As a writer new to the world of agents, submissions and publishing a novel there are many things you don’t know. And even more things you don’t know that you don’t know. I’m at the beginning of querying my latest work RIDING THE BLIND and as I set out on this quest I’m reminded of all I’ve learned about the process with my first book.
1. Publishers Marketplace. Get the subscription. Seriously. Just pay the $20 for a month and you will be knee deep in all the data you need about agents and editors. I once lamented “but this agents SAYS they are looking for literary fiction with a strong voice! but they’ve rejected me!” Now I look up an agent on PM and see that they may say they want to see fiction like that, but what they sell by a margin of 8 to 1 is nonfiction. Or YA. Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what an agent says in the laundry list of interests and what they consistently sell. I’m interested in targeting agents that have a track record of selling my kind of book. Be professional. Use the best tools at your disposal.
2. Write the best query letter you can, but don’t stress over it. OMG the DRAMA about query letters! All over the Internet I see people wailing that they are getting no requests so they are rewriting their query letter for the fifteenth time. And they’ve only sent out fifteen queries. Put that energy into your manuscript! Research! Sometimes it isn’t the query letter. It may just be the book. Or it may be that you haven’t found the right agent.
3. Luck. This is, by and large, not a popular perception, but I stick by it. You can do your research and target the right agents with a great query letter and STILL be rejected. Why? Tons of reasons. Subjectivity. They already have a project like yours. The assistant or intern didn’t get enough sleep/coffee/sex. Who knows. But you need a pinch of luck to be in the right inbox/mailbox at the right time. Put the odds in your favor.
4.Rejection is inevitable. Don’t take it personally. File it and move on. Don’t spend your time trying to “decode” what a particular rejection means. It is very simple, whatever nice or not so nice language is used to deliver the message, the answer is no. Don’t be fooled by well crafted forms. You will get rejections that use your name, the name of your book and perhaps even your character’s names that are still forms. They will use language like: “Truth be told, though, I’m afraid these pages just didn’t draw me in as much as I had hoped” or “I didn’t fall in love with” your book. When I was new to querying I would spend a lot of time trying to figure out what this meant. How could I change my manuscript to have writing that pulled an agent in, or had a stronger voice? Don’t fret! It is just a form.
5. Get to work on new writing, even if all you are doing is writing exercises. Querying is brutal for self-confidence in one’s work. It can really make you crazy – the waiting, the endless waiting and seeing success stories that aren’t yours. A note about those: try not to set your expectations too high or too low. I recently read a story of a woman who started querying a book and within one week has seven offers and one agent fly out to meet her over lunch. This is not the norm. You can’t compare yourself or your work to others. Everyone has their own path. It may take you one week or one year. You may get an agent with your first book or your fifth. The key is to persevere and give it everything you’ve got until you reach your goal.