Wednesday, March 17, 2021

I'm a perfect match, why did you say no?

It's hard to not respond to these kind of emails. I know it's frustrating to think "I’m everything she's looking for!" and then get a pass.

Particularly when you've done a lot of research.

(which is one of the reasons I've always thought personalization is a vast waste of a writer's time: just query)

What the last plaintive writer didn't realize, what most writers don't want to know, is the default answer to a query is no.

With 100 queries a week, even if I requested ONE (1%!) full every week, I'd still only sign one or two writers a year.

I see agents on Twitter who talk about signing what seem like dozens of new clients in a year.

That's not me. That will never be me.
I just can't work at that volume.

Which means when you query, expect no.
And most often it's not cause you did anything wrong.

I've passed on books that have gone on to be published.
I've passed on books that have gone on to win prizes.

What gets requested isn't a matter of ticking off all the boxes.
There's a fourth dimension here, one that's impossible to see or hear.
And very hard to quantify.

I love words, but they fail me when I try to tell people what I love.
Yes, you can see what I've loved by reading the books my clients have published.

But that still won't help much, cause what I'm really looking for is something new and fresh.


KMK said...

I really, really hope that writers who are querying right now absorb the statement that the default answer is "no." Because this is so personal, many writers tend to assume rejection is always about them (I know I did!) and this is a needed reminder that it's not.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It's really a numbers game. Query widely. Don't get stuck on this agent or that agent. After years following this blog and going to writer's conferences and querying a number of books without much success, I learned that it's nothing personal. It doesn't mean you're a lousy writer. Not even a little bit.

Rejections are meaningless. Only one agent has to say yes. And that might not come from the slush pile. So keep writing. Keep networking. Join writer's groups. Join organizations related to your genre (when appropriate). Workshop your work. Listen to beta readers for what works and what just doesn't. Go to conferences, virtual and in person as you can. Keep going because things can happen in unexpected ways...

And I may have big news in the next few months. We will see. Too soon now. Irregardless of the outcome of current circumstances, I owe so much to this blog, Janet Reid, and her Reiders. This place kept me writing when everything else was falling apart.

So don't get flustered if you get rejected. Keep everything respectful. If this project wasn't right for dream agent A, the next project might be or this project might be loved by dream agent B. Keep trying. And keep improving. Stephen King wasn't kidding. The first million words is just practice. And the dream agent isn't the one you think most of the time. The dream agent (make sure you research still) is the one that believes in your work and CAN sell your work. And you might have no idea who that is so keep writing. Keep querying. Keep networking.

nightsmusic said...

If I was an agent, I think I would find it very hard to take on any story that didn't resonate with me. Doesn't matter that it's written perfection, that it's been edited within an inch of its life, that some other agent will snatch it up and have it go on to win awards. As the agent representing the book, if I don't absolutely love it, it's not something I would be gushing over to sell and that's a disservice to both me and the writer. So I get the 'assume it's a no'. Just because it ticks all the boxes on what any agent wants/likes/needs, doesn't mean that agent is going to fall in love with it. There are a lot of award winners out there that I hated. How could I rep them with a good conscious if that was the case?

Happy St Patrick's Day, Janet, and everyone else!

Amy Johnson said...

Such encouraging words this morning! Thanks, all! I so agree about continuing to write even after getting rejections, to not allow ourselves to get discouraged, and to keep ourselves available for good things to happen.

I think a healthy dose of humility is good when querying agents. There's so much we don't know, can't know, even if we've done our research. Maybe an agent that seems perfect has something personal going on that would make taking on a new client not a good idea. Maybe God Godself has something wonderful planned for us that we don't yet know about, and the timing isn't quite right yet. I think I may have had an experience with the latter this morning. Earlier this year, I wrote down steps I plan to take -- my writing business goals -- with dates to reach those goals. On Monday, I missed one of my self-imposed deadlines. But this moring, I realized I had set the date for that goal too early. Things probably won't go as well if I had completed that step by Monday. Now I'm thinking: Keep grateful, keep humble, keep available.

Elise: I'm looking forward to hearing your good news!
Happy Saint Patrick's Day and Happy Writing to all!

Steve Forti said...

Even when you tell yourself to expect a "no", everyone still thinks they're the one who will get a "yes". Of course we do, otherwise we'd never have the confidence to write the book to begin with! But it still sucks when you get that "no". Especially a ton of no's. Or all no's. I'm personally clinging to one final thread of hope after all the no's that exist in the world. It sucks, and means to keep plugging away at the next one (because surely that's the one to flip the default "no"). But yeah, hard to internalize.

Now, I demand someone solve that "impossible to see or hear fourth dimension" problem. Hope you all are doing ok out there.

Theresa said...

E.M., keeping fingers crossed for the big news.

I think Steve is right. Everyone knows how rare the yes is. But who doesn't hope they will get it?!

AJ Blythe said...

It's like when I was in the army reserves. On basic training, my Sergeant yelled at us all the time. The tiniest infraction and he'd be yelling in our face. It never bothered me like it did others, and they asked why. I said it was because he was yelling at the uniform, not at me - it wasn't personal. As soon as everyone started thinking that way they coped much better.

Querying is the same. The words (whether it be query letter or pages) aren't exactly what the agent is after at that point in time. Doesn't mean you can't write, or that they didn't like you, or you made the tiniest infraction... the pages just don't work right then and there.

Keep querying and writing the next one. Every little step you take is another rung on the ladder to publication. If you keep climbing long enough you'll get to the top :)

(and I say this from the trenches with well over 50 queries under my belt)

Timothy Lowe said...

Can’t wait to query you again, JR. You’re REALLY not gonna like this one ;)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Timothy - LOL! And HUGS to you.

I've experienced the joy of getting a yes with my nonfiction. Then a few years of soul-sucking no after no with fiction. Finally, a yes for my middle grade. And I just signed the contract.

Adjust your sails... move ever onward.

NLiu said...

Thanks for this post, Janet! So very timely.

And I am so happy to hear you might have exciting news E.M.! And congrats also to Melanie Sue Bowles! Huzzahs all round!

Amy Johnson said...

Yay for Melanie! Congratulations! I'm so happy for you. :)

Colin Smith said...

Way back when I started following agents and the publishing industry, I took it for granted that agents were always looking for new clients and would be happy to have loooong lists of happy writers under their wings.

Then I learned what agents do for their clients, as in the day-to-day work. Reading and annotating manuscripts, negotiating with publishers, figuring out royalties and taxes, dealing with crises, etc. And on top of this, they read queries and submissions from strangers.

Then I learned that most agents only take on a handful of new clients at most every year. Which, given as much as they do for their existing clients, is amazing. But, of course, agents keep building their lists because they can never guarantee how things might change. A client might decide not to publish for a few years; a client may switch to another agent; a client may quit to look for a more financially stable job; also, sadly, clients die.

All this to say, you should absolutely query widely. Also, look for new agents (preferably ones working for an established agency, or with some solid credentials) who are just building their lists. And don't be surprised when an agent says "no." As Janet says, they may love your work, but they may only have the capacity to take on one or two new clients and service those clients effectively. There must be a supremely compelling reason why the agent chooses you to join her list. And the agent may not always be able to define what that is. It may not be any one thing.

That's what I've learned over the past 10 years, anyway. May Janet string me up with piano wire and play the Maple Leaf Rag on my teeth if I'm wrong. šŸ˜‰

Congrats, Melanie!!! And maybe perhaps congrats EM..?? Congrats for something at least... we await your announcement on tenterhooked and bated breath!!

CynthiaMc said...

Yay! So good to see everyone again!

Congratulations Melanie! Woo hoo! Fingers crossed EM!

With theatre in a coma there are no shows to do so to stop my whining Hubby placated me with a new laptop and Final Draft 11.

I don't worry about rejections so much these days.

I'm alive.

The flowers are blooming in my garden.

Love to all.

Theresa said...

YAY Melanie!

Brenda said...

Congrats to Melanie and to EM.
Thanks for the reminder, Janet, that what we do is a business. I wonder if people have read more during this long year.

John Davis Frain said...

Way to go, Melanie! Get on out there. (On submission, that is.)

I understand what you're saying here, Janet. I think. Not sure that it helps though, because, what would? Just part of the business. So is persistence.

Craig F said...

Wow, three people with congratulable writing things, congratulation. The rest of you also deserve some congratulations for something, I just don't know what.

That is also how I feel about query rejections. They are a milestone and are important, but I'll never know the story of them, even though they are mine.

I have reached 60 of them and decided to explore some of those questions and quibbles I had when I started to query. There is always something that can be tuned, there is no perfect novel.

Today I am fluttering like a bird with a damaged wing, got the COVID vaccine, dose 1, yesterday. Slightly foggy and sorer than normal, but I have at least taken that step that I feel is for the good of the community.

Julie Weathers said...

Rejection is part of the journey. Dejection is a choice. Having said that, it's hard not to be. Very hard. Even when it seems like you are everything the agent has been looking for, most of the time, it still isn't going to line up. It's hard. It's depressing. It's just a fact of life.

And we go on.

Sooner or later the right combination will work.

Kregger said...

Good to see the band getting back together!
Congrats to Melanie, and tons of luck to EM.
Here's to kicking Covid's ass, including anyone refusing vaccination.

JEN Garrett said...

A couple weeks ago, I did a happy dance.
Not because I got an agent
or even because I'd queried
But because I FINALLY wrote a picture book that had the right pacing from the first draft.
That was 17 drafts ago.
Focus on what you can control - keep querying, keep writing. Celebrate your personal successes.

Now, I'm working on a new dream: to intern for a publisher or agency.
And thus the rejections have doubled. But I'm hoping an agent or editor will teach me the agent business in exchange for freeing up their time sending out those "default no" rejections.
Back to the query trenches.

Jennifer Delozier said...

Congrats to Melanie and EM! Yay!

And thanks for the reminder, Janet, that business is business and rejections are truly nothing personal. Also, a heads-up: I know you respond to all queries, especially from your reefers/reiders. I sent mine last month and...bupkis. I suspect it got eaten by your hungry spam folder. I plan to send another from a different email later today or tomorrow. I look forward to your rejection :)

Leslie said...

Another reason why an agent you think is the perfect match turns you down: he or she has a client with a book similar to yours, and yours would be direct competition for the client and might eat into the client's market.

Congratulations, Melanie! Getting that "yes" seems even sweeter after all the turndowns.

Craig, congrats on getting the shot! I hope you're doing better. I'm heading out the door soon for my 2nd shot. I've prepared my apartment with a DVR of good movies and refrigerator with Gatorade

Megan V said...

Belated Congrats Melanie!!

And E.M. --looking forward to hearing the fantastic news!

KDJames said...

[And blogger ate my comment. Trying again. Apologies if it results in duplication!]

Great perspective. Every time I glance at the impressive list of clients in the sidebar, I think, "She can't possibly want more." Especially if they all were to submit work in the same short time frame. And yet . . . Janet isn't closed to submissions so I guess there's a slim chance. I'm starting to think it's a "red badge of courage" for those of us who hang out over here to have earned a rejection from her. One of these days, once I get my life back in order, maybe I'll join the crowd!

Melanie, I already said it on FB, but I'm so excited by your news. Huge congrats to you! EM, hope you can share your news soon!

I'm so pleased to see the familiar voices showing up over here (and for those getting vaccinated)! I miss the more frequent writerly conversations over here.

I'm counting down the days, and cardboard boxes, until I move into my new house (end of this month) and have the aching muscles and inexplicable bruises to show for it. "Downsizing" sounds so innocuous until you realize how damn much work it is.

Joseph S. said...

After reading Colin's post, I felt happier because

I'm not dead.

but I'm all confused hearing Steve Forti say he can't land an agent after reading all his contest entries here. Steve, I'd be honored if you want me to be a beta reader for you. I think I've helped some writers along the way(though, on the other hand, none asked me to read a second thing they wrote).

Meanwhile I'm going out back to take a stab at a new beginning of my manuscript (while my next work is percolating in my head).

Super happy for Melanie and fingers crossed for E.M. Goldsmith.

Joseph S. said...
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