The first thing you should know is that I am not an expert. As an unagented writer, I am clearly not to be considered well-versed in the art of querying. However, I have read approximately 1 gazillion articles on querying, been through several query critiques, entered various contests with some success, and read another 1 gazillion articles.
I have also read 1000gazillion tweets and blog posts about querying from the writer’s perspective. While many people are professional, others are not. Many writers seem to view querying as something upon which their entire universe rests. Some take it as a personal affront when agents reject them, and everyone feels a measure of sadness, loss and failure with every rejection.
I’m here to tell you you don’t have to feel like this anymore.
Does it get easier to be rejected? No. Will you still have some sad days, and sometimes just want to climb into your bed, pull the covers up, and quit the universe? Quite possibly.
But you don’t have to. You can learn to accept rejection in querying by viewing it in terms of the business world.
In business, or in other types of companies where projects are created or goods are sold, people need to form teams. They have to decide who has the highest quality product to offer – one which fits the niche they’re aiming for, which they feel best equipped to market to their consumers, and which they are excited about working on. If they’re on the production side, they have to choose who’s going to be best fitted to provide ideas, materials, marketing, and all the other components of a successful team.
In many of these arrangements, people have to take risks. They hinge the success of their project on the other people in their team, betting that each person will pull their own weight and bring the perfect components together to create something that both fits the need and captures the attention of whomever they’re working for.
Querying is no different than that. You, as the writer, have selected a group of people who you feel bring something very particular to the table. Whether it’s their sales record, their personality, or their editorial skills, you’ve seen something in each agent to whom you apply that makes you feel your project will benefit from a partnership with them. You choose them for their skills, and you ask them to join your team in putting forth a product which, together, you hope will satisfy a need and catch the attention of consumers.
So why should you be offended when that agent rejects you? Maybe it’s the word rejection that catches us. Rejection sounds deeply personal, like the stifling of a dream. Essentially what an agent does in rejecting a project is choose to work on a different project. It’s that simple, even when it doesn’t seem that way.
By choosing to query only certain agents, you’re effectively rejecting other agents. And if you query agents in rounds, and you’re on round two or three, you’re essentially asking people to join your team who are admittedly not your first choice. But agents understand this, because that’s the business. It works the same way for them when they query editors with books – it’s a business proposition, an attempt to ask certain people to join a team because of the unique skills and abilities they bring to the table. You have the same level of power in the querying relationship that an agent does, despite how it feels emotionally when the rejections are coming in. You can choose to work or not work with someone based on how strongly you feel about a project and what you feel the other person will contribute, just like they can.
And the thing of it is, rejection can mean all kinds of things. It might mean your book isn’t their taste – not all books are your taste either. It might mean it won’t sell right now, which is simply a fact of any market-based business. It might mean they feel they’re simply not equipped to give your work the best representation, and you should respect them for this choice, because you want the very best people bringing the very best skills to your project.
If agents are rejecting your work based on quality, take it under advisement. If your name is going on this thing – if you want to send a project into the world with your name on it, under your brand so to speak, you want it to be the very best that it can be. Rejection isn’t failure, it’s a chance to build up, improve, and move on.
The other reason an agent might reject your work, which is often the most painful and frustrating, is completely subjective – it just doesn’t strike them, and they like it but not love it, and they don’t have time for plain like, so they reject. While extremely difficult to deal with, especially repeatedly, you need to remember one thing – passion is everything. When you and an agent sign on together, you’re making a commitment to each other and to your book. You’re saying you’re willing to bet long nights, deep edits, and maybe a few tears that this book is worth supporting and bringing into the world. At least the agent, and maybe you, are betting your livelihood that your book is going to fit into the market and meet a need, that consumers are going to purchase it and it’s going to succeed. If passion isn’t driving that partnership, if the two of you are not equally in love with the story and equally firm in your belief that your book NEEDS to be in the world, an already difficult world is going to be misery. If an agent tells you they simply weren’t passionate about a project, try to look past that and remember that you don’t want an agent just to have one – you need a passionate business partner to make your project succeed.
In fact, behind everything you do as a writer, remember your passion. You’re going to have days when the words flow and days where you have to hew them out of rock. You’re going to have wild successes and epic failures. And sometimes you might cry a little bit. But you are doing something you love, something you believe in. And if the price of doing what you love the most is to stumble and fall a few times, so be it. Get up, and go on.