Ask The Agent: Rejections And Rude Agents... What To Do?
This week’s questions deal with the more emotional side of being a writer. Not only is this a technically hard industry to break in to (so many rules and regulations, so many faux pas), but it’s also a very emotionally hard, intimidating, and taxing industry to work in. It doesn’t always have to be that way. Listen carefully to this week’s answers.
Question from Anonymous
I have completed my debut novel after a long and arduous editing and revision process, where I drastically changed the book a total of three times until I was completely satisfied with the direction of the story. I shared this novel with my critique partners, and they all said it was ready to be sent out and that I should start pitching agents. I also polished and revised my query letter (reading query shark, getting critiques, etc.).
Then I started querying, and the results were (if you allow me to say so) devastating. I've queried a total of thirty or more agents and have gotten around twenty rejections so far. Most of these agents also asked to see some pages with the query, which means they're rejecting part of the book as well as the query. I try to remain objective about my work as much as possible, and even asked for more critiques from other people, who have ended up either liking or loving the story.
Which makes me completely and utterly confused. I love my book and I believe in it one hundred percent, and have gotten mostly positive feedback from other writers and from people who are only readers. That's why I don't understand the amount of rejection I have received.
My question is this-- Is this normal in the publishing industry? Should I keep querying every agent that represents my category and genre until I run out of options? What could be the reason I am receiving so many rejections? Is it the market, the query, anything?
Should I give up?
No. No, no, no. You should never give up if you want to be a writer and you believe in your manuscript as much as you say you do. You haven’t received “so many rejections”… there have been times that I’ve pitched manuscripts to editors and have received far more rejections than 20.
I swear I’m not trying to come off rude here (although I’m fairly certain I’m going to sound like an ass) but when you wrote that you had queried 30 agents and the response was “devastating”, I actually sort of snort-laughed. I tell you this so that you know how genuinely shocked I was at that sentence. Thirty agents is NOTHING! You need to get up into the hundreds before you start seeing positive responses.
Imagine you have a room full of 30 people who all claim to like YA dystopian novels. Now imagine standing up in front of that room and asking them if they all loved the book The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Twenty out of those 30 people are either going to say, “eh, kinda”, “no”, or “haven’t heard of it”. Regardless of whether these 30 people are the biggest fans of YA dystopian, not every YA dystopian is going to be for them. Now imagine the same scenario but with 200 people. You picking up what I am putting down?
If you feel your manuscript is at its best, and your beta readers (NOT friends and family, they WILL lie to you) love it, then it might be your query letter. In that case, there are several sources online that demonstrate wonderful query letters.
But like I said, 30 is… well it’s just the very smallest tip of the iceberg. You have a lot more work ahead of you. And one day, when you’ve queried 346 agents, number 347 will call you squealing because they have been searching for your manuscript their whole life. It only takes one. But you have to do your due diligence.
Pro tip: I understand it is devastating. But you are an artist. It’s a tough career. With each rejection, you’ll learn something and grow thicker skin. Just stick it out.
Question from Liana
I have a genuine question/concern that I hope has an answer I can apply in the future. Well, I find agents intimidating, generally speaking. It seems that there is a separate world where agents live, and common people try to impress them. I know it's not fair of me to say that because all agents are different, but I have a few experiences going to panels or full conferences where agents talked to "mortals" and took questions, and I found the whole experience close to forbidding. Maybe it's my not-so-outgoing personality (or shyness, whichever of these two), but it just seemed to me that only the very sociable people actually had an easy time getting something out of interacting with agents. I think not all writers are very sociable, so how do they cross that bridge? Is there a good way to approach an agent? A protocol? Some expected manners?
My worst experience was when at one of these conferences I read something in a room where about 12 of us were reading to one agent, and the agent was so harsh and matter-of-fact in the way she responded to me that I was brought to tears. Am I just too sensitive for such interactions? Then, what is one to do if one is like me?
I’m going to do bullet points for this question because there are a few things to address:
- “Common people try to impress [agents].” Ninety percent of my job is trying to impress writers and editors. We want you to pick us and you have a sea full of agents. I’ve lost several potential clients to other agents. We want you to love us! We work very hard at making you love us. It’s definitely a two-way street. There may be a few bad seeds out there, who think they are better than writers because they represent novels, but you are the real talent. Our jobs wouldn’t exist without you. You are the reason we are sitting on panels; the reason we go to conferences.
- “…agents talked to ‘mortals’ and took questions…” I’ll be honest, I find this a bit offensive. I know in my agent circle of friends (which is quite large and spans the United States, Canada and the UK) we love doing panels. We love sharing our knowledge. We only want to help you learn the business. If we come across as rude or grumpy, it might just be the fact that conferences suck the life out of us. They are very tiring and yes… it’s unfortunate that we might be grumpy on a panel. But just take the advice offered and forget our attitudes, because honestly, we say everything with the best intentions.
- I can’t help you to become outgoing. But I can say this: if you are at a conference, and you are scared out of your mind to go up and talk to an agent, repeat this mantra, “They are looking for quality material to pitch to editors, I have that quality material. Why wouldn’t they want to chat with me?” Or if you haven’t completed a manuscript yet, repeat this mantra, “I paid close to a thousand dollars to be here and I have a question. They can answer it. That’s why they are here. I will go ask my question.”
- There is some protocol, yes, but it’s fairly common courtesy. If an agent is heading to the bar, or their room, or they look like they are speed walking… not a good time to try and chat with them. If an agent is in the bathroom… not a good time to chat with them. The best time is right after keynotes or panels. Just go up, introduce yourself, and ask your question. You might want to start by thanking them for the time they are taking to attend the conference. They are sure to be appreciative of you then.
- I’m a shy person as well. I’ll let you in on a little secret. If I want to approach someone but am too nervous, I find something about him or her that I can compliment. Be genuine! But it’s not that hard… hair color, watch, a ring, their tie… Voilà! Instant icebreaker.
Pro tip: Do not launch into a pitch of your manuscript out of the blue. Start a conversation with the agent and then if you feel like they might be right for your manuscript, give them your elevator pitch. Have it memorized and ready to go.
Ps. I’m truly sorry for your terrible experience at the conference with the really harsh agent. You are going to find awful people in every business. Don’t let a few bad ones ruin it for you.
Thank your for all the wonderful questions this week. "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch" -Garrison Keillor
Have a question about the publishing industry? I would love to discuss the specifics of researching and querying agents, finding the right agent, proper publishing etiquette, how to go from idea to completed manuscript, marketing yourself, social media for writers, and anything else you can think of! I am now taking questions for Issue 4 of Ask the Agent. Issue 4 answers will be posted Monday, August 20th.
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