Now by ‘querying’, I don’t mean to raise a series of questions, I’m talking about the other type of querying. The one that means sending out your precious manuscript (or a least a synopsis and the first three chapters) to a literary agent in the hopes that they’ll love your book so much that they’ll drop whatever they’re doing and shout from the rooftops about just how good it is, and then offer to take you on there and then.
At least, that’s what most people querying an agent hope will happen.
Sadly, as many, many writers will tell you, it isn’t that easy. Firstly, most reputable agencies have a well established client base already, so they’re reluctant to take on anyone else so that they can focus on building the careers of the authors they’ve already got.
Secondly, they always watch for trends in the market and keep in mind what books their authors are already working on. This means that if an agent rejects you, it’s probably not because they don’t like your work, but because there’s no call for that type of book at the moment or your idea is similar to one they’re working with already.
As an example, I had an agent send a rejection email the other day saying that although she was impressed by my work, two of her clients had books in the same genre, and she didn’t want to create competition by adding another. Being rejected (yet again) was disheartening, but it was nice to hear her reasons. (Also, if you get a more personal response rather than a form rejection, take it as a good thing. It doesn’t happen very often- agents receive hundreds of queries a week, it’s almost impossible to respond in detail to them all.)
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, is that even if an agent takes you on, they can’t simply wave a magic wand and get you a super publishing contract. They have to fight for your book, to champion it to editors, and if they don’t fully believe in it, then that makes things very difficult. What most authors overlook is that agents get their pitches rejected from publishers just like authors get manuscripts rejected.
So, how can anyone beat all those odds?
The answer is, quite simply, to query as many agents (or publishers; small presses often have periods when they welcome unsolicited manuscripts) as you can and remember that if you really want to be published traditionally, then you have to have the drive to never give up no matter how many rejection letters you get.
A good thing to think is that there are lots of writers going through the same despair of being rejected by an agent or publisher (or, perhaps worse, not hearing back at all or going through long periods of silence where you check your inbox every ten minutes hoping for any news at all, even bad!), so even if you find yourself being overwhelmed by it all, there are always people you can reach out to who are going through a similar experience. Like me, for example.
So talk to other authors. Laugh, moan or cry with them. And, if one or all of you are successful, share it so that people can still see that it is possible. Fight on!