I had queried 48 agents and a handful of editors, and I had gotten very little response. A few had asked for the first three chapters, but mostly I got initial interest from my query letter and then either a form or a personalized rejection. No, however, means no, and I had started to make my peace with that. I wasn’t completely sanguine — sometimes I felt sad that the characters in my novel, who I had grown to, well, really really like, wouldn’t get to play their parts to a wider audience than my writers’ group.
But there were a few loose ends, and I requeried a few agents who I had not heard from — including one agent who had asked for a full. My spreadsheet showed me that it had been months since I heard anything from her. So I queried, politely of course:
I just wanted to touch base with you to see where you are in your consideration of my fantasy ms., Gordath Wood. I sent the full at your request back in August. Please let me know if there has been any change in status. Thanks.
Kae assured me that she would have a response for me in two weeks or so. Assuming that the next correspondence would include a but on her part, I didn’t think much of it.
Much to my surprise her next letter was an offer of representation.
Over the next few weeks we hammered out the details: contract, markets, requested changes. By the end of May we had an offer — by the end of June we had another one.
I was pleasantly surprised at how fast things went. I know that isn’t usual — read any number of writer blogs and the stories people tell about the weird and wonderful path their work takes to publication are truly astounding. But there were a couple of things that I am glad I did that I think helped me.
I set a goal. Not publication — I didn’t have control over that. I set a goal of a finite number of agents I would query. My career was going to more than one book — I couldn’t let my publication dreams hinge on one manuscript. I had to think of my writing as a continuum.
I listened to what agents told me and made changes according to their suggestions. But I also stayed true to my vision for the book, even though it meant that probably, this one wasn’t going to find an agent.
Believe me, when you’ve heard over and over again that this type of story doesn’t sell, it starts to sink in. Bonus points to any readers who know what kind of plot device this is — I’ll give you a hint. Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary ranted (in a nice way of course) about this very plot device on her blog about a week after I queried her (and was rejected). Put your best guesses in the comments field and I’ll try to think of a suitable reward for the right answer.
I messed around with my query letter, and even tested a couple of different variants to see which one “pulled” better, i.e., got an agent to request a partial. There are a lot of resources out there for writing queries. I think I used all of them.
So my advice is this — be really clear about what you want. Make a plan. Try not to be too desperate. Craft the best query letter that you can. Listen to what agents say. If they respond with a personalized rejection, learn from it. And keep thinking of yourself as a writer, with more than one book under your belt.
Finally, I’ll leave you with my favorite rejection of all.
Dear Ms. Sarath,
Thanks for contacting me. This sounds excellent and you have some impressive credentials. Unfortunately, it’s always hard for me to work up enthusiasm for a novel that is similar to something I already represent. In this case Diana Gabaldon has completely sated my appetite for “woman who slips into a portal into another world and has romance and adventures” novels. She, and her work, are a full meal!
Now I ask you, who could get depressed over a rejection like that? (He didn’t even say but.)