If your query letters are bringing you requests to read partials on your book, or even the full manuscript, but then all you receive back is silence or a form rejection, there’s a good chance that the problem isn’t in your query letters — it’s your book that needs work.
Many Nibbles, No Bites
If one agent rejects after a read, this means little. Agents sign very few writers. The nature of their job requires that they be selective. Two agents, same deal. Three, probably still means nothing. But if you’ve submitted to a lot of agents and gotten something like seven to ten of them to read your book, or read chapters and a synopsis, and you’re only receiving form rejections, with no commentary at all on why the book wasn’t right, then you need to take a hard look at your book.
I know that’s an incredibly unpopular suggestion. Many writers who have been rejected two or three hundred times continue to send query letters for the same exact manuscript without ever realizing that the book itself is the problem. They genuinely feel that changing their work, their “art,” in order to sell it is like selling out.
If multiple agents reject the book and DO give the same reason, then you probably need to take another look at that aspect of your book. For example, if several agents mention that the book is too long, consider cutting. If several agents say that the plot was interesting but the characters weren’t engaging, or well-drawn, or something like that, go back and take a long hard look at your characters.
My viewpoint is a bit different. You see, I’m a storyteller and I want my stories to engage people and their imaginations. It’s still art, it just needs to be better! If I get a couple of comments from beta readers that indicate that my pacing is dragging in a couple of chapters, I know my story has a problem, and I go and fix it. Of course, I am selective about whom I choose as a beta reader.
The Psychology of Query Letters
Writing query letters can be a protracted, frustrating, time-consuming task, even for writers who have written a good, publishable manuscript. Rejection after rejection can lead to anger, bitterness, and depression.
Don’t let it do that to you! Keep this in mind, first and foremost: those rejections aren’t personal.
Unless you’ve majorly screwed up, and made a real nuisance out of yourself, the agent who has just rejected you doesn’t know you from Adam or Eve. All a rejection means is that this particular agent doesn’t want to represent this particular manuscript. The agent doesn’t think you’re a bad person, and he or she doesn’t have it in for you. Keep this in mind.
If you’re feeling angry or bitter about rejection, don’t pick that day to rewrite your query letter. Angry, bitter moods WILL “bleed through” into your text and put the reader off. It’s as obvious as a punch in the nose to a trained reader. If you’re pissed off, wait until you’ve regained your emotional and mental equilibrium to re-write that query letter.
Patience Is Key
Desperation is one of the top reasons otherwise intelligent writers get scammed. They’ve been rejected so many times their logic, knowledge and intuition goes right out the window, and they think, “Maybe Agent X isn’t so bad. Yes, there are these complaints, but maybe all of these people are just disgruntled writers that Agent X rejected. I’m going to give Agent X a try. So what if I have to pay an $89.00 ‘critique fee’ to get him to read my manuscript? It might be worth it to get some darned feedback!”
If you find yourself thinking like this, STOP.
Immediately shut down your computer, and go to a movie. Or go to the beach. Play with your dog for an hour or so. Or take a long walk with a friend (not a writer friend). Do anything besides talking yourself into doing something you’ll regret.
Desperation is something scammers count on to get victims. Don’t fall prey to it. It is okay to get discouraged, but don’t permit yourself to become desperate.
Remember: a bad literary agent is worse than no literary agent.
There are worse things that can happen to a manuscript than remaining unpublished.
Work hard, work smart, and stay professional. Good luck!
I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave leave a comment here…