Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Talk to the Hand

I'm feeling a bit discouraged. I'm searching for an agent, and so far, have gotten a few nibbles, including three requests for partials and one for a full, but mostly, I'm getting rejected or not hearing anything at all. I'd like to pretend that the rejection doesn't bother me, but it does. Any tips for hanging in there?

Okay, well, the first thing I'd do - if you feel like your query letter isn't getting the response rate that you'd like - is run it past other writers whom you trust. Don't know where to find other writers whom you trust? Check out Backspace ( or even one of the Yahoo writers' groups or (Though there are a lot of aspiring authors on, and I can't vouch for whether or not they'll give you sound advice.) I think that a lot of authors aim for about a 20% success rate from their query letter (correct me if I'm wrong, I could be!), so if yours is coming in waaaaay lower than that, you might want to rethink your pitch. Remember: it's not supposed to be a synopsis of the entire book. It's supposed to highlight your voice, tantalize the agent by offering morsels of an intriguing plot, and ensure them that as a writer, you stand out from the pack.

After that, I'd take a look at your numbers. You don't mention how many agents you've pitched, but plenty of folks have to query well over 50 agents (and higher!) before they find a good match. If you're feeling discouraged after, say, 10 rejections or even 20, then you likely have unrealistic expectations of this process. Yes, I know that everyone thinks that his or her own book is genius, but the truth of the matter is that often times, it's not. Or at least not everyone else will agree that it's genius. (The same can be said of most published books too - it's all subjective, right?) Finding an agent is all about finding that one other person who agrees that your work is indeed genius...and that can take time. Sort of like finding the right person to marry.

Now that you've done the math, it's time to think about your mental health. I've mentioned this before but being a writer requires having a thick skin. A VERY thick skin. And I'm not just talking about during the agent hunt. I'm talking about getting critiques from your writing partners, dealing with editorial comments from the publishing house, recovering from scathing reviews, coping with disappointing sales, writing a second book and not having it sell. Need I go on? If you're going to get demoralized at every turn, this isn't the profession for you.

Which isn't to say that you don't have the right to wallow. You do. What I mean by the above paragraph is that you have the right to wallow, but then you have to pick yourself up and move on. So you're getting rejected. Fine. We know that. But the question becomes: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to tweak your query letter or drown your sorrows with booze? Are you going to refine your agent hunt or cry into your pillow? Are you going to ask for objective criticism and consider that it might actually improve your work or are you going to work yourself up into a defensive frenzy and insist that your writing is spun in gold?

I'm of the belief that rejection is just a stepping stone to making your writing (or your attitude) that much better. Use it to your advantage rather than let it sink you. Because if you do let it sink you, your potential writing career is going to go down the tubes with it.

So how do you guys deal with rejection?


Anonymous said...

voodoo dolls made of chocolate. Take that Mr. Critic!

Amie Stuart said...

Booze! okay I'm kidding. But seriously it got to where (after like the first 50) the form ones didn't bother me so much. You just kind of learn to take it in stride because there are much worse forms of rejection out there than one from an agent.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm more sanguine than the average writer: I expect some rejections with my newspaper and magazine pieces, so I'm not overly disappointed when I receive one. Eventually, however, they always find a home.

When the time comes to query my book, I'll take the same approach. Some agents will reject it, but if I persevere, it will be accepted.

Maybe the writer should try to place some essays or short stories while she queries. It's a great confidence booster and there are so many markets. It has the added benefit of being a writing credit, too.

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Well, I must be waaaaay better than average because I'm into the 100s for rejections. Can't believe I just admitted that, but someday I'll be able to say, "Look at how many rejections I got, but I kept going, and you should too!"

(It took me a while to find the man of my dreams too.)

Anonymous said...

Good advice.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

MM-Oh, I just threw 50 out there as a starting point! I know that you have a great story/ms, so keep at it!

Aimee-I agree: those form rejections barely make a blip. They're so impersonal that they're easy to shrug off!