Reader Question Friday: How many queries did I send before I got to “yes”?

Q: Hey, my question is not so much about the series as it is about the publishing side.  How many queries did you send before you were given the ‘yes’ and did you ever lose hope that an agent would accept your work? If so, what advice would you give to aspiring authors trying not to let the rejections get to her/him?
-M

A:

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?

 

~

4 thoughts on “Reader Question Friday: How many queries did I send before I got to “yes”?

  1. *raises hand* Fellow writer, here.

    Okay, let me just start by saying how often I’ve seen these kinds of author’s posts that state their journey and how it wasn’t easy. They don’t always resonate within me. For some reason, this one did. Maybe it’s because you admitted to your tears. Oddly enough, I didn’t have tears through the rejection phase. I didn’t need them, because my husband and best friend got mad enough with each rejection for the entire freakin’ universe. However, it’s now, later, that I find it hard. To me, I feel as though I need to make every single book better than the last. I need to find THAT book within me, which will click with the readers and land its a$$ in a bookstore. And so with every book I write, the pressure mounts–and I already have 3 full length novels out there, 2 novellas, and a couple antho shorts with an small publishing house. But I think there is now greater pressure there within me again, because in my head and my heart, I’m kind of ready to take a greater step.
    Sure, I subbed to agents with my first novel I have published (not my first written, though), and received only 1 full request, and around 100 rejections, which is what led to the small house route that I took. I’ve garnered experience via this route–marketing, industry, writing, editing (everything)–that is priceless, and I have not a single regret because my publisher is great to work with. But I’m ready to climb the next rung on the ladder, break out from my series and aim a little higher. My heart is telling me to aim a lot higher, and my head is telling me to be patient and take it all one step at a time. So, amongst feeling slightly terrified of moving on from where I currently am (hey, so I don’t like change), but I’m also battling my conflicting thoughts over a decision that nobody but I can make.

    So, as extra advice? You won’t know which is the right path without first taking a step and figuring it out for yourself. Because YOU are the best teacher in life you will every have. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the advice of others (no matter that writers are a little arrogant–which Brigid is right about, btw). Advice is there to guide you and help you make the right decision, but ultimately, the decisions have to be your own.

    And another tidbit I ALWAYS share now when people come and ask me for advice on how to get published is: For goodness sake, people, do your research on the industry. Yes, that’s speaking from experience. Being published is a journey an author will take. Know where you’re going before you take that first leap, because you’ll waste a lot of time (not just other people’s, but your own, too) if you don’t have a route planned out.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Brigid. I used to worry about getting published and how would I find an agent, and then I found I was psyching myself out and I hadn’t even finished the book yet, so now I am just focusing on writing.

    I have to admit that I am shocked by the rudeness of of agents. Calling you an idiot? Uncalled for. Don’t let the haters get you down. I read A LOT of YA fiction, and you have one of the most original series out there. I am not just saying this – check my reviews on goodreads. I never hesistate to blast a book I don’t like. I had grown so sick and tired of YA fiction until I picked up Storm and was hooked immediately. In the paranormal genre, it is so easy to churn out stereotypical characters and recycled plots, but your characters are not typical; they are always full of surprises, and I like that, while they are paranormal, they still deal with typical teenage issues like bullying and date rape and just trying to figure out who they are as an individual. That makes them very real and relatable to readers.

    Do you think you will ever self-publish your book about the son of Apollo?

  3. Pingback: Reader Question Friday: How do you get back into writing after a long absence or major life event? | Brigid Kemmerer

  4. As much as I agree you, I must say that I don’t think it always come down to your writing. I have been querying for a little while now and I am up to 30 rejections, and am waiting for replies from roughly the same amount. No partial requests yet and certainly no fulls. I’ve revised the query and feel that is very strong (it mirrors a lot of successful queries anyway) and I’ve been praised profusely for the strong writing in the manuscript on both Wattpad and Booksie.com.

    My problem? I think it’s because I wrote about vampires and werewolves. Although I’ve spun a new twist on werewolves (altering their appearance based on the moon, rather than merely transforming), given them a rich culture, and explored their philosophies about their unending lives, I think it is getting lost in the shuffle of badly written competitors in the genre. Although I can’t claim to have broken any new ground with the vampires, I have still developed their characters thoroughly and presented a morally gray villain, that in the end is still a villain, and not a brooding love interest. I write all that to say this folks: sometimes it’s not your writing.

    I don’t know if I will be successful in traditionally publishing this book but I am still not giving up. Even if half the agents out there say “no vampires” and “this is an oversaturated market.” I mean JK Rowling was told the same thing, and who really thinks Twilight beat out all of its competition on purely writing merit?

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