On the Querying Process – Rejection

You’ve written the query and three versions of the synopsis (1, 2, and 3 pages). Revised them. Revised them again. Threw them out. Started again. Revised the new versions twice. Sent them to Twitter friends (thank you, lovely Twitter friends). Revised them based on feedback. Twice.

That sounds like a lot of work, right? Distilling the essence of your beautiful baby (your MS) into a page of marketing speak? It is. There’s a lot of “it’s not fair!” that goes on during this process. In fact, most writers consider writing queries and synopses the bane of their existence. We’re writers, creatives. We don’t want to worry about being salesmen. Luckily, I have a marketing background which makes it a teensy bit easier. But only a teensy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoy this process, but one thing I can say for it is at least it’s an active process. Just like when something really heavy strikes us anger is often what comes up first because it feels active and powerful. While we might feel lost sometimes when doing a query and a synopsis, lost for the right words to describe our literary child, it’s not the hardest part.

I’m actually torn between which is the hardest part – the waiting or the rejection. But more on the waiting later.

Rejection sucks. There’s no other way to look at it. It sucks. Everything I’ve read tells me it gets easier, but I’m finding the opposite. It’s getting harder.

Why? Because I’m getting closer.

With my first novel, I was a complete newbie who knew nothing about the process. The fact that I had finished writing an entire book length work and was actually ballsy enough to let people read it and send it out into the agent world was enough to make me proud. When the rejections (or crickets, in lieu of a response) rolled in, I wasn’t too surprised. I was actually kind of excited, because it meant that someone had read something I had tried to put out, even if they didn’t like it. It made it real. It was the first step. Of course, after dozens of rejections, revisions, and more rejections that came it eventually lost its luster, caving in to a general hopelessness. But I could feel good that I had tried my best.

My second book I have higher hopes for. My writing has grown up a bit, I’ve learned a lot more about the process, I know what agents are looking for. And I truly love the story I’ve written. The characters feel more real to me. The dream is more alive than ever. So the rejections, when they come, are more crushing.

It’s also because I’m more focused on the kind of agent I want, so the agents I do query are people I really wanted to work with. It’s like when you do speed dating and walk away without a connection it’s disappointing but not a big deal, because it was a crapshoot in a room full of strangers. But when you go out with someone you’ve had a crush on for months and then they don’t call — that’s the stuff that sends you right to the Ben & Jerry’s.

The worst part is, 9 times out of ten you get a form rejection, so you can’t gain any valuable insight that can help you improve. (Side note: I am not on my soapbox demanding that every agent should send a personalized rejection to every querier. They do not have time for this, so I understand. See, agents? See how easy I am to work with?) But I’ve been told, and am really starting to believe, that when you do start getting those personalized rejections you’re getting closer. It means your hook is strong enough that they wanted to read more. It means your sample pages kept them reading, even if not for as long as you had hoped. It’s the next step.

But that doesn’t make it any easier. If a game is neck and neck and your team is thisclose to winning, the moment when the other team scores and you realize you’ve been defeated is absolutely flattening.

There are two pieces of advice I can give to querying writers, with the disclaimer that I am not yet published and therefore you may not care what I have to say. But for your sanity’s sake, just listen up.

1) When you’re querying, start your next book. The querying process is long, my friends, much longer than you can imagine, and if all your eggs are in your querying book’s basket, you will go insane. Like legit, rocking in a corner, insane. Shed all the excuses to start a new project (“I want to see if anyone likes this one before I waste time on another one” is common. I used this one for a bit). No. Ignore this. If you are a writer and this is your dream, you need to write. Not only will it help you stay connected to the writer inside, it will help improve your writing. It will give you a sense of control throughout a process that you have almost zero control over. And no matter how good a writer you are, your craft improves with time and practice. So if your book (God forbid) doesn’t find a literary home in the end, at least you’re still moving toward the target.

2) There’s a way to frame rejection, but you have to believe that there is something at work larger than yourself to find it helpful, and that is this: Every rejection you get clears the way to the agent who will be the champion of your work. There are tons of agents out there, all of whom bust their butts for their clients. But even if you think one of them is your dream agent and will be the one to launch your stellar career, if they don’t fall in love with your work, then you aren’t, in fact, the right fit. You don’t want someone who has lukewarm feelings about your book! You want someone who is in love with it as much as you are (more even, given the writer’s slant toward self-hatred), so they can sell it! So for every agent you get a rejection from, try being grateful that something even better is out there for you.

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