Thursday, July 25, 2019

I've used this towel 8 times. Can I throw it in?

How many rejections does one need to have before they have a serious rethink? I did take a reputable course and polished my submission package, but I have already had 8 rejections. (A)

What is bothering me is people talking about how they sent out 10 queries and received request from 5 of them. (B) Some say keep querying till someone says yes, others say if you send out fifteen and are not getting the fabled 20% request rate, something is wrong. (C)

I guess this is all speculative, but is there an answer somewhere in the middle?

(B) I don't always believe people who say they have a 50% request rate UNLESS it's something like #PitMad where a lot of agents are seeing something at the same time.

People put the best spin on things, or outright prevaricate, to help them deal with the cold hard reality of rejection. I don't blame them for this coping strategy. I use rose-colored glasses to look at the world most days too.

But YOU should not take this as some kind of benchmark or guideline. It absolutely is not.

(A) Eight rejections isn't even a good start. You need 100 before you get to drink bourbon for breakfast and contemplate waiting tables at a truck stop in Alaska as your next career move.

I've signed and SOLD books that had 70+ rejections when I saw the query. While 70 isn't the norm, it can and does happen.

(C) Any kind of "stop if you haven't hit this percentage" misses a very cold slurp of reality soup: Sometimes you're writing in a category I know I can't sell. At ThrillerFest I had two VERY painful conversations with fiercely talented writers who heard exactly that: good writing, dead category. Yes, we were serving bourbon for breakfast that day.

The existential question here is How Long Do I Have to Do This before I can throw in the towel, start over again and NOT HAVE TO QUERY for a while? The answer is you never get to stop.

Rejection never goes away in publishing. Not for you. Not for me. Not for publishers who have high hopes for next smash bestseller only to see copies pouring back to the warehouse, unsold and unloved.

If you have a nagging doubt that maybe your query isn't as strong as you think, get pro eyeballs on it.

And by pro I mean an agent with a track record who's sold more than five things in your category. An agent is better for this than an editor. An editor knows good work; an agent knows what she can sell.

But also remember that agents, like all readers, have different tastes and preferences. Try to connect with one who has sold books you like.

Agents at conferences (like T/fest) often meet with writers; agents auction off this kind of thing all the time.

That's what I was doing at ThrillerFest; they lassooed me; tied me to a chair, and allowed writers to quiz me ruthlessly about their work. It was terrifying I assure you.


nightsmusic said...

Some people can get the mechanics of writing a great query down so well, it's fabulous and garners a lot of requests. The proof in the pudding though is, do they end up, after submitting, getting representation? I've read great queries and seen pages that seemed to be written by two different people. If they'd worked half as hard on their story as they had on the query, they might not have been rejected after the fact.

If you haven't seen this, you might want to read it. Gives a bit of perspective to the querying trenches...

Famous Authors and Their Rejections

Brenda said...

Dead categories. I wonder what the present ones are.

Last call for betas on an ms for Janet. In case you’re worried about exile to Carkoon, I do have sharkly permission to ask here.


K. White said...

Stopping after 8 queries sounds to me as if OP has lost faith in this project. If that's the case maybe it's better to set it aside for a little while and work on something else. You can always jump back into the query trenches after you're more prepared to fight for the book.

As the other chomper of writerly types, Barbara Poelle, says: It's best to keep your eyes on your own paper & never compare yourself to other writers. It only leads to madness. There will always be those who appear to achieve success easily.

Melissa Alexander said...

"Agents auction off this kind of thing all the time."

Where? I used to see them a lot, but I haven't seen any auctions in years. How do we find them?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

8 rejections is barely getting started. This business is so cruel - because of the work it takes to complete a book that only might gain agent attention. Oh, how I dread those trenches. I plan to be drinking bourbon in the morning starting in September with the very first little query I send out. To numb me to all the rejection I will be inviting wholesale. Ugh, hang in there, OP. Keep querying.

Leslie said...

One year, the Writers Digest Conference offered 15-minute sessions with agents for $99. You would sign up for the agent (brief bios/interests were available, of course) and time of your choice, then you had that agent's time and knowledge for 15 minutes. Some people asked them to look over queries, to look over pitches (for the Pitch Slam), to answer questions that I didn't know who else to ask, and so on. It's a shame they haven't done it again.

As for rejections, it's totally disheartening to hear (or most likely these days read) "Sorry, not interested." I got a few rejections to queries right around the time I just signed a contract for my book and it still irked me. But yeah, I had more rejections for it -- at every stage (from cold querying and pitching to publishers my agent thought were definitely going to buy it saying "nah") -- than I care to count. I don't think I hit 100, but it had to be more than 50. And it took 4 years. It wasn't until my agent told me to try small publishers and specifically suggested some that I had success. Maybe it's also a matter of aiming at the right targets.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...


Olympic sized pool of effort
50 gallon drum of struggle
1 gallon of confidence
1 quart of probability
1 cup of expectation
1 teaspoon of doubt
Pinch of disbelief
Season well with hope

Combine effort and struggle, let rest.
Mix in confidence and probability until well blended.
Bake until done.
Combine disbelief and expectation slowly and sparingly if needed.
Sprinkle liberally with hope before serving.
Do not serve immediately. Time blends well the flavors of success.

If reality curdles your mixture add more effort and struggle until truth rises to the surface.
This soup is often served cold. I find that if warmed slightly it is accepted by guests quite well.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Um..."Bake" was supposed to be simmer.

That's the reality of not letting effort and struggle rest long enough.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Love all these comments.

This is so timely. I am climbing slowly to 100. Just yesterday I got a rejection within hours of sending the query. Which, I know, I know, was nice of him, but still ... Kinda smarted.

K. White ... Perhaps OP has not lost faith in the project, but just isn't familiar with the realities of querying. There is no way I would have set 100 rejections as a target if it weren't for this site. You love your baby, all your friends love your baby, and it definitely makes you doubt yourself when strangers start telling you it's ugly. Even one rejection can be puzzling. :)

So, my goal now: get to 100 or slightly over .... Move across the country (not to get away from agents, just because that's on the do-to list this summer) ... Then figure out what to do after 100 rejections.

Kaphri said...

Thank you for this post. I was slowly sinking and it was the life preserver that I needed.

Also, love the picture. The look on the shark says so much.

LynnRodz said...

Brenda, more info needed. What genre is your ms and word count? For example, if it's SF and 150,000 - count me out, but others might say, "Sure, I'll have a go."

John Davis Frain said...

"At ThrillerFest I had two VERY painful conversations with fiercely talented writers who heard exactly that: good writing, dead category."

Inquiring minds want to know ... what was the dead category / categories?

And I'll go on record agreeing with others. 8 rejections isn't even a drop in the bucket yet. You've just started turning the spigot. Let it flow for a while.

Meantime, keep writing. You'll get better, and the rejections will get less painful because you'll have better stuff in the hopper.

Kristin Owens said...

Ah... Alaskan truck stops. They're the best for character sketches. Having writer's block? Haul yourself up the AlCan highway with a laptop with lots of battery power.

Betsy said...

First of all, that shark photo at the end of this post is just so very perfect that you must've squealed a little inside when you found it.
Secondly, can you tell us what categories are considered "dead?" Save us some heartache right now?

Craig F said...

I pulled a query after 14 launches. It was a nice, serviceable query, nothing spectacular. In the right light, after a few drinks, and squinting, I could see it as looking more as a politically leaning speculative rant.

That started looking like a dead end and I have several other options available to stress in a query. I now almost have another, better, query that points directly at the sci-fi I queried it as.

If the thought of querying in this direction had come to me before I would be up and around 50 queries by now. I jumped the gun and know it.

That looks like a Sandbar Shark, that means it came out of the water near me. I have pulled in a dozen or two of them over the years. The arm actually looks a lot like mine, hard to see because of the hair.

Joseph S. said...

I already accepted everything Janet Reid wrote, but it was still painful to read.

Writing is fun and creative. Trying to get a publishing deal is not fun.

Emma said...

8 queries is not enough to stop, though I can understand the impulse. Review the query using this site (it helps!) and keep going.

I also want to know what the dead categories are please?

And Brenda, I'm looking for a critique partner. I'll read almost everything. I'm writing suspense/crime.

Lennon Faris said...

Aw, one of the Shark's baby photos!

I am also interested in what the 'dead' categories are. And, are they Sleeping Beauty kind of dead? or dead-dead? I feel everything cycles and that those authors have hope yet, but maybe I'm being naive here.

2Ns, you make me laugh. My version of that recipe also calls for maniacal laughter and long stares into space.

french sojourn said...

I read it as Rose' tinted glasses....a draw back due to living in a wine region...religion.

Beth Carpenter said...

I, too, want to know the "dead" categories, and how to know which ones are dead at any given time.

OP, fingers crossed for you.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Just 8! So early!

Granted, I am NEVER confident in my query letter, so I can really sympathize with going "is this working? am I ruining everything? should I even continue????"

But. Keep swimming!

julie.weathers said...

Oh, honey. Is the race over? You haven't even saddled that horse, let alone led him out of the paddock and into the gates.

They're tearing up the street my son lives on so I have to hoof it in on a cratered knee, which has decided to to sideways on top of being bone on bone. The morning trip is tolerable because it isn't too hot and the cute little construction workers are just getting started all have a sweet smile and hello. As do I. This time of day, everyone is sweating like a horse thief at a sheriff's convention and there's nary a smile to be had.

I'm just now arrived home with a Wendy's baked potato because I am too tired to cook lunch. They are crappy, but it's food. I also have a large glass of lemonade. I thought about a Shiner Bock, but I have revisions to do. If I had Everclear, I'd probably be drinking Texas Lemonade, revisions or no, and finish driving my beta readers peach orchard boar crazy. I've already lost two. One due to health issues and I think the book did drive the other one insane.

Anyway, I'm sitting here sitting lemonade straight and neat and thinking about querying and when you stop. I am not so straight and neat. I toasted you.

Jack London had 600 rejections and was told more than once to stop trying to write.

Zane Grey, one of the first, if not the first, American millionaire authors was roundly rejected by every publisher and his wife paid to have his first book published. It lost money, but he kept writing.

Tony Hillerman was told to get rid of all that Indian stuff if he wanted to be published.

The difference between a successful author and an unsuccessful one is not talent or luck, it is perseverance.

Don't give up. If you're not getting responses after a bit, think about getting help with the query and pages. Home in on what the problem is.

50% is a very high request rate. I had around 35% maybe a little more. That's a pretty good rate. My excel spreadsheet with agents poofed when my computer crashed.

You will note I still don't have an agent. You just have to keep trying.

Fearless Reider said...

Another reef-dweller here, dying to know what the dead categories are... meanwhile, I guess we write what we love and trust that revival is just around the corner.

Brenda said...

Emma and Lynn,
Adult Suspense, 105,000 words.
Please email me at if you’re still interested. It will be going out early next week.
Thank you.

julie.weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.