Thursday, February 20, 2014

When to Stop Sending Queries to Agents

Updated 3/16/20

When I first wrote this post in 2014, I had received 140 rejections. I am now up to over 700. I'm going for a record! But I probably won't beat C. S. Lewis, who got 800. (You can read his and other famous authors' rejections here.)

After you've sent out a few dozen queries to literary agents, and either not received a response from any of them, or gotten polite form rejections designed to soothe your pain while simultaneously increasing it, it's time to either hunker down or make a new plan.

(Frankly, it's better to get an email that says your work is "unreadable, unmarketable, and unpublishable," than a bland "Your story does not fit into our list, right now." At least you get to work up some righteous indignation.)

The other day I ran across an article on Writer's Digest by Kristi Belcamino - "Don’t Give Up Until You’ve Queried 80 Agents Or More." The article inspired me to get into my files and look up how many rejections I had received: 140. I clearly have a lot more work to do if I'm going to fulfill my New Year's resolution.

Kristi has given writers four pointers:
1. Perseverance. Be stubborn and refuse to ever give up.

2. Work. Cultivate a constant desire to improve as a writer. This means putting words, lots and lots of words, on paper. This also involves studying the craft of writing and reading as much as you can as often as possible. 
3. Teflon Mentality. Develop a force field to deflect ego-smashing rejections. It is crucial to have the ability to effectively handle rejection, letting them bounce off you, and not allowing them to stop you from plugging away. (See #2 Work.) 
4. Patience. Here’s a little secret — the world of publishing runs on a completely alternate universe concept of time. Tired of waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher or editor? Grab a beer and put your feet up.
If you keep all of the above in mind, and, in Ray Bradbury's words, "Write like hell!" I'm sure you can beat my record. (Although, you may not beat C. S. Lewis'. Click here for his truly astonishing number of rejections.)

That being said, you should keep in mind that the lines are increasingly becoming blurred between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Because of the dramatic success of Fifty Shades of Grey and Wool, publishers are beginning to accept works that have been previously epublished. Some agents are seeing the writing on the wall as well.

What this means for you, as a writer who does not want to go fifty shades of gray waiting for an agent to call, is that you can do both. If you've given it all you've got, don't grab a beer - design a cover, and publish.

Helpful resources:

Query Shark, a site maintained by agent Janet Reid, has some highly instructive critiques of query letters.

Writer's Digest lists successful query letters, along with analyses by agents. Read these!

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