Friday, September 09, 2016

The one thing all successful writers have in common

This is a difficult question to have to ask, and perhaps just as hard to answer, but I think I need to know before I go any further.

I sent out my first batch of ten query letters this the past week, and already I've received four rejection responses, including yourself. I understand rejection is totally inevitable, but now I'm stuck: are these form rejections, indicating a query that fails, or simply an indication of project-agent unsuitability? Eventually, as I understand it, enough rejections indicate the former.

If there isn't even a request for pages, it has to mean something is wrong with the query, regardless of how nicely phrased the rejection? Like, QueryShark makes me think you will request pages for any project you think passes the Shark Test of Worth, so if you didn't, should I be even more worried three rejections came before you?

Of the four, three of them were encouraging. But the form letters might be designed to be that way, because agents are usually very nice people.

Any advice on interpreting what rejection letters mean (especially when they mention your work as being good) would be very, very appreciated.

I thought I'd be better at enduring the failure than I am. This is not my real email, as you may have guessed. And I'm sorry if this question is something you don't want to tackle.

This is not failure.
More than anything else, you absolutely MUST learn to see rejection as part of the process, not failure.

Rejection at the query stage is like learning to shoot hoops. You're going to miss a lot of baskets as you develop technique and practice. Is missing a shot "failure"? No.

Is losing a game failure?

Failure is not lacing up your sneakers and getting in the game.
Failure is quitting before you've had a chance to find out if you're any good.

Failure is a mindset, and it will KILL YOUR CAREER if you let it.

Now, about the place you are in the query process.

For starters, ten is nothing.
You've barely scratched the surface of the number of agents you can query.

You should assume nothing about your query based on these results. You can NOT interpret rejection to mean anything other than "no."

Do you assume you are short and ugly (no matter your gender here!) if you are standing in line with the top ten finalists for Miss America at the United check in counter for Atlantic City?

In the alternative, you can be as handsome as George Clooney but if the movie is about Miss America, you're not going to get the starring role.

1.2 BILLION people are able to speak some form of Chinese, but you can't. Does that make you stupid?

When it comes to querying, you don't know if you're in the wrong line, or trying out for the wrong movie, or just not speaking my language.

Do not assume you are stupid or ugly, or that your query is a failure.

You know NOTHING about your query from rejection.
I pass on materials that are good and publishable every day of the week.

I pass on things by mistake.

I pass on things that are good because I already have Jeff Somers writing magic and I don't want to sign another author in his category. I pass on what I'm sure is great horror because Laird Barron is on my list but I don't actually read horror (Yes, you read that right.)

Right now the only thing you can do is persevere.
Hit a writing conference if you can afford to. Instead of pitching agents, have them look at your query.

Buy a query and page critique at an auction (they have these ALL the time.)

Take a Writers Digest webinar on queries. Often there's a query crit attached to that.

Check out your local writerly groups like Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America.  Here's a tip: you don't actually have to write crime or romance to join. These are kind and generous writers who welcome new writers into the fold and help you figure stuff out. The reason to join is to take advantage of the educational opportunities they offer.

For example, I'll be flying to Phoenix Arizona in February (yes, on my broom) to give a workshop on Effective Queries at the local SinC chapter. 

I'm giving the same workshop at Binder.con here in New York in October.

These kinds of opportunities abound.
It's up to you to find them,  attend them, learn from them.
The one thing all successful writers have in common: persistence.

Having a writing career of any size, shape, or success requires persistence.
You have a choice about what to do here.
You can make yourself crazy with fretting, or you can buckle down and write.

The choice is yours.


nightsmusic said...

Only ten queries? I'm certainly not trying to make light here. I sent probably 20-30 before I realized I was querying too soon. I don't know if you're doing the same, but I do understand that first blush of success. You've written a novel! You've gone through your story once or twice and think you have it cleaned up. You're positive everyone will love it! I understand that. I did that. I was wrong. So, so very wrong. I had no idea. So I'm still working on those stories, I've taken the classes, learned and am still learning what to do and not do when writing. And querying. I read Query Shark all the time. And I'll get there. Eventually. And when my story is polished to within an inch of its life and I've written a query even le Sharque would be happy with, then I'll try again. But if it's any consolation, read this:

20 Brilliant Authors Who Were Rejected

Timothy Lowe said...

We writers need to read posts like this every so often, especially when in the midst of the querying process. What was it Dorothy Parker said about writing?

"If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy."

And, we must be reminded, this comes from a great, famous, celebrated writer.

We must all remember it's a daily chance to stare at the top of the hill, hear the rattle of the guns, and find the will to move our feet.

Thankfully, burying our noses in the actual writing can be a wonderful escape - and hey, it's what we need to do anyway.

I'm happy enough because I managed to write 700 words this morning. The daily successes must be remembered.

Thanks for posting items like these, Janet.

Cheyenne said...

"When it comes to querying, you don't know if you're in the wrong line, or trying out for the wrong movie, or just not speaking my language."

This is so important. I wish I'd known this 5 years ago. I wish *every* agent would emblazon this in their bio. I still struggle with the notion that rejections don't mean my work is unpublishable (though I'm getting better). I've been a quick draw on sending query batches way more than I'd like to consider, but I'm still so refreshed by these words. For all of us striving to make that agent connection, it's encouraging to know that our manuscripts could simply be George Clooney (or, I prefer, Gary Oldman...) auditioning for the role of Miss America. Ha. I love it.

Keep going, OP! You've barely scratched the surface! :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

My mantra taken from a swim coach when I was a wee minnow "There is no such thing as a failure who keeps trying."

10 queries is barely a try. After just a squeak over a year on this blog, one thing I am certain of is that publishing is a marathon process. Not a sprint. I am writing a new book, having put a project I loved on the back burner. It was hard. It felt like a defeat at first. Now, I feel renewed and intensely excited and far less cowed by the query process to come.

Talk to some of the Reef's success stories( stbnytbs Donna Everhart for example). Most of them wrote multiple books before they landed an agent or book deal. Just keep writing. Keep trying. You will get there.

So, I have always wanted to see Phoenix. Well, since 7:30 am EST this morning. :) February is a great month to travel and I could possibly be close to ready to start querying by then. Hmmm? Dare I meet the shark face to face?

Colin Smith said...

1.2 BILLION people are able to speak some form of Chinese, but you can't. Does that make you stupid?

YES! Because one of those 1.2 BILLION is my SecondBorn!! And she speaks Japanese and Korean too! So, yes, I'm stupid. Though I think we've established that fact aside from my Asian language deficiencies. :)

Opie: Janet's right (of course), 10 queries is a drop in the ocean. Be grateful these 10 are not NORMANs, otherwise you'd have no idea that they didn't connect with your query. You can strike them off the list and move on with the next 10.

Do you think there might be something wrong with your query? How many people looked at your query before you sent it out? If you won't be convinced that you can't judge your query after just 10 agents, take a step back. Read your query objectively--aloud, even. Are all the main points clear (protagonist, antagonist, crisis, stakes)? Do you think anyone, let alone an agent, would want to read your novel based on your query? If that's hard to answer objectively, find some people and have them read it--preferably people who write. Your beta readers (I presume you have some if your novel is ready to query) would be a good start. Maybe folks here would be willing to give it a look over.

Don't feel like you have to break anonymity to answer my qs., Opie. They are meant to provoke thought. I wish you every success! :)

Colin Smith said...

Posts like this make me want to set up a Query Board that people can post queries to and receive critiques from the Reiders here. There are, no doubt, a gazillion-and-one such things, but this one would be supported by this community. And maybe QOTKU herself could be persuaded to drop in from time to time, offer critiques, and maybe even find a future client.

Probably a crazy idea, Carkoon-exile worthy, no doubt... but I just thought I'd throw it out there. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin I would risk kale and support you in a Query board like endeavor. I think this community has matured to the point, we could really help one another out. Contact me if you're serious and hopefully our queen will only be able to nab you for Carkoon exile.

Susan said...

Writing can sometimes feel like such a solitary profession. Here you are, stuck at the computer, with only your imaginary friends to keep you company. You believe in these characters, in this world you've created, but how does the outside world judge that? It's so hard to tell, it's so hard to be objective about your own work. I think that's where people sometimes turn to agents too early. Often, they're the first step on the ladder to great fiction, and getting their approval is like validation for your work--we cling to any snippets of encouragement, even in rejections.

But as Janet says, there are so many reasons for rejection that might not have anything to do with the work; it's just hard for us, as the writer/creator to separate that. That's where a strong community of helpful writers come in--beta-readers, critique partners, partners who aren't afraid to help you make your work the strongest it can be. These are the people who will help you keep your confidence in your work so that, when the rejections do roll around, you know to keep believing, keep querying. Opie--evaluate your query. Is it the strongest it can be? Have you passed it through several layers of critique? If you feel it can be better, keep working at it. If you feel confident, keep querying. Don't give up yet. (Don't give up ever.)

nightsmusic: That link was awesome! I love that so many of the classic books I loved and studied as a kid are on there and that a handful of authors published their books on their own. If that list isn't the best example of believing in your work, I don't know what is.

nightsmusic said...

Susan: That one and this post:

Rejected Best Sellers

Are the two I go to whenever I feel like I've failed at everything and just need to give up. Both renew my hope that maybe someday...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

We are fools to write and idiots to think we can.
That someone would actually read, and then publish, the drivel which leaks from our minds, delusion.
We have something to say? Rubbish.
I hear the cackling, see the hand rubbing, witness the smirks.
At every turn I experience the pitfalls and roadblocks placed by life, honed by life, delayed by life.
And yet…I write.
Do you know why?

Yup, you’re right.

I knew you knew.

Susan said...

nightsmusic: Love that one, too. Love that they show their successes to offset the rejections. Do you follow them on Twitter? Talk about positive motivation for writers! I think if there's one consolation, it's that agents/publishers aren't ruthlessly cruel in their rejections anymore--at least that we know of.

Celia Reaves said...

I have never seen such an elegant, poetic statement on the importance of persistence. Thank you yet again, Janet, for laying down the words we all need to hear. I haven't started querying yet (I'm just on the second pass through last year's summer's NaNo novel, with uncounted revision passes yet to go), but I am copying this post intact into my Writing Tips folder under Inspiration. Also, I'm choosing your last lines as my subheader nomination for the week: "You can make yourself crazy with fretting, or you can buckle down and write. The choice is yours."

Gail said...

A shark on a broom! Genius.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Nightmusic Love LOVE those links. Both illustrate the point of today's post.

Colin Smith said...

Here's a thought. Those lists nightsmusic posted are lists that every writer would love to be on, and every agent fears to be on.

And I would take exception with the language used by the BuzzFeed article. The writers weren't rejected, only their work. As much as we want to take rejection personally, we shouldn't. Unless the writer follows up a rejection with an a**hat response. Then the rejection is personal and totally about the writer. :)

Lucie Witt said...

OP, I think everyone here feels your pain. And I think you'll be hearing that 10 queries is just the first few steps in a marathon.

Keep your eyes peeled for any agent running a query feedback thing, like some do from time to time.

And remember an agent you really like rejecting you doesn't mean you never have a relationship with that agent. Publishing is a community. Look at how Janet supports and signal boosts people who arent her clients.

There are a lot of amazing agents out there. You'll find the right one if you keep at it.

Unknown said...

Okay, I guess I won't give up today after all.

nightsmusic said...

Susan: Some I do, not too many. I had to stop tweeting for the most part because it was sucking the writing life out of me. I do pop on occasionally to catch up. Some of the authors I follow are a fount of wisdom. Just knowing their struggles at getting published gives me hope though.

On a side note: The only time I didn't take my own bike, I rode on the back of a friend's to Florida from Michigan. It was an exceptionally long ride and could have been really boring except that I read Carrie by Stephen King on the way down there. Scared the crap out of me and he's been an auto buy ever since. I'm so glad someone took a chance on him! ;)

AAGreene said...

One thing I've learned from this blog over the years is that there is a long, winding road to publication. There are so many people in this world - all you need is one agent to love your work. You just have to find that person :-)

Good luck! Keep going! You got this :-)

Colin Smith said...

Joy: YAY!! Instead of giving up and always wondering what might have been, why not keep going and find out what could be...? :)

nightsmusic: Wait wait wait... you read a novel on the back of a motorcycle from Michigan to Florida? How is that even possible? How do you turn pages at 70 mph without falling off or the book flying out of your hand? And heaven forefend you get a bit that makes you jump!!

Please tell me you "read" the audio book... :)

nightsmusic said...

Colin: No, I bought the book on its first paperback run and read it while riding on the back of a Goldwing. Had my bike been running, I may not have even discovered King though I have a feeling that eventually, I would have anyway. It was closer to 80mph and I got lots and lots of looks and horn honking, but I read the whole thing on the trip down. When I got back and found he was writing a second, Salem's Lot, I ate that one up in less than two days then kept my blinds drawn for weeks. When we went anywhere again as a group on a bike trip and camped out, I never slept outside again.

nightsmusic said...

Colin: I meant to add: I never slept outside again, the Holiday Inn became my new idea of camping ;)

Brigid said...

Colin, great scott! FirstBorn bakes you fancy birthday cakes and SecondBorn's a polyglot? And there's four more with their own skills? Your wife must be phenomenal!

It is genuinely difficult to be attentive and receptive to feedback while also having the patience to wait for the pattern to unfold. That is, to be responsive AND persistent AND neutral, in a way, until you have enough information to say "ah yes, the problem is the query" or "oh, I've been querying MG agents when the book needs to be YA" or "whoops, I started the book too soon!"

It's a lot like job-hunting, or online dating. You're really laying your heart out there, presenting the best of yourself and just hoping.

DLM said...

The deep secret we all keep:

We hear about how it'll be necessary to query many tens of agents, if not a hundred or two, before the magic happens. We hear about the long road. We hear about how, even if we DO get an agent, we'll have to REVISE! And then lose our beloved titles, and possibly even endure rejection and working with our agents - or our self-publishing business plans - and coming up with a new work to try again.

... and everyone thinks, but will not say out loud: "except for me."

And the thing is, only that kind of belief in our work will get us to success - however that is defined for each of us. But only accepting the reality, that "this means you" (even me), will get the job *done*. It'll even become a part of the definition of success, if we're smart.

MA Hudson said...

I'm certain I'll have to revisit this pep talk once I start querying. And with each rejection I receive I will re-imagine my failed query as a ill-placed George Clooney auditioning for the part of Miss America.

But then again, what if George Clooney made an intensely compelling job of portraying Miss America - surely they'd just tweak the role, throw millions of dollars at him, and beg him to work with them...

Cindy C said...

Opie, we all know how you feel--thanks for asking the question.

Great answer, too. Honest, blunt, inspirational and supportive. Just what so many of us need to hear.

RachelErin said...

AT my critique group, we give out bandaids as a badge of honor when someone gets a rejection.

There's a great blog-turned-book called Rejection Proof, by a man who had a few failed businesses, and realized his fear of rejection was holding him back. He made up a list of 100 crazy things to ask random strangers and vlogged himself doing them, as a way to inure himself to rejection.

It's fascinating work. And despite his best efforts to come up with things no one would say yes to, about 30% of the requests got a yes of some kind.

So this was a training round =). I have a list of writerly things I'm afraid to do b/c of rejection, and I'm slowly working my way through.

Sherry Howard said...

Blogger Sherry Howard said...
OP, I'll be joining your rejection wallpaper fest soon. I, too, queried QOTKU because she says to query her if we are in her woodland. I famously have a lovely rejection from her fearsome email, too. I knew YA was not her cup of minnows but sent a query anyway. I expect lots of rejections, not for my writing, but for my story's narrow appeal. I'll query widely anyway and hope I reach an agent who can help me get my book published. So, OP, whoever you are, we're swimming in these shark-infested waters side by side. Keep up the querying. Bless every rejection, and continue the search for agents.

Janet's post today has a wealth of information for writers searching for support. Join groups of other writers. Other writers are the ONLY people who will understand your efforts and pain.

9/9/16, 9:13 AM Delete

Colin Smith said...

nightsmusic: I've read CARRIE, so I know it's a good book. It's that whole reading-a-paperback-on-the-back-of-a-bike thing I'm struggling with. Mind you, I would be struggling to hold on, book or no book! I'm impressed. :)

Brigid: And I didn't even get into FirstBorn's singing and acting skills, or ThirdBorn's mad gaming skills, or FourthBorn's natural ear for music and love of video editing, or FifthBorn's wit, or SixthBorn's piano and social skills... not that I'm a proud parent or anything... ;)

Diane: You're absolutely right... about everyone else, of course. ;)

Unless Janet objects, I'll make a pdf of this article and drop it in the Treasure Chest for future reference.

C. L. McCollum said...

I swear I just had to have this conversation with a friend in my writing group. She's got a fantastic book, was actually told by a Pitch Wars mentor who requested the full that "I can find nothing to fix - go query already!", and yet still feels like the book is going nowhere because she's gotten 12 rejections out of the only 15 she's sent. Note: the other 3 responses were full requests. She's doing FANTASTICALLY, but all she can see is that there are more rejections than anything else.

I wish there was a way to collectively convince us all that rejections are productive & a step in the right direction. The only way not to ever get rejected as a writer is to never send anything out LOL

Colin Smith said...

C.L.: The trouble is, it's our nature to focus on the negative. A CP hands back your manuscript with 90% wonderful comments like "I wet myself laughing here" and "I cried my eyes red here" and "I'll never sleep again thanks to this bit." But what do you focus on? Yes--the 10%. CP tells you "this line's a bit clunky" and "I don't think that word means what you think it means" and corrects spelling and grammar in multiple places, and you stare at the wall thinking you're completely illiterate and should never write again. Or your hubby tells you how slim and sexy you look in that dress, but you've smudged your lipstick... so you spend half an hour completely re-doing your makeup and you can never convince yourself you look good. Sometimes you can only do what you can. :)

Three full requests is AWESOME. I didn't get one from the last novel I queried, and I can assure you I queried more than fifteen agents. :)

Unknown said...

This is such great advice. I'm sending it to a friend who decided to give up writing when she received some feedback she didn't like. Rejections are something to learn from. They're not a reason to give up!

I really love this post today.

Colin Smith said...

May: Absolutely! What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Unless you come back as a zombie, then you're pretty fearsome... ;)

Kitty said...

Here's a subheader suggestion: "Learn to see rejection as part of the process, not failure." ~~ Janet Reid

Megan V said...

Opie Query on my wayward son.

Don't count yourself short. A rejection isn't a reflection on you or your writing.

Side not...The Shark in Phoenix? *ears twitch* did I read that correctly?

John Davis Frain said...

Ohhhh yesssssssss! This has to get printed and placed somewhere for random reference.

OP, this resonated loudly with me:
"I thought I'd be better at enduring the failure than I am."

Been there so often. So allow yourself some time, whatever time you need, to bounce back from the rejections. Maybe it's a couple hours, maybe it's a couple days. I dunno, maybe even a couple weeks. It's different for everybody. But you WILL bounce back. And when you do, you'll be a stronger person for it.

This was awesome stuff, Janet. And a basketball analogy to go with it. Y'all have heard of a guy named Michael Jordan? We had similar basketball careers, he and I. We were both cut from our high school team sophomore year. I didn't keep up much after that, I hear he got pretty good after that rejection.

Lucie Witt said...

OP, I think everyone here feels your pain. And I think you'll be hearing that 10 queries is just the first few steps in a marathon.

Keep your eyes peeled for any agent running a query feedback thing, like some do from time to time.

And remember an agent you really like rejecting you doesn't mean you never have a relationship with that agent. Publishing is a community. Look at how Janet supports and signal boosts people who arent her clients.

There are a lot of amazing agents out there. You'll find the right one if you keep at it.

Megan V said...

Also, Opie, before I forget, I recommend purchasing a copy of Rotten Rejections or other similar compilation of rejection letters to writers. I keep my copy on hand for those low moments when I think my writing is absolute drivel.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Part of why rejection from an agent hurts so much is because it's so casual. Each query represents hours of writing and most rejections represent a few disinterested moments of reading(if you're lucky). This, obviously, isn't an inherently bad thing. It's a pretty efficient system, and I'm grateful to agents who take the time to respond with a form (over-the-moon grateful when its personalized).

The imbalance takes its toll, though. It's one thing to be rejected, it's another to imagine you weren't even a blip on an agent's radar. When someone rejects me harshly, I get angry - and angry means motivated. When someone rejects me kindly, I get encouraged - and encouraged means motivated. When someone barely rejects me at all, that's wounded pride. And that's a wound we writerly critters like to lick.

I don't know what the cure to pride is. Laughing at my own overdramatic reactions helps, though. Like the great CS once said (as Screwtape to his demon nephew): "Almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed."

Unknown said...

Don't give up! Every no is one closer to your yes, that's all. Even JK Rowling was rejected and she's no failure.

Unknown said...

Don't give up! Every no is one closer to your yes, that's all. Even JK Rowling was rejected and she's no failure.

Peggy said...

nightmusic, thank you for that amazing link! The .gifs alone... :D

But I will be using that with my creative writing class. Probably the day I hand back their first round of work for revision, har.

I go to the gym and see a trainer twice a week. For one thing, it keeps me in good shape (I am far too lazy to come up with workouts on my own, and have realized the only way I'll follow through is if I am literally paying someone to tell me what to do AND call me up when I miss a session).

But, more importantly, it reminds me what it's like to do something I'm not naturally good at and yet still see growth and progress. When I "fail" at an exercise, that's okay. That means I pushed my limit. And eventually I have the joy of succeeding at it (or doing a little bit better at it--blast you, pullups, I WILL ACHIEVE YOU SOMEDAY).

As a teacher, I mostly spend time with telling students to do stuff that I've already mastered, and giving them feedback when they struggle. It's definitely good for me to also regularly do something I'm bad at--it helps me avoid falling into the "what is wrong with these dumb kids???" mindset that I see affecting some of my peers.

Anyway, tl;dr, I'm even worse at writing than I am at exercise (is there such a thing as a writing trainer, who will call and yell at me when I don't put in my 45 minutes twice a week?) but committing to something I'm bad at helps remind me that it's ok to be bad at things and work at improving.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett's given me a great motto for whenever I actually get around to having something finished and querying it... XD

Colin Smith said...

Peggy: "is there such a thing as a writing trainer, who will call and yell at me when I don't put in my 45 minutes twice a week?"

I believe Janet calls them Literary Agents. ;)

Unknown said...

Gotta say something.

You guys are amazing. A friend of mine is the OP and damn it you made him feel so welcome and so encouraged with your many many comments. Seriously. Calling you all out. You're the best.

LynnRodz said...

Dear God,

Why did you put me in line with the finalists in the Miss Universe pageant? Whhyyy!

Wait a minute, I'm in line at the supermarket. *looks around* Damn Parisian chic! I'm going back to bed.

Lucie Witt said...

I have no idea any my comment posted twice. Must be because the internet deities really don't want you to give up, OP!

Lucie Witt said...

*why it posted twice

**guzzles more coffee**

Janice Grinyer said...

OP- you are querying, that's something to hurrah about!

As others have said, it takes awhile to even get to that point ("like me" I squee!).

If I remember correctly, I think many articles online state we are only allowed to complain loudly with a bottle of tequila in one hand and a noose in the other when we reach a 100 rejections...? Think of it, a 100!

But I can see where your nervousness comes from- "what if my query letter isnt up to snuff?" I think that is what you are woodland fretting about? JR said it best, and Colin has the right idea too- have someone trusted review it, asking the same questions that JR often states in her QueryShark blog i.e. "does it entice, does it state who, what, where, etc.

I know one of the reasons why I am going to Surrey is to give confidence to my abilities- I will definitely be learning, but it also will be a good time to review on HOW I "process" the process :D

I like JR's suggestion concerning pitching; have your query letter reviewed by someone who has read thousands.

Otherwise, HURRAH! You are querying!!! That's exciting!

Adib Khorram said...

I daresay many (if not most) writers query too early at one point or another. I think it's something many of us have to get out of our system.

Keep querying, keep working on the next book, and try to focus on the positive.

Elissa M said...

I was going to enter the querying trenches this month, but a family emergency has ripped me from my home and placed me 400 miles away. I fear this will be a long-term displacement, and while I have my (steam driven) lap top, I do not currently possess the energy to write or the fortitude to withstand rejection.

But I read this blog and the comments and tell myself I am still a writer. Even if I'm not writing. Even if I'm not gathering rejections. The goal is still there. I'm only on the bench for a little while.

This post has reminded me that one's mental attitude is as important as the actual work. So, for now, my job as a writer is to maintain a positive mindset--even when not writing. There is no substitute for butt-in-chair work, but I now realize perseverance doesn't always mean hitting the keyboard. Sometimes it means just getting through the day, and the next, and the next, until eventually, the keyboard becomes an option once again.

And every experience is fodder for our pens.

Anonymous said...

I queried my first manuscript (which I thought was AMAZING) about fifty times and did not get an agent. I realized after the fact that it was not, in fact, as amazing as I thought it was and needed work.

Rejection is the name of the game. In order to not go insane, I highly, highly advise you to write your next book while you're querying. A lot of writers don't sell their first book! Writing is a career, and you'll need to write multiple books anyway (in all likelihood) to make a go of it.

--from a still unpublished, unagented writer who is still thrilled about being a writer

Stacy said...

The hardest part of mastering any kind of art is knowing whether what you're doing is working. You can't fully know until someone says yes. I think the reason is because it's so hard to quiet everything else so you can hear the little voice that pings when you do something you know works.

Unknown said...

My querying journey began in Feb 2015. I signed with my agent in April 2016. And honestly OP, that's not very much time at all. Some people write and query several books over many years before finding an agent. My journey looked like this: Read entire query shark archives- sent 12 queries- full request from 1st agent- 11 rejections - rewrote query with help of editor found on Twitter- sent a bunch more queries- 4 full requests - full rejection from first agent - sent more queries - 4 full rejections - put aside MS - wrote part of new book - more query rejections on first book - a few partial requests - many many rejections- entered 1st MS in PitchWars- got in - cut 10,000 words & added 20,000 to write new ending in 6 weeks- 7 agent requests- 1 request from original 1st agent who rejected who happened to see MS on PitchWars website- 5 Pitchwars rejections - SECOND rejection from 1st agent - rewrote many scenes in different POV - rewrote query with 2nd editor found on Twitter - Query Blitz- rejections & requests- Query sent morning of March 4th - Partial request that afternoon- full request- offer- accepted 1 week later!!!

I learned a lot through each step of my writing journey. I learned I queried too soon, before my MS was polished. I learned more about commas, plural possessive, and proper MS formatting. I made a lot of writing friends.

Janet is absolutely right. Persistence. Maybe more than me, maybe less, but you must be willing to keep going. Trust me, the second full rejection from one agent nearly did me in. And while you are querying, write another book. Maybe that will be the book that gets you an agent.

Best of luck!

Catherine Vignolini said...

OP, you've devoted yourself to this personal invention, your story. Naturally rejection feels like the deepest snub. That's why it's so helpful to be a member of a tribe. Even if you're a Card Carrying Introvert, find your people. The majority of writers are willing to help. This rejection thing? It's not ever going away. Queries, submissions, reviews. When you put your work out there, you have raised your hand to be judged. So I congratulate you for taking the next step. Listen to JR--it's a process. Next time (if) you receive a 'no' on a query, don't think of it as rejection. More like, "Dang, I've been processed." File it, then write like hell.

RosannaM said...

I think I will have to print out this post and consult it often. It isn't so much that I feel like I am ugly and standing next to Miss America contestants, it feels like someone is telling me my baby is ugly. And that does feel bad.

But, that said, I put aside a project that I loved, and started again. Last year I did the NaNo, and completed it, and put that one in a drawer, and started again. I took an online course about deep editing. I'm here. And learning.

A few (okay maybe many) years ago a coworker asked, "so have you published anything yet?" Now keep in mind it had just been a couple of weeks since I had worked with her, and keep in mind that gossip traveled faster than a cigarette sparked gasoline trail. I smiled and told her not yet.

I now sit in the sun a lot, and fight blackberries shirtless, all to keep my hide as tough and leathery as I can. It is quite nearly ready for use as a dartboard.

Beth Carpenter said...

Rejection doesn't stop at the agent's form letter either. On my second book queried (the first went nowhere), I found an agent who loved it, helped me revise a bit, and submitted to an editor. Then I read that the editor mentioned at a conference "no more stories where an adult child goes home to care for ill parents." Yep, my plot. Rejected.

The surprising thing is I happened to find out about it. Most of the time, you'll just get a no, and you'll never realize Clooney was in line for a Miss Universe tryout.

But sometimes fate is weird. One of the agents Nicholas Sparks queried had passed away, and his query got handed over to another agent who loved the story.

So I'll keep chugging along. Hope you will, too.

Colin Smith said...

Beth's link:

Colin Smith said...

A quick caveat to Beth's link (above): Encouragement from established writers (e.g., Nicholas Sparks, Stephen King) with regard to how hard they worked to get an agent and be published is priceless. Advice from those same writers on how to write a query letter is invariably worthless. These are people who haven't had to write a query letter in 20 years. Things have changed a bit since then. Get your tips from writers who queried within the last five years, or, better still, from the people who read query letters every day--i.e., agents! :)

Susan said...

Elissa: I just wanted to acknowledge your post and say I'm sorry for whatever family emergency took you away from home and is siphoning all of your strength. It can't be easy, and I hope it resolves quickly and positively.

You said: "I now realize perseverance doesn't always mean hitting the keyboard. Sometimes it means just getting through the day, and the next, and the next, until eventually, the keyboard becomes an option once again."

This is the truth, and I think this is where strength and courage comes from--sometimes it's just getting through the day. There were times when neurological issues made it impossible for me to read and write--days when I could only write a sentence at a time; days when I couldn't write at all. It was frustrating, and it took me a long time to realize that those days were OK. Those days meant I had to spend more time on healing. Right now, you're spending your time on something equally important. The writing--at least the time and energy to write--will come back to you. Have patience with yourself, and know you have friends here thinking of you.

John Davis Frain said...

I really shouldn't be here again taking up space because I have nothing of value to add to this conversation. Except periodically over the past couple hours, this post and this community jumps into my head. And if I don't at least whisper how AMAZING THIS PLACE IS (okay, shout), then I'll never be able to get on to the next thing. And the next thing is outlining, which I must get to.

Carry on.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

There's something to be said for the well-crafted form rejection. It's a firm no, but still somehow manages to avoid leaving you bereft of hope, while also not inviting further comment on this particular project, because all that's to be said has been said. Granted, my short story forms faaaar outnumber my query forms (or any of my query submissions at all, actually), but I think the spirit is the same.

But. A rejection is still a rejection, and depending on how many have piled up in proximity to one another, discouragement is hard to avoid. One of my writer friends and I joke that sometimes we time our submissions to F&SF magazine to help ourselves better, because C. C. Finlay's personalized rejections are so very nice and thoughtful.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post -- I also plan to share it with my writers group.

RACHELERIN - Love the bandaid distribution when a member of your writers group receives a rejection!

And KITTY, you've got my vote for your subheader suggestion. :D

Donnaeve said...

Holy macaroni! I finally had time to meander over here and it was 61 comments in, and it's only 12:20'ish, or later now since I was trying to skim through quickly.

OP, what they said. It's only ten lqueries thus far, and hey, it takes practice to grow a thick skin, or, as I like to call them - a mood callous. You have to have time for those rejections to rub your psyche, work you over a bit, but trust me, what causes you to suck in your breath today, and feel gut punched will soon become a sigh, and "onward!" sort of mentality.

Rejections continue for the entirety of your career. Aside from agent rejections there will be editor rejections. And then you'll have actual book rejections - meaning lists start coming out where the "book reading world" is talking about every book but yours - or it seems.

Prepare yourself and know that it's happening everywhere and to anyone who writes.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay ask yourself, did I give up the dance 'cause the person I asked said no?
Did I drop out of school 'cause I flunked algebra?
Did I not drive a car 'cause the test was hard?
Did I give up f***ing 'cause I fell asleep?

Just because someone says no, you fail, it's hard or you exhaust yourself trying
NIKE babe, NIKE.

JulieWeathers said...

I certainly am not the poster child for persistence given my cranky mood lately, but I would encourage the OP to keep trying. As Janet said, ten is nothing.

I have around 100 rejections on Far Rider and a fairly detailed suggestion on how to revise it, which I will do at some point. I also have several agents who said remember me for your next book. I will.

Every now and then someone will pop up on Books and Writers all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about their query. They're almost finished with their book. Would someone give them the best list of agents or help them with their query?

The war horses kindly suggest BEBT finish their masterpiece, let it sit for a while, then devote some time to edits and revisions. Hahaha Oh, yeah, sure.

"I finished my book last week and did edits and revisions yesterday like you suggested. Now, where's that list of super agents?"

Or, "Oh, I'll have plenty of time. I think I'll start querying now. I'm a careful writer so it won't need much edit."

Shortly thereafter. "I got three rejections. I should just quit."

During the Civil War, raids on supply trains were common. In one such raid, the Confederates captured a trainload of Union horses. Stonewall Jackson bought two of them from the CSA for himself. Well, one for himself and one for his wife Anna. He named the little sorrel gelding Fancy and the big, stout sorrel stallion Big Sorrel. Unfortunately, Big Sorrel was afraid of loud noises and was very flighty. He wasn't the ideal horse for battle or a man who wasn't a great horseman to begin with. In the meantime, he had a chance to ride Fancy who was a little Morgan horse. Fancy rode like a rocking horse and was totally bomb proof. Nothing bothered him.

Jackson renamed him Little Sorrel, he had a way with names, and kept him for his personal war horse. He'd go forty miles a day, which is about twice what an average horse does. Jackson often slept on the horse, while Little Sorrel just kept plodding along. When they'd stop, Little Sorrel would lie down, curl up like a dog and sleep. Little Sorrel saw more engagements than almost any other horse.

Writing is war and most of the war is spent getting from one place to another. It's doing the unglamorous things like writing every day, and picking out the extra adjectives, and writing query letters very few people enjoy writing, and waiting for responses to query letters. Sometimes it's better to be the plain little war horse who just keeps plodding along, than the fiery stallion rearing to go.

OP, just keep going.

And, while we worry and complain about the process, we should thank our lucky stars we are not Albert Camus.

BJ Muntain said...

No, rejections are not failures. They are proof that you've had the courage to try. Celebrate each one with your favourite vice (chocolate is mine) and by sending out another query.

Joy: Yay for not giving up!

Jennifer: What I love about submitting to F&SF (as well as Mr. Finlay's lovely rejections) is that he's so QUICK about it. That means I can then send the thing off elsewhere right away. Then lick my wounds for months before hearing from them.

nightsmusic said...

Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry. One of my favorites and a perfect illustration of persistence.

Justin Morgan Had a Horse

Just tossing that out there...

Brigid said...

Elissa — you've got that right. Perseverence comes in many forms. Wishing you all the best with yours. Holler if you need encouragement, okay? We've got you.

CynthiaMc said...

I once got a role because I reminded the director of his ex-wife. He was still in love with her.

I once lost a role because I reminded the director of his ex-wife. He did have the grace to tell me I was the best, so I didn't take it terribly personally.

You just never know.

Back when I used to write (I've only recently taken it back up again) I did well with short stories and opinion columns. For my novels and screenplays I got very nice rejection letters with phone numbers and invitations to send them something else. Did I do that? No. I thought it meant I sucked and I quit writing (by that I mean I quit sending stuff out. I've always written, I always will write, I just quit letting people see it until I discovered Janet's writing contests.) Pretty darned sneaky way to flush me out of hiding.

Andrea said...

Love this post!

About the WD webinar, I've participated in two of them, a query webinar and one about first pages (ten, I think it was), both by literary agents. Both came with a critique. The query webinar wasn't that useful, I thought, because it felt very much like a personal opinion rather than generally useful information. I saved it all somewhere on my computer so I should really have another look at it to see what the agent said.

The first ten pages webinar on the other hand was AMAZING. It was given by a whole agency and every participant was assigned an agent to work with beforehand, depending on your genre. The critique I got was incredibly helpful, and we could then revise and resend, which I did, and she then said she would definitely want to read on after the changes I made. Which made my day of course. I didn't actually query her, though, because my novel was 145,000 words and she made it very clear she wouldn't read anything above 100,000. (I asked her during the webinar) Also, if she'd really wanted to read the full, she probably would have said so.

Long story short... if you want to do anything like a WD webinar, really check out the agent as much as possible, to see if they'd be a good match. I think it's better to get a critique from an agent who would potentially be interested in your work and who you'd like to work with. Basically research them as if you're going to query them.

roadkills-r-us said...

Here are two more ways to look at query rejections.

So you aren't that agent's first choice. That's OK! I'm not most people's first choice. I wasn't even Sharon's. (OK, at the time I was, but not before that.) But she chose me and we've been happily married for almost 39 years (a good start). Looking back, I am SO GLAD that I didn't end up married to the ones who rejected me, but ended up with Sharon. The flip side? She wasn't my first choice before I got to know her, either. Then she became that, and still is.

Turn it around. Are all the agents failures who didn't make your Top Ten? Of course not. If one of the ten picks you, great. If not, move on to the next group.

I spent a solid forty hours building my initial query list. I had 30 or 40 agents ranked, to be queried in order. Why? Because I wanted to waste as little time and effort as possible- theirs and mine. How? By reading enough of their agency and agent info to make as informed a decision as possible. But that was no guarantee. It was still a crap shoot. Should I feel like a failure because I picked the wrong agent to query about that book with that letter? Heck to the no. I WAS QUERYING. That's a win.

I admit that I did not try to query my short stories for years out of fear of rejection. But after I finally got free of that, nothing would hold me back. Don't let it hold you back. Treat the letter as any piece of writing: do your best with it; get other eyeballs on it; research; rewrite and edit. Customize it as necessary. And keep working on your book, or the next story.

To the best of my knowledge, every one of my favorite writers got rejection letters. And yet, today I own their books. Don't give up. There are readers waiting for you, whether they know it or not.

Kate Larkindale said...

OP, 10 queries is, like others have said, a drop in the ocean. The other day I was going to a course for work and realized I'd left my notebook in the office. I grabbed one from home, only to discover when I got to the course I'd grabbed the notebook I used to log my queries in. It was something of a shock to discover I queried 5 books over 100 times each before I got my agent.

And the agent I ended up signing with had rejected me 3 times before I hit her with the right book.

Don't give up. Rejection is part of the game. And it's a long game, not a 100 meter sprint.

JulieWeathers said...

Rejection is part of the journey. Dejection is a choice. Advice I have to give myself at times.

Kae Ridwyn said...

This post - and the comment trail with it - is inspirational. Thank you, Janet and everyone, for your willingness to share and encourage. I'm with John Davis Frain here - this community is AMAZINGLY!
Jenny C, THANK YOU for sharing your enlightening querying journey.
And ElissaM, hang in there. Yes, you ARE still a writer. Thinking of you...

Theresa said...

Yes, ten queries is too soon for dejection. Yet that's so easy to say in the full light of day. We all know how those rejection ghosts haunt us at night. So, go ahead and feel bad about the rejections, but keep going ahead. Hard work, persistence, and a bit of luck will pay off.

Claire Bobrow said...

I'm with John Davis Frain - I have nothing of value to add because you guys have already said it all, quite eloquently.

So, I'll just go off topic and mention that the QOTKU has a new beverage she can slurp if beer is an approved beverage at the reef snack shack:

And Colin, help! I haven't learned how to make a link "live" yet.

Joseph S. said...

It's not the rejections. It's the lack of acceptances.

Joseph S. said...

I hate querying. I’m no good at it. So I’ll talk about beauty contestants and basketball instead.

My university hosts the Miss Alabama contest every summer. The contestants for a week ate in the CAF, the student cafeteria. When I was on campus, I’d eat there too. Before the new CAF configuration, diners stood in line to get to the food (cafeteria style).

One day I heard a woman’s voice behind asking if anyone had seen the Chicago-Phoenix game the night before. I had. I turned. She was Miss Leeds (Charles Barkley’s hometown – he played for Phoenix; but she was a Michael Jordan fan – he played for Chicago.) I told her Chicago won and she was happy.

We talked a good while (Luckily the food line was long and slow moving) as salivating football players stood back envying me.

She won Miss Alabama that week and finished fourth in the Miss America pageant. She was pretty, but her standout quality was her personality. She could charm Colin Smith out of his British accent.

Colin Smith said...

Here's Claire's link:

Claire: Here's my article on how to hyperlink.

Joseph: Ha! My wife's been working on that for the past 25 years. ;)

Claire Bobrow said...

Colin: Thank you! I love learning how to do something new!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

BJ Muntain: I agree, his turnaround is lightning fast! I don't know how he does it. I can also rely on Clarkesworld for that type of "palate cleanser", though I've only ever gotten forms from that particular market.

Jen said...

The one thing that separates successful people from unsuccessful people (in any profession, but esp. in publishing) isn't talent. It's perseverance. Don't give up!

John Davis Frain said...


I hope nobody's that charming.

"She could charm Colin Smith out of his British accent."

Craig F said...

My Queen, first I must apologize for missing your homecoming parade.

Second, Agents are not the enemy of writers. They need to find books that can be published. Because of that they do not reject most writers. They pass on things they do not feel they can not sell. The next agent queried might think they can sell it though.

In a way it is like losing your keys. They are always in the last place you look. Therefore you can't always find the right agent the first time. Or on the first day. Sometimes it is the timing of your offer more than the quality of your offer. Things change daily. Tomorrow might be that day that things change for you.

A few years ago I tossed some real shit out at a couple of agents. Not only were the queries shitty but I had the wrong agents too. Luckily one administrative assistant had pity on me and pointed me in the direction of QueryShark. Now I am close to the query I wish I had at that time.

It others are intrigued by you query then you have it about right. There are only a few perfect queries in this world. Maybe yours is not one of those but as long as it is enticing it will get you where you wish to go. We are, of course, enlightened people in this community.

Steve Stubbs said...

I am aghast that anyone would use a phrase like “the failure that I am” because a query letter does not work. When I was a kid I thought Dickens’ GREAT EXPECTATIONS was the abomination of desolation, mysteriously time traveled from ancient Jerusalem to my classroom. I actually had a Dickens dartboard I assailed with pyrotechnic darts. I could hit him right in the center of his face every time – if I walked up and stuck the dart in instead of throwing it.

But I did not consider Dickens himself to be a failure. GREAT EXPECTATION is a book. Dickens is a Dead White European Male. He was also a genius, as I have come to appreciate with time. A Dead White European Male can be a genius, but he cannot be a book. A book can be a failure, but it cannot be a Dead White European Male. If GREAT EXPECTATIONS had been a failure, that would not have made Dickens personally a failure. It would just mean he needed to reach for the red pencil and think the thing out a bit better. I recall from one of my college classes that Plato was revising some of his works until the end of his life. That effort shows in the end result.

One thing you could add is, think quality. Insist on quality. Get an opinion before trying again. There is no logic in sending a bad query to 10,000 agents and getting your name on everybody’s blacklist in indelible ink. If the query does not work, don’t keep sending it out. FIX IT. If the book idea sucks eggs on a good day, don’t keep shopping it around. DUMP IT. The last thing you want is a flashing neon sign hanging in every publishing office in the known world with your name on it and the statement that you are a loser. I have seen those signs in agent offices. There is a company in the Village that makes them by special order. It is really embarrassing. Some of those things have been around since the 1920s, tattooing some erstwhile author’s name into everybody’s brain as if with a branding iron. As long as ConEd stays in business, that sign keeps flashing.

Also, some people have really great ideas but the idea is not ready for submission yet, KEEP WORKING ON IT. You don’t want to sell a pile of dog doo and blush every time you see it exploding records on the smash runaway bestseller list for another month in a row or 60 MINUTES calls - again.

JulieWeathers said...


It's not the rejections. It's the lack of acceptances.--

Often, yes.

CynthiaMc said...

I recently read a book called How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words by Ray White. I love this book. The overriding message of the whole thing is persistence.

Write on!

Cheyenne said...

I don't post often, but reading the comments on here always floods me with cheer and hope, and gratitude that I'm not alone in this journey.

BJ Muntain:
"No, rejections are not failures. They are proof that you've had the courage to try. Celebrate each one with your favourite vice (chocolate is mine) and by sending out another query."

I'd seriously need chocolate rehab by now. 8-l

But your words are a much-needed reminder, or maybe, a revelation. I don't know about OP, but I personally struggle to feel celebratory during my rejections. I need to remember that each attempt isn't just "yet another rejection" to file away (although those form rejections on fulls -- GRRR) but proof of my progress/persistence, and yes, I should celebrate.

"Rejection is part of the journey. Dejection is a choice"

Going on a Post-it! Maybe I'd stop choosing dejection if I was constantly aware it was my *choice*.

Denise said...

Registration for Janet's Query Writing Workshop in Phoenix are open to the public. You are welcome to join us!

To Register: