Thursday, January 28, 2010

Don't Let the Crippling Fear of Rejection Stop You!

Just another reminder that I've got a contest going on! Win a signed copy of The Given Day by Dennis Lehane or The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve! Or, if you're in the mood for some YA, check out this contest by the Undercover Book Lover for Some Girls Are, All Unquiet Things, and Before I Fall, or this contest by Steph Su Reads for some incredible YA ARCs, including Linger; Will Grayson, Will Grayson; and Sisters Red. (See, even when I give away adult books, I still link to the awesome YA giveaways.)

Author friends, I'm here today to tell you the story of a woman I met last week at my writing conference. Although I'm not yet ready to query, a lot of my readers are preparing to enter the fray. And even if you're not, I know you think about querying all the time (come on, even I do it - I have a query letter written already, even though I know it's useless right now, and pretty terrible.) I wanted to share this woman's story with you as a great lesson of what not to do when you query. This woman told me a story that I literally could not believe, and I knew I had to share it with you. To protect the innocent, I'll call her Rita. (I've been making my way through Dexter lately. I considered calling her the Ice Truck Killer or the Bay Harbor Butcher, but that would color the already unflattering story against her.)

Rita is an older author - I don't know her exact age, but definitely over 50. A few years ago she attended the same conference, and the agent who spoke invited everyone in attendance to query him, even though he wasn't really taking on new clients. We'll call this agent Marcus. (I'm also rereading Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty. MarcusFlutieMarcusFlutieMarcusFlutie)

Rita had a finished manuscript that she was very excited about and had been shopping around to a few agents. She is in the "query-one-at-a-time" camp, and had received rejections from three or four agents so far (with a few partial requests). (The one-agent-at-a-time method of querying vs. the multiple submissions querying is a topic for another post altogether, but I thought her method was a bit counterproductive in the first place. Some busy agents take months to get through their slush piles, and the whole time you're just sitting on your manuscript? Agents expect you to be doing simultaneous submissions - they just don't want to know about it.) So with Marcus's invitation, she decided to try her luck with him.

She wrote a professional query letter, personalizing it to include his invitation to all authors in attendance at the conference. After a few weeks, she got a request (I wasn't clear if the request was for a partial or a full). She immediately sent her manuscript over. Months and months went by and she hadn't heard anything. She became dejected. She didn't understand; why wasn't Marcus letting her know what he thought? Months turned into two years, and when I met her, she was still waiting to hear back from Marcus. I asked if she had tried to query other agents, or even called Marcus to find out what he thought, and she said no - she was too heartbroken.

To be honest, I think this whole situation was a bit melodramtic. And I'd like to think that most of my readers would know that if more than a few months go by and you don't hear from an agent, you should either follow-up or assume no answer = rejection and move on. Then again, before meeting Rita, I had assumed every writer thought this way. Apparently not. Her novel - which sounds brilliant, and I know she must be a decent writer because she won a best-of-the-workshop award - has been sitting in a drawer for years, all because she was too upset by a single non-response.

Toughen up!! Don't let this happen to you! I think the best way to go into the query wars is to have a plan of attack for how you're going to handle rejections and nonresponses. How long will you let go by before you call up the agent and ask about the status of the full manuscript they requested? (I've heard from multiple agents that this is totally acceptable, though the time frame varies per agent. Do your research.) How are you going to react when someone sends you a form rejection, or worse, ignores you completely?

My plan? I'm going to print every single rejection, so that when I do get accepted, I can laugh in the faces of everyone who said no!! Mwahahaha!!!!!!!! (OK, the laugh in their faces part isn't true, but the printing thing definitely is.)

Fortunately, the story with Rita and Marcus does have a sort-of happy ending. Marcus was present at the conference again this year, so Rita finally got up the nerve to ask him what happened. Of course, since her manuscript had been on his desk so many years ago, he didn't recall it specifically, but he assured her that his agency had a very specific system set in place for this kind of thing, and that she probably got an email response which may have gone to her Spam box or gotten otherwise lost in the email. (Another word of caution - have a dedicated query email, and/or make sure every agent you query is in your address book so they don't wind up in Spam!) Rita ended up with a bit of egg on her face, but may just query again after all. And Marcus told us all to follow-up and not be so afraid of rejection.


  1. Oh man... You SO have to e-mail me when you get to the end of the most recent season. Like, pronto!

    That sucks for "Rita". You really do have to have tough skin in this industry from EVERYTHING I've heard/read... And, jeez... think about all of the wonderful published authors who didn't give up? What if they HAD? You really have to think of it that way, I think, to keep your sanity when the rejections come rolling in. Gaaah. I'm not quite ready, but you're right -- I still think about it all the time!

  2. Wow! That story is very hard to believe--a cautionary tale for us all.

    I haven't thought about a query strategy yet (I heard you have to have a MS first--go figure!) but I'll certainly file this post away for when I do get down to business.

  3. Oh dear. This makes me sad. I've never written a book or even come close, but I do say shame on Rita for giving one agent all the power. Take that "best of the workshop" flag and fly it hight. Then give yourself a deadline and move on woman.

  4. Whoa! Thanks for sharing this unbelievable story, Heather! It's a good lesson for all of us.

  5. Yikes! I don't think I'd ever make the same mistakes, but what a cautionary tale.

  6. Wow, my heart goes out to her and I hope she's changed her outlook on publication. Rejection is inevitable, so take it in stride. If an agent says we're not a good match, then guess what? They're right. We're not. We should both be enthusiastic about working together to get the most out of the relationship.

    Great post!


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