Tuesday, February 20, 2018

If you like me so much, why am I still here in the query trenches?

Ok. What gives? Today I just received like my 1 thousandth (or maybe 30th) rejection for my novel over three years. And like almost all the other 1,000 (or 30) before it, it was glowing praise. Really. It was like a love letter to my novel. Or a 5-star Amazon review, comparing it favourably to other comp titles. But in the end it was another rejection. Almost all my rejections have been passes with praise. Are the editors just being really nice? Or do I have a book that’s a potential hit here? I feel like I’m getting closer - but the problem is I think I’ve run out of publishers. Should I shelve the book? Self publish it? Try to find another agent for a previously shopped manuscript? Why would publishers heap praise on a book (and it’s not just a few publishers, it’s been a LOT of them!) but not buy it or even request a R & R?


Because you guyz (and I don't mean you personally, but you writerly folk) have blogs, and Twitter accounts, and Instagram pages, and I dunno, billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, and you POST THIS SHIT.

I will never EVER forget the first time I heard an author read their rejection letters aloud at a conference. And that was in the days before social media. Back then you had to be famous, and be a keynote speaker to mortify the hell out of all of us who passed. Now the fun can be had by all!

There's a reason you'll never hear "you sucketh the almighty lemon/lime of fruit salad novels" from me: 1. who sucketh be it large or small is subjective and 2. I don't want you to tell the world I was wrong when you become all famous for this novel I think is crap.

And if you think there aren't six or seven editors who passed on EVERY SINGLE BESTSELLER IN THE WORLD, you're wrong wrong wrong.

As to your personal case here, you're pitching editors, not agents?
Cause if you're pitching editors at major publishing houses, they really don't take stuff that doesn't come from an agent, no matter what you hear/read/are told.  They've been known to clear their conference in box with effusive letters that pass on things because they too do not want to be called out by someone.  

As to what you should do.
First, get a second set of eyeballs on your query and your first ten pages to see if there's something you're missing.

Second, you've run out of publishers, try agents. While it's true we drink whiskey and torment writers for fun, we do manage to sell a few things now and then.

Third, I'd avoid self-publishing unless you are fully committed to that avenue. Self publishing is NOT the place for a "let's just see what happens" marketing strategy. Many writers do well with self-publishing but they work hard at it, and are able to separate themselves from their product. If you think of your book as your baby, you're not thinking of your book as a product you need to sell.  If you were selling cookies: a customer telling you your homemade Grandma's recipe chocolate chip cookies taste bad is a whole lot harder to take than someone telling you your Girl Scout cookies are cardboard.

Fourth, editors are trained to say nice things about books they are passing on. I have the same kind of passes from books I've sent on submission, but the bottom line is this:  everything other than yes is irrelevant. No matter how effusive the pass, it's a pass.

21 comments:

Sam Mills said...

Three years! I admire the dedication. I'm a flighty creature. My trouble is that I keep leaping ahead to the next thing instead of spending a year polishing the last thing. (I think I've cured myself this time...I really do! Draft five means true love, right?)

CynthiaMc said...

I used to get those letters, some very nice ones. They gave me hope. They said someone besides my mother thought I could write.

The ones I got a check for were even better.

Julie Weathers said...

OP, I'm on my first cup of coffee so take this with a grain of salt, but what the heck?

Are the editors just being nice? Thirty rejections? Why are you submitting to publishers?

If you decide to query agents you're going to have to reveal, "Oh, by the way, I already burned through thirty editors, but they sent very nice rejection letters."

I have no advice other than to listen to Janet. Listen to Janet works 98% of the time.

I have copies of my rejection letters from the days when you actually got paper ones. I put them in a binder for the day when I would paper my wall with them. Jack London used to keep his on a nail. When he got too many, he started putting them on a spike. He had over 600.

Hunter Thompson's rejection of an author when he was working for Rolling Stone. Warning language, it was wholly Hunter. Also note the P.S. Keep up the good work. Have a nice day. This after he threatens to kill the author.

Ah, rejection letters. They aren't what they used to be.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, others have already asked. Why are you submitting to publishers? Submit to agents. That no you get from a publisher, I believe, is the end of the line for that book and that publisher. Even if you get an agent, those publishers are no longer going to consider that book. It doesn’t matter that they said nice things. It’s a no forever on that book. You might need to write a new book, get an agent, and go from there. Listen to the queen. Yes, that is best. Janet knows her stuff. So pay her some mind and you will be fine. Mostly.

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: I echo Julie's comment. Listen to Janet and inhale that advice like smelling salts. Sometimes a bracing jolt of industry perspective is the tonic we need to change strategies and keep on moving. Good luck!

Julie: the Hunter S. Thompson link cracked me up. Thank you!

Colin Smith said...

Just to add my vote that I too wonder why you're submitting to editors, Opie. You talk about finding "another agent." You have one already? What's the deal? Nevermind--what Janet says. :)

Did y'all read the Hunter S. Thompson job application letter, too? It's linked from the article Julie linked. That may be a bit pushy and arrogant for most, but, especially thinking in terms of query letters, it's bursting with voice. Methinks that's the kind of thing (again, sans the over-the-top self promotion) agents want to see in their inboxes. Amiright? :)

2/20/18, 12:18 PM

Craig F said...

I always blamed rejection form letters on lawyers, sorry Dena, Megan and the rest of you attorneys.

At times I add in a conspiracy theory too.

Lawyer: "Buy and use this letter or we will sue you."

Agent: "What would you sue me for?"

Lawyer: "For the sake of the sensibilities of writers."

Agent: "Do I have to?"

"Yes, it will be an industry standard. We can personalize them a little but that will cost twice as much."

Kathy Joyce said...

Honestly though, somewhere deep in your soul, aren't you waiting to pull out all those rejections, wave them in the air, and shout, "Hah! Bet you're sorry now suckers!"

Lennon Faris said...

Not to be overly negative here, but... wouldn't this mss situation carry the same (dead) weight as someone seeking to switch agents, toting a previously-shopped mss that never sold? (an almost instant 'no' from most agents).

I thought the general advice for that situation is to write a new novel and query THAT, and keep the shopped one in your back pocket.

Also, interesting to know that about publishers. I would have thought they would send polite form rejections (or be NORMANs) for projects they didn't have interest for.

OP, I won't belabor the point the others have made, but I am curious as to the whole 'no agent' thing. What is the reasoning behind that? (legit question, I'm sure you have yours, I just can't think of any).

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Whenever I get a rejection saying "This has got potential to sell, but ..." or "I just didn't get hooked enough ...", I try to not read ANYTHING other than thanks-but-no-thanks.

It's clear that it's a form letter an awful lot of people receive, too.

I learned another new word today: "effusive".
Contexts are the best thing for remembering new words. Thanks for using it ;).

P.S. Ha, here we go: Is it "try to not read" or "try not to read"? Don't tell me either is fine, ha ha ;).

Elissa M said...

My thoughts are the OP has an agent, who is sharing the rejections (thus the phrase "another agent"). If this is actually the case, I have to wonder if OP might not indeed need a new agent, because this one doesn't seem to be very effective. Not because the manuscript hasn't sold, but because it's been three years and the agent hasn't asked OP for something new.

Also, I wonder a little about the timeline. Does it really take 3 years to get rejections from 30 publishers? Editors must be slower at reading stuff than agents. Then again, if agent is sharing rejections, perhaps she is only sharing the "good" ones.

Maybe I'm way off base here, but I know that I'll be working on another manuscript as soon as I start querying my current one, then another one after that, then another, etc.. I won't worry too much about manuscript #1 being rejected because I'll have more in the pipeline--and I hope each will be better than the last.

All the advice to follow Janet's lead is of course spot on, but I would add: get working on another novel!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Wait... Hold up. I'm late to the party, my comment may go unnoticed, but wouldn't querying a major house simply be ignored? Disregarded? As Janet said. Publishers/editors that don't accept unagented queries don't even acknowledge them.

So, what is OP talking about? Smaller houses that do accept unagented queries? Or bigger houses that don't? I'm confused.

Joseph Snoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Snoe said...

In the Winter Olympics ice skating programs, every time a skater or a pair of skaters leaves the ice, there's someone there to give them a hug.

I think it'd be nice if someone was there to give writers a hug after every query.

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: I wrote it into our marriage vows. Okay, I didn't really... but if my wife and I ever do the "renewing the vows" thing, you can bet "I promise to hug you when you send queries or get rejections" will be there. Of course, by then I hope the "send queries" will not be necessary... :)

Claire Bobrow said...

Joseph: that's a lovely idea. It reminds me of a picture book called Hug Machine. We could all use a hug sometimes :-)

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

My dear Opie,

You have two main options here:

1. shelve this book for now, write and pitch another one to agents.
2. indie publish.

Know that option number one will take up much time. Know that option number two will take up much effort.

The path you may choose depends on how you view your writing career.

Sometimes pre-debut authors are so focused on their book that they fail to look at the big picture. If you want to become a career author, we're looking at a handful of books over the course of decades. Don't get hung up on this single book. You might have written it first, but that doesn't mean it has to be published first.

The third book I ever wrote is only just coming out this year. I have five previous titles already out. The first two will never see the light of day if I can help it.

If you're on the fence about your choice, best choice is to go with option #1. You can always choose #2 later.

Dena Pawling said...


It's late and no one will be reading this comment, but -

>>favourably

This spelling, plus the general tone and word choice of the question, sort of seems like this person is from UK or Australia? And I have a vague memory that in Australia there aren't many agents, and authors query direct to publishers. Is that what's happening here?

Or not. Feel free to ignore me.

Craig - if my clients sent out form letters drafted by an attorney, they wouldn't have as much need to hire me =)

Beth Carpenter said...

Good catch, Dena. I think you're onto something.

AJ Blythe said...

Dena, you're right that here in Oz we have only a handful of agents and it's standard practice to query editors directly. Except I'm not sure we even have 30 publishers. I guess if you took into account the couple of agents, the handful of publishers and throw in a few US e-publishers (say Entangled and Carina who are fair dinkum "don't require agents") and you might scrape 30.

Kregger said...

Julie Weathers' comment begs the question, "What is the 2% that Ms. Reid is wrong about?"

Oh, oh that's right. She advocates for ice in her scotch.

Sorry...never mind.