by Kasey Tross
There's a serious, sometimes debilitating issue that seems to bring down a lot of writers, and that flaw is this: They think that if their writing is good, and their story is good, then they will not have too much trouble landing an agent and getting a publishing deal. But the fact of the matter is, unless you happen to have dumb luck on your side, that's usually just not the case.
We've all seen the lists of now-famous authors who faced rejections numbering in the high double digits- sometimes even triple digits- and we remind ourselves that we must persevere. But do we ever think about why it is that those rejections piled up one after the other for these highly talented authors? I think we like to tell ourselves that it was because those agents who rejected Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were total morons, literary imbeciles, and completely incompetent (and probably lazy and ugly too).
But what if they weren't? What if they were perfectly competent, intelligent, good agents (and even hardworking and attractive as well)? What if the reason those rejections piled up was simply because the agents just weren't super excited about Carrie and Harry?
We've all had those experiences where a good friend tells us, "Omigosh, you HAVE to go see This Great Movie. It's the best movie EVER!!!" And so then we go see This Great Movie, and while we enjoy it, to us it's not "the best movie EVER!!!" Or, even worse, we go see This Great Movie and we just don't really like it all that much. The simple fact is that everyone has different taste.
To illustrate my point, I conducted a highly scientific poll. (I used Facebook and everything.) I posted a message that said that The Voice is currently my favorite show on television (yes, even more than Downton Abbey!) and I asked my friends to give their opinions by comment: type "yes" if it was their favorite show too, "ok" if they liked it but wasn't a favorite, and "no" if it did not interest them/they didn't watch it. Here were the results:
Keep in mind that I have lots of things in common with these people- many of them are LDS, I went to high school with a lot of them, we have socioeconomic similarities, age similarities, etc. They are intelligent, kind, fun, wonderful people. Yet, even with all of that, I found only 5 other people who were as excited about this show as I am. Does this mean it's not a good show? No! If it wasn't any good it wouldn't be on the air. Enough people like it that it continues on, and has for awhile. But if any one of those in the disinterested 88% were the ones deciding what would air, The Voice probably wouldn't be around.
Now think of your novel (which should be one of your favorite books ever)- how likely is it that the first agent you query (who probably has less in common with you than my Facebook friends have with me) will love it as much as you do- enough to put their name on it with you and work to convince others to buy it? The second? The third? The twenty-seventh? You're aiming for that 12%- that 5 out of 42 (and if we're being realistic, that number is probably even lower).
The bottom line is this: So much of what we do when we query is just luck. We put our best work forward and then we cross our fingers and pray and hope that it hits the right mark. When the rejections come rolling in, we have to remember that usually it's not us, it's them. And it's not "them" in the sense that they're idiots, it's that they're just not super excited about our work. And it's not because our work is bad, it's because it's not their taste. And that's okay.
The important thing to remember is that the more you query, the closer you are to finding that one agent who gets you, gets your work, and gets excited about it. There will be someone who feels it!
It's because of this realization that I was not at all devastated (or even disappointed really) when I received a "no, thank you" from the agent I pitched to at the writing conference last year. I knew going into it that the chance of this one agent at this one conference just happening to be The One who would be excited about my novel was highly unlikely. It was about as likely as me accurately guessing the birthdate of a total stranger.
So the next time you read a rejection letter in your inbox, ignore those voices in your head that start dogging on you, those voices that say, "Wow, your work must really stink." Instead say, "It's not me, it's them. And there are plenty more agents out there. And eventually, I'll find The One." And then go write your next query.
Don't Forget: While much of the querying process is luck, there are certainly things you can do to improve your chances of landing an agent:
- Know what kinds of work agents represent- don't pitch an adult sci-fi novel to an agent who deals mostly in YA romance. (And ALWAYS follow and agent's submission guidelines!)
- Get to know agents by following them on Twitter and Goodreads and see what genres they're interested in.
- Find books that are similar to yours and check the acknowledgments page to see who the author's agent was (you can even mention that book in your query).
Doing these things will help you hone in on your target and make it much more likely that you'll hit your mark with fewer queries.