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Keeping up hope

Trying to find a literary agent can be a long process for many authors, and I’m no exception. I’ve been querying agents with different manuscripts for about four years now, and though I’ve eventually found homes for those books with a small publisher, it still gets me down that none of them fit with the lists of the agents I queried.

Rejection after rejection can make authors numb to it after a while, and the hope that each query or submission sent out is a potential offer of representation dwindles until it starts becoming something done out of habit rather than real intent.

I start out querying a project with all the enthusiasm in the world, but six months later when the answer has still been no, self-doubt creeps in. My usual method to combat this oppressive feeling is to simply get on with the next book, but this year something else happened that re-ignited my hope.

A writer I know, who’s also been querying for a long time, finally found representation with an agent. (And they’re raving about how good her book is on Twitter, which is awesome to see.)

I was so happy for her that it was almost as if it’d happened to me, and the reason why I think I felt that way is because I knew how hard she’d worked to get there, and all the rejections she’d faced. It was like someone had plastered a sign on the wall in front of me, saying ‘See, it is possible!’.

So now when I feel that imposter syndrome trying to take over, all I need to do is think of that, and I know I’ll pull through.

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A note on rejection

Every writer gets rejected at some point. Whether it’s by peers or beta readers, agents or publishers, it’s always going to happen no matter how good your writing is or how many times you’ve meticulously edited your manuscript.

When I was teaching a workshop at a school the other day, one of the students asked me if I’ve ever been rejected. When I said yes, and that I’ve been rejected around a hundred times for each different project I’ve worked on, she and the rest of the class were pretty shocked. And as it wasn’t something I’ve really thought about that cumulatively, I was surprised too.

I then told the class what I always say about rejection: it doesn’t matter how many “no”s you get, as all it takes to change things is a single “yes”.

Which is true for all of my published works. But I think it’s important to note that sometimes those “no”s are worth listening to, not to make you give up on a project, but to take another look at it to see if it needs to be revised. Now, if you’ve already spent a long time trying to perfect your manuscript, this is hard advice to follow. I’m no exception, it takes a lot of willpower for me to revisit something that I’ve already poured so much time and energy into. I hate it, and I put it off as long as I can. Especially when all the rejections I’ve received have been form rejections or complete silence, as I don’t know where the problem is.

However, the one thing about those kind of rejections is that for me, I think they hurt less. Whereas a rejection with feedback included is like a punch to the stomach that doesn’t disappear for days. I had one such rejection last week, and I’m still not fully over it. The feedback was quite specific, and left me wondering whether to implement it or not, a question to which I still don’t have an answer.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view) the manuscript was actually one I sent out when I knew it wasn’t really ready, but wanted to see if the idea might catch some attention, so I’m actually in the process of revising it anyway. One thing that rejection made me realise is that the manuscript is more plot driven than character driven, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I might have to do some more research to make sure that when I do send it out properly, I’m sending it to people who enjoy that style of storytelling — if I choose to keep that side of the book as it is. That’s not to say I’ll be neglecting my characters, either. Far from it, in fact.

Anyway, there’s no real moral to this post (other than don’t send your manuscript out early like I just did!). I think I just wanted to share some of my rejection experience, so that anyone else in the query trenches knows they’re not alone.

Poetry

Your attention, please!

And standing, I take a breath

and place the last piece of the puzzle in place.

The click shakes the ground

and reorganises the entire picture

into a montage of how I got here

and the effort it took: the hours

of studying, crafting ’til midnight,

brainstorming in the shower,

putting on armour to shield myself from every rejection

and fighting for my voice to be heard.

 

The film keeps running,

I’m not done yet.

Poetry

Dressing by the fire

The warmth around my shoulders,

soft as flames in the evening,

conceals the sting in my chest.

My jumper soft and safe is no longer,

now only the writhing buzz of bees

trying to make a hive from my emptiness.

But honey – I do not like the taste of it.

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Querying, yay!

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!