Writer Seeks Agent, or How to Lose Your Mind


People often asking me if I'm writing anything new and when my next book is coming out. It's so very nice of them to ask. I'm always working on something, always writing, because a writer who isn't writing is a monster. And, in the past year, I did finish a manuscript that will be my next novel. 


Instead of going straight into self-publishing, however, I have decided to give the traditional route another try. Why? Because I'm a glutton for punishment and enjoy rejection. 


Also because I want to give my book the best chance of reaching the largest possible audience, and I think a traditional publisher can help me with that. 


Self-publishing has been wonderfully fulfilling in many ways, but overall distribution of my work hasn't been one of them. Still, I have learned so much from publishing two books myself. I have learned about the book business, and also, perhaps more importantly, about storytelling.


Readers have given more great, thoughtful feedback, and I've become a better writer for it. For instance, back when I wrote Watch Me Disappear, plot was a real weak point. If readers didn't like the main character, the book felt too slow for the first half. When I wrote The Latecomers Fan Club I tried to make sure the story had forward momentum right from the very first chapters, and readers responded with enthusiasm. But they had some new criticisms: My story was too realistic and therefore somewhat gloomy, and my characters were sometimes hard to like.


With my latest manuscript, then, I let my imagination run free, crafting a story with characters that I think (and my beta readers have agreed) are complex, interesting, and also sympathetic in a situation that feels both realistic and suspenseful, and that is fun, instead of kind of depressing. As long as I'm being so humble, I'm just going to say it: This book is my best yet, it has everything going for it, and I want the world to know.


So back in the spring I began the miserable process of sending my work into the world. To date I have sent out 120 queries. I have had 7 requests from agents who wish to read the book based on my query. So far 5 of those requests have been dead-ends (but 2 are still reading, and I only need one yes!). As of this morning, I have had 71 rejections--either actual emails notifying me that an agent is passing or assumed rejections from the ever-growing number of agents whose policy is as follows: "Given the large number of queries we receive, we can only respond if interested. If you don't hear from us, assume it's a no." Some of these overwhelmed agents offer a time frame after which we can assume it's a no, and some do not.


Not a single rejection, even from agents who requested the manuscript or part of it, has offered me even one word of feedback, so it's impossible to say where I've gone wrong or how I can improve my return rate. Most rejections are form letters. Many begin "Dear Author," which strikes me as especially cruel given that agents all agree, any query address "Dear Agent" isn't worth their time. Rejection after rejection ends on the cheery note that "Some other agent may feel differently, so keep trying." That encouragement sounds less and less convincing with each passing dismissal.


I also submitted to a small number of independent presses, one of whom offered to publish my book, but after further consideration and a lot of lost sleep, I choose to pass, a decision I do not regret, but one that caused me great pain nonetheless. In fact, after that decision, I concluded that I should really just go ahead and self-publish because I have a great book ready and I'm tired of waiting.


So then I lost more sleep about the idea of self-publishing and spent a few days wallowing, and then I got back to work, sending out more queries.


Still, I'm not going to wait forever. After all, I'm not waiting for someone to tell me my book is good enough. I know it's good enough. I'm waiting to find the right team to help me publish it. But I've listened to the Freakanomics podcast on quitting and I know that sometimes, quitting is actually the right thing to do. So here's the plan:


I will keep querying until either I find an agent OR I reach 100 rejections. If the latter comes first, I will quit my search and publish my book myself. I'm willing to face a lot of "no's." I'm willing to do the hard work of researching agents and reformatting my work for each and every agent's particular guidelines. But I'm not going to let someone else decide if my book gets to see the light of day. It will be published, and whether it is self-published or traditionally published, I think you're really going to like it.


Write a comment

Comments: 0