Thursday, January 18, 2018

But, she liked me!

Most writers wonder after a rejection if they're good enough. My question is a twist on that anxiety. I met an agent at a writer's conference and really connected with her. She was excited about my query and premise and invited me to send my first 20 pages. A couple of months later, she responded with a rejection. It was a personal response, acknowledging our connection and conversation, and complimenting my writing, but saying that ultimately she didn't connect with the manuscript.

This rejection matters more to me than most, because we'd already gotten past the premise, genre, etc., so for her to not even request a full has me wondering if there's something wrong with the manuscript and if so, what I should do about it. Before querying, I had the manuscript reviewed by a developmental editor (a former editor at a major publishing house), who certainly didn't say it was a loser - and she would've if she'd thought that. The editor had suggestions and I revised the manuscript accordingly. I guess what I'm saying is that if I get past the usual query barriers and still can't wow a cool agent with my manuscript, should I keep trying? I don't want to publish something people don't connect with.

I'm not looking for the "every writer gets rejected, get over it" response, though I acknowledge that truth. I'm looking for (1) how to know when it's time to give up on a manuscript, and (2) what to do about it, either with the manuscript or with improving my writing or storytelling skills."

Let's step back here for a second and look at what you told me: one agent passed and you're wondering if your manuscript is a loser.

If someone told you this story in the bar, you'd smack 'em with that purse you have that I covet.

No matter how much you like an agent, connect with her, and NO MATTER HOW ENTHUSED she sound during in person conversation, in the end it's ONE opinion.

Meeting agents at conferences is helpful for learning how publishing works, and how to avoid the pitfalls of querying. It's not an advantage when I'm actually reading your work.

Personal connection doesn't help when considering a manuscript for rep. I've had to pass on manuscripts from people I like a lot; I've had to pass on manuscripts I didn't connect with that have gone on to do very well in the marketplace.

I will not take on a book if I can't sell it with enthusiasm even when I have met and liked the writer.

Bottom line: you're having a hiccup of insecurity here. It's entirely normal but don't let it stop you from pressing on.

But to answer the questions you actually asked:
1) how to know when it's time to give up on a manuscript, and
(2) what to do about it, either with the manuscript or with improving my writing or storytelling skills.

1. 100 rejections
2. Write more

The only way to get better is to keep at it.

I encourage you to consider if your book is fresh and new, rather than if the writing is subpar. Many of the queries I receive are well-written but they're for books I've already read.  

Thus also consider
3. You've read enough books in your category to know what's been done before.


Unknown said...

Early in my Reidership, someone pointed out that you should be getting requests for pages within those 100 rejections. If not, take a break and rework your query and first pages, then try again.

Lennon Faris said...

From the tone of your writing, OP, you are in the depths of the Query Doldrums. It's a murky place. It's very difficult to distinguish reality from (self-doubting) monsters in your head.

I hope the succinct, practical advice from Janet is a good rope to hold onto!

Colin Smith said...

Friends don't let friends drive drunk, right?

If the agent had signed you based on the relationship, not on her ability to sell your novel, where would that relationship be when she comes back to you with no sale? You know this is a business Opie, and as much as we want to believe agents will take us on because we get along, that's just bad business. The agent has to have something to sell, something they're excited about, something they believe will make lots of money for everyone. If your manuscript isn't all that, then it's her kindness to you to say "no." The evidence of your friendship is in the personalized response.

All the best with your work!!

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Ursula K LeGuin has a rejection letter for Left Hand of Darkness on her website. She kindly did not print the editor's name who turned it down. It's a hoot reading it if you (like me) love that book.

And I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling was turned down by every major publisher in the U.K.

I think 100 queries is a good target.

Donnaeve said...

Wow, I'm getting better at this. As I read the OP's letter I thought, this is one opinion only.

Ah! And so says Janet. Woohoo. It's the little things these days.

Anywho, that's about all I got today.

Timothy Lowe said...

I like number 2. It suggests that rejection is not an end, but a step. An inevitable step. I would add, "keep writing different types of things". Keep expanding, experimenting. It will make you better. And you never, ever know what somebody's going to end up liking.

Sherry Howard said...

Dear OP, I understand those face-to-face encounters can easily get your hopes up and then dashed. Rejections sting. Thicken your skin if you want to survive. A lot of my favorite children’s authors are very generous about sharing their many rejections despite their well-established popularity. And I’m not talking about rejections at the beginning of their journeys, but all along the way. It only takes one yes.

K. White said...

I emphasize with OP. I had a similar experience once at a writers conference, and it stung like an ego wax.

Eventually, I realized there were people in my critique group who I really liked, but I could not connect with their writing. It's all subjective, and as Janet says, the best salve any of us has is to keep plugging along.

Amy Johnson said...

OP: Sorry for the disappointment, but it sounds as if you're doing many things right. Keep going!

Along the lines of "keep going," there was something comforting about seeing the answer to question 1: 100 rejections, and knowing that sometimes the thing to do is to stop. Last year, I joined the 200-Plus Club (queries about the same novel). Several requests for the full manuscript, but no offers. Better than the previous novel I queried though. The stories about hundreds of queries eventually leading to success can be encouraging. But it can also be helpful to have a number and know that when you reach that number, it means you gave it a really good try--you're not a quitter, and now it's time to try something different. Maybe I'll come back to that other one in a few years, after I'm a better writer. Thanks, Janet.

Stothers said...

As odd as this sounds, this is encouraging. I took a break from querying as I hit the "20" mark. I think I'll get back on the horse.

However, to be honest, the rejections got me fired up to write another MS and to not make the same mistakes. I'm looking forward to making completely new mistakes!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Years ago, and I mean many years ago, I wrote the Queen a question that had bothered me for a long time.

In essence I you ever take on a writer, as opposed to taking on the writer's manuscript. In other words, I like you... writer-friend...will you be my client, I will be your agent...sounds like a Blake Shelton song.

Honey Bee's aside. Janet's answer was no, no and no. It's the book stupid. Well, she didn't quiet answer that way but it's the book, the book AND the book.
You can like someone, really, really like someone, respect their effort but not give a rat's ass for the pictures they paint, the weeds they plant or the stumps they carve.

Richelle Elberg said...

Wow. I had no idea the target is in the 100+ range. Good to know as I fill in the "no" cells in my spreadsheet with red. Only a dozen out of 22 queries and 1 full request. Suddenly, I feel good instead of down! Thanks OP and Janet. 😎

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

"Having books published is very destructive to writing..." ~ Ernest Hemingway

Write because you love to write. Write because you must. ~ Me

Bethany Elizabeth said...

100 queries sounds exhausting, but it's kind of encouraging to know the number is so high! Last MS I only sent out about 30. I got requests for a couple partials, but no fulls. It took some time to see it, but the novel wasn't really ready.

OP, if you're really struggling with doubt about your MS, maybe pause querying for a couple months. Don't touch the book, don't look at it, don't think about it. Give yourself a lot of distance, read in your genre, then read your ms again. That final readthrough SHOULD give you the information you need.

Good luck, and don't let 'em get you down!!

khadijahnm said...

Thanks for your real talk about querying and rejections. It can't be said enough that we as writers have to remember publishing is a business.

This extrovert can have an enjoyable conversation with almost anyone but that doesn't mean that person is the best advocate for my work.

PAH said...

Ever read a huge, mega-seller, gonna-be-a-movie novel that everyone you've ever met can't stop gushing about and you think... "is that it?"

Writing/reading is subjective. There are 7.442 BILLION people in this world. That means if only 1% of people like your book, you've got 74 MILLION fans. (But also, 7.367 billion won't like it :P)...

Point is. It's a big world. There are lots of people. ONE of them didn't LOVE your novel.


Beth Carpenter said...

OP, I can imagine how disappointing that was, but it's not personal. Among authors I interact with, I've been surprised to find the people I like best don't necessarily write the stories I like best. There's one writer who is particularly opinionated and in-your-face, but she writes the most likeable characters. Another is warm and outgoing, but her stories seem a little stiff. Somewhere in the 100 queries, you're find your match.

Unknown said...

Conversations like this make me think playing the publishing game is like playing the lottery. Except, publishing takes far more work, and you have far less chance of becoming a millionaire.

Steve Stubbs said...

If the agent rejected it after 20 pages you might want to take a look at the opening (which is all she saw anyway.) If it does not open, it won't sell in bookstores. Ideally you should be sucking people in before the end of page 2.

Actually, I would go further than that. Each page should compel the reader to read the next page. If you can drag them kicking and screaming through 400 pages and leave them so impressed they start over and read it again - well, then you might have a sale.

Start with your character stripped naked and manhandled by a crowd of crazies as her bodyguard gets pushed out of the way and compelled to look on helplessly.

That happened to Lara Logan in Egypt in real life.

Then write her way out of it in a way that makes sense.

You WILL find a readership.

(Lara Logan was saved by a single Egyptian soldier who waded into the crowd and slung her over his shoulder. A few people were silly enough to get in his way. He cracked their heads open with a baton. After that, walking through the crowd was like Moses parting the Red Sea. One tough hombre. You can't use her story, though. It is not fresh and new anymore.)

JEN Garrett said...

You need my post about touring Rejection City. Not only for the laughs, but for the embedded pep-talk that you can do it!

Craig F said...

Many time has my Queen expounded on the evils of things at writing conferences. Things like pitch contests.

Consider the agent who is on a treasure hunt there. She is all bright and shiny to everyone because she will be getting several hundred leads to the next big one.

That means that there are several hundred people in the same boat as you, OP. I am sorry that it hit you so intimately but it is the nature of the game you entered.

It is quite possible that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your book, just that another seemed more enticing on the day the agent read them. There is only one way to find out. That is to query widely.

Julie Weathers said...

It's no secret I dearly love Miss Janet. She was in Denver at a conference when some of my posse got together to give me a surprise birthday party. She conspired with them. It was the first birthday party I'd ever had and I cried like a baby. I will forever be grateful to all of them for that special experience, even as agents, editors, authors and various others were looking askance at the very strange assortment of balloons, ribbons, suckers, women, and goodies galore.

Janet likes my writing. I love it that she does.

There are other agents who like me and my writing. I'm sort of like a Christmas puppy. Sometimes I can be kind of loveable if I'm not peeing on your shoe.

You'll notice I am, as of January 18, 2018, unrepresented. It's because what I sent to them didn't fit for various reasons. It's not because they all of a sudden stopped liking me or because my writing is terrible. It just didn't fit.

I like Larry Mahan boots, but not all styles fit me. That's why I try them on.

Keep querying. Rejection is part of the journey. Dejection is a choice.

Timothy Lowe said...

Line of the day: "Sometimes I can be kind of loveable if I'm not peeing on your shoe."


Karen McCoy said...

Exactly the post I needed, at exactly the right time. This blog has a way of doing that. When I queried this manuscript the first time, I got a full request within the first 10-15 submissions. All personalized rejections, including the full. But--as Kathy Joyce advised, I fixed my first pages, and once I get some feedback from my freelance editor (she used to work for S&S), I will be able to dive back into the query waters with confidence.

Mallory Love said...

For #2) There is a book called Your First Page by Peter Selgin that just came out that I'm currently reading that deals with this exact question. He breaks down 100 first pages and talks about where the disconnect happens based on seven elements. It's so interesting because the writing is good but parts of the execution that he pinpoints throw the reader out of the experience. It really is a great book. Eye opening on things I never noticed before but will now.

John Davis Frain said...

Last Chance is a town in Colorado.

You're nowhere near it, and I don't know where you live.

Onward! (Indiana, btw)

Julie Weathers said...

Last Chance Gulch is also in Montana. A group of down on their luck miners in Montana took one last chance in the gulch and "found color". The town founded on the very rich strike became Helena, Montana where the streets were literally paved in gold. Basements dug for buildings often yielded enough gold to pay for construction. Gravel used for paving had gold dust that was at the time too fine to refine.

A lesson, I suppose, about last chances and trying just one more time.

Anonymous said...

I went over to Amazon and read the "look inside" excerpts of the Your First Page book Mallory Love mentioned. Not that I was procrastinating or anything. Ahem. The sample consisted of the Preface and Intro and then skipped to the Afterward [sic] and Appendices (which I think is miserly and unhelpful when you're trying to get an idea of the book's actual content). ANYWAY. Appendix 1 gives examples of Some Notable First Paragraphs and one of them is from a book named "This Bar," by Susan Buttenweiser. I swear, you can't make this stuff up.

As for the topic, I don't really have anything to add. Except that you should never underestimate or fail to appreciate the value of friendships, of any depth or complexity, whether they help get you published or not.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

One agent didn't connect. One. That's way too small a sample.

No way you can tell if this is a 100% of all agents didn't connect or 1% of all agents didn't connect.

It can be hard to understand why an agent couldn't see the brilliance you do. Remember, not everyone has good taste.

Go query 99 more agents before you determine if she was correct or not.

Unknown said...

I have had several full requests from agents. They all connected strongly with my premise. They all complimented my voice and writing. They all passed.

At this point, I have to conclude (because agents are not much for specifics) that there's something off with my execution. Therefore, I'm back to reworking.

I know the queries and concepts were good because I had so many requests. I know I can write because I've had books published before.