It’s hard to give you an accurate number, because I never kept a spreadsheet or anything, and the way Gmail structures conversations, each time I used the same email, it kept it bundled with others. I’m going to estimate 100 queries across two books. I also have queries lumped in there from when I changed agents, which further skews things, but really, the numbers don’t matter. I’ll tell you why later in the post.
Here’s my query history:
In 2006, I wrote a book about four vampire brothers living in an Annapolis suburb. It was a rewrite of a vampire novel I’d originally written in high school. I did my research, found beta partners, and started querying the book in late fall 2007. With my first query, I spelled the title wrong. Not just that, but I immediately sent ANOTHER query to the same person, apologizing for spelling the title wrong. (I was such a rookie!) I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear I got a rejection. I got a ton of rejections. My oldest son was still an infant at that time, and I’d check my email when he woke up for midnight feedings. Guess what? A lot of rejections come at 1am.
I remember sending one query to an agent who I absolutely LOVED. When she responded asking for a partial, I almost fell out of my chair. I sent her the partial that morning, and by dinner, she wrote back asking for the full manuscript. Of course I sent it almost immediately. I. Was. So. Excited.
When my son woke around 2am, I checked my email, though I knew there was no chance I’d have an email from her yet.
I was wrong. There was an email from that agent. A rejection. It started, “Hey, Brigid, there’s no plot here.”
I sat on my couch, nursed my son, and cried.
You asked if I ever got discouraged. Yes. All the time. I remember this one time my husband said gently, “Hon, do you really think your books are good enough to be in a store?”
Fuck yes I did.
I’ve said before that I think you need to be a little arrogant to be a writer. Not a lot arrogant (no one will like you), but a little arrogant. It’s the nature of the game: you’ll get through queries and find an agent, and then you’ll start getting editor rejections. (And here’s the thing: when an agent rejects you, you can scream, “Query on!” and pick the next name on the list to email. When an editor rejects you, all you can do is drink. And pray. And maybe eat an entire bag of potato chips.)
Say an editor finally buys your book. It eventually goes out for reviews, and you have no control over what those people are saying about you. Then it’s out to the general public, and you DEFINITELY have no control over what those people are saying about you. I used to read all my reviews. I couldn’t help it. I eventually got bored with myself, but if queries are ever getting you down, go look up some of your favorite books on Goodreads, and then filter for the one-star reviews. Feel free to use mine if you want. Best to grow that thick skin now. If I hadn’t survived a rejection from an agent that said I was an idiot (yes, really), I wouldn’t have been half as prepared for the review that said something like, “If only there were an immunization for crappy teen fiction.”
Bottom line: yes, I got discouraged. I still get discouraged, and I’m working on my fifth novel. There’s always someone getting a better book deal, getting better reviews, getting more attention and praise and living the life you think you want. I still work full time, and sometimes it’s really hard to see young authors who got a million dollar book deal brag about how they never have to work, when I’m lucky to spend an hour with my kids every day.
But I love to write, and I truly believe that one day I will be able to make a living doing it. Maybe I’m a little arrogant to think so, but screw it, that’s what keeps me writing.
So that rejection letter that told me I didn’t have a plot? I could have done a few things. I could have given up right then. I could have revised the book for another year. Or I could have started something entirely new.
I knew I had some writing chops. I’d gotten enough partial/full requests that I knew I wasn’t leaking suckage at the seams. But I didn’t think I could revise that first book anymore. So I sat down and started writing a new one. It was a paranormal romance based in Greek mythology, following the son of Apollo, who was secretly living in exile in downtown Baltimore. While I was writing, I immediately knew it was stronger than the book about my four vampires. I felt better about it. I realized that my four vampires had taught me to finish a book. Now I was writing a book that would be readable.
For that book, I got about ten partial requests.
I got one full request.
From that full request, I got an R&R (revise and resubmit). The agent wanted me to add a sex scene and cut 20,000 words. I WAS LIKE OMGOMGOMGOMG.
But I did it. It took me six weeks, and during that time, I was FREAKING, but I did it.
That agent loved it, and she took me on. I can still tell you what music I listened to on my drive home. I remember where my husband and I went to dinner to celebrate. I can still see it all so clearly.
Guess what? THAT BOOK NEVER SOLD. All that query rejection practice paid off.
So I went back to the drawing board. I wrote a new book. I couldn’t get those four brothers out of my head, but I knew I couldn’t do vampires. I thought and thought and thought, and then I came up with the ideas of elements.
And the rest is history. (Link opens in new window.)
So here’s my advice:
1) Believe in yourself. If you don’t think you can do it, there are plenty of people sitting around waiting to agree with you. You have to believe you’re meant to do this, and you have to be ready to work hard to attain it.
2) Don’t give up too easily — this includes self-publishing. There is NOTHING wrong with self-publishing, and there are tons of blogs out there talking about the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, so I won’t hash them out here. But do it for the right reasons. My first two books were rejected. I could have flipped off the industry and self-published them, but you know what? I wasn’t ready. My writing wasn’t quite there yet. Those partial requests and occasional feedback let me know I was close, so I kept trying. If all you’re getting is rejections, then something is wrong — and the problem isn’t that agents and editors are stupid. Don’t use self-publishing as a vendetta. Use it because you know what you’re doing.
3) Learn how to let a book go. I know people who have spent years and years revising the same book. Learn how to put it down and start something new. You can always pick it up later, when you’re smarter and wiser.
4) Get a beta reader WITH SOME TEETH. Not your mom, not your friends, not anyone you know. Find someone who is going to give it to you straight. If all you’re getting is rejections, find someone who’s willing to tell you what’s wrong. Here’s a post I wrote about how to deal with beta readers. (Link opens in new window.)
5) Try not to obsess over query stats. I know that’s next to impossible, but in the end, they don’t mean anything. I used to read things like, “It takes ten full requests to land an agent.” Obviously that’s not true — I only got one full request, and she eventually became my agent. There’s no magic formula. Some writers send out hundreds of queries over the course of ten books before they find an agent. Some writers send out three queries and land an agent. It’s a matter of timing and luck. You can’t control those variables. Focus on what you can control: your writing.
Did this help? Any other writers out there (published or not), want to share your advice in the comments?