consider your work can be a long and challenging voyage. The competition is fierce.
Along the way, in an effort to gain more information about your manuscript, you might consider getting an assessment or commercial appraisal undertaken of the Work. This would give you an insight to the manuscript and could well be a valuable and worthwhile investment. For your reference, I have listed some suggestions of appraisal organizations. You may wish to visit their websites and consider the value of the services they offer.”
The It’s Not You, It’s Me…
“After careful consideration I’m afraid we do not feel we are the right agency for this work. I’m sure you can appreciate the need for an agent to be totally committed to a work to sell it enthusiastically to a publisher; to do otherwise is not in the best interests of the author. Of course, another reader might have a completely different response to your writing, and we encourage you to send your work to other agents, or directly to publishers.”
The Unicorn, Some Actual Feedback…
“Thank you for sharing with me, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for. I do love me some supernatural/urban-fantasy genre, and I can tell from your writing that you do too. But I just felt that the third-person narrative pulled me out of the immediacy this genre demands, and without a scene of intense action kicking things off to a high-octane start, I struggled to get into it. I think you have a lot of great ideas in this manuscript that you’ll absolutely get those rhythms and reveals down-pat! I wish you the best of luck with it”
— K.M. Allan