(Stop looking at the adorable gif and read on. I know it’s hard, but do it!)
Let’s say that you walk into a bookstore. What do you do? Pick up the nearest book! You look at the cover and it seems cool, so you flip it open to the first page. Not bad. Maybe even good enough to get you to look at more. But somewhere along the way, you figure out this book isn’t for you, put it back on the shelf, and go to the next book.
It might take you an hour, or even all day, before you find THE book you want to read.
Literary agents also feel this way. Sometimes, they know the minute they read your query that this book isn’t for them. It’s nothing against you, the writer, or your plot, or your characters, or even how you presented yourself (if you did it right)… it’s just not their thing. Some agents may ask for a little more, just to see if it IS their thing. Then, they might still say no.
Don’t take it personally.
Either it is their thing, or it isn’t, and if it isn’t, you don’t want them representing your book. You want someone passionate about your book, who loves it just as much as you do, who secretly hopes you’ll write more books, just so they can love another set of characters (or learn more about these characters).
You see, agents make their living off selling books. Sometimes it takes months or even years to find a publisher for even a book the agent absolutely loves. Agents have to keep in mind their literary connections (could they sell a book like yours?), the market (is this “in” right now or something new that might be more controversial?), your product itself (what age group does it target? how does it differ from what’s on the market? is it competing with other books they represent?), and the word length (is it too long?). They have to be picky! This is their bread and butter, and if they don’t think they can represent your book like it should be represented, they’re going to pass. It’s not about you or your book, it’s about them.
If you’re a writer, don’t give up. There IS someone out there waiting for your book. But just like you might have to dig through 100 books in a bookstore to find the one that’s perfect for you, you might have to be one of those 100 books that gets picked up, glanced at, pages thumbed around, and put down, before that Special Someone picks you up, carries you to the counter, and drives you home.
Rejection is a part of life. Much of the time, it’s not personal, yet often we think it is. We let it eat away at our confidence, and make us question ourselves (is this book even any good? What was wrong with it that they said no? Will anyone ever want to sell it for me?). Why do we do that? Would we want every movie, book, piece of music, or bit of art to feel rejected if we didn’t like it, but other people did? That’s silly, isn’t it?
So remember this when you’re querying:
- Agents are human too: they have likes, dislikes, and prefer certain writing styles. Some agents want a J.K. Rowling. Some agents want a Stephanie Meyer. Some agents want a George R.R. Martin. Very different styles, very different stuff, but all of them found an agent to represent their work.
- Rejection doesn’t mean your stuff is bad, just that it wasn’t the perfect fit for that person. If you’ve written and rewritten it, had it proof-read, tweaked it, run it past other readers and writers, and gotten a thumbs up, don’t doubt it. Stay passionate about it. (And keep writing more books!)
- Asking to read more, then turning it down doesn’t mean you failed; it means you’re good enough to get even someone who might not sell it to read more. It also means your query letter is GOOD!!
- Perseverance pays off. Keep at it. The right agent for you might be number 133 on your list, but it might be number 133 that absolutely loves your book, signs you up, gets you a publishing deal, and then negotiates the movie rights. Work your way through as many agents that represent your genre as possible—and don’t be afraid to be bold!