By this point, I’m not sure how many queries I’ve mailed off for two potential manuscripts, and I certainly don’t know how many actually garnered replies. (I could probably go in and count, but honestly, I don’t need to relive that many trips down disappointment lane.)
There are a few types that have stuck with me, some for more positive reasons than others. To a point, though, I must say, even a rejection response is more positive than no response at all. Like, I understand that the genre I’m trying to force myself into is saturated to all hell (YA is a real monster. If you tried to wring out that towel, it’d probably just look like this), but there’s always something a little disquieting in not receiving a response at all. From the perspective of an agent, though, I 100% get it. You do you, friend, you do whatever you need to keep your sanity. I got you.
I like to consider myself something of a query-veteran by now, dirty and tired and struggling to gather the strength to find 5 more prospects to email. But it’s necessary, and I’m gonna do it. Scavenging the remains of my inbox only motivates me to keep going, I guess. It certainly doesn’t make me want to go home, shut the blinds, turn off the lights, and watch every episode of Parks and Rec again while avoiding the outside.
For those of you who understand, and those of you who might not yet, let’s take a walk down disappointment lane.
1. The Beginning
This is the first response I ever received, for the first query I ever sent. Honestly, even now, it absolutely shocks me, because this agent responded to me within 2 hours of receiving my email. In almost 2 years, that’s never happened again. Not once.
At the time, my manuscript was still in its infancy (I later went on to rewrite the entire thing– can’t quite believe at the time I thought it was “finished” and “polished”), my query was in its first draft, and was a horror to look at (I immediately closed the gmail tab containing it as I searched for this particular response. I don’t want to see it. I’m so embarrassed.)
The thing that makes this response so important to me, however, isn’t necessarily the response time (though that certainly means a lot, looking back. Honestly, one day if I ever do become a published writer, I might email this agent and say hey, thanks.) it was the fact I received a response at all.
As it was my first query, I think my biggest fear at the time was that I would be ignored, that my work would be so laughably bad that I wouldn’t even justify a response. And so, to receive one, especially so damn fast, a weight lifted off of me. I felt like I could breathe again.
Despite being a rejection, I’d jumped into the pool, and now knew what to expect. After doing my research, I knew going in that I was likely to be rejected a lot (Harry Potter was rejected 12 times by publishers, Twilight by 19) so I was already armored up for disappointment. I’ll be honest, a part of me was excited to be immediately loved and lauded as this century’s greatest novelist, book signings sold out and movie deal pending, but the writing gods have yet to smile upon me.
2. The “Open to queries– oooops, just kidding everybody”
Honestly, I receive these types of automated replies more often than I’d like. Of course, while it’s impossible for agencies to keep track of where their contact information is posted outside of their own agency’s website (I suggest to always visit the official site before querying someone, rather than relying solely on the information listed on a 3rd party agent-search) it’s a little frustrating to get your hopes up about a potentially killer agent, only to find out they’re not even open to submissions.
3. The “Almost Made Me Cry”
This one broke me. I think I was at least a year into querying this point, thinking maybe my original manuscript was too long, or too specific in genre (YA Sci-Fi), and maybe I needed to pitch something else– a different, shorter manuscript, one a little easier to swallow and get my name out there before dropping the big one– and oh damn, this one hit me hard.
I was sitting in class when I read it, and I recall exactly what happened after– I felt absolutely nauseous. I thought I was going to be sick. I immediately texted my BFF and told her, and then had to fight back tears.
By this point I was so frustrated, so tired, I just wanted something. Even if it was just another rejection with some hopeful words in it, I wanted anything but this response. I don’t know if it was automated like everything else, or if this agent actually plucked those keys and worded it this way on purpose, but the thought that I was so close, but still not good enough, I felt like I’d been gutted.
It sounds dramatic, but when I read it, all I saw was this: “Hey! Your query really got me interested! Oh, but the actual material just isn’t great. I was prepared to offer you something, but, maybe, nah.”
+10 Baby Points added to my stats
4. “Dear Author”
I don’t particularly have anything to say about this one, except that I find “dear author” kind of hilarious(ly ironic), seeing as every “How to Write a Query” step by step guide explicitly states “under NO circumstances should you address your query with ‘DEAR AGENT’”
5. The “Words of Encouragement”
“This business is highly subjective; many people whose work I haven’t connected with have gone on to critical and commercial success. So, keep after it.”
Oh, you sweet, sweet, angel, thank you so much. I want to wash your feet.
It’s the little things. Motivational blurbs at the bottom of any rejection letter suck the drowning water back out of my lungs with a vacuum hose. I think this is so inspiring because, while I understand that agents don’t reject for any personal reasons, really, they’re out to make money themselves and wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s time representing something they themselves don’t really care for– just being reminded of that warms my heart a bit.
Like, yeah, ok, my work isn’t total garbage– it just doesn’t vibe with you. Thank you for being honest, and supportive all at once. I hope Amazon accidentally sends you two things when you only ordered one. You deserve it.
6. The “Automated Encouragement”
“Please don’t take a pass as a comment on you or your writing ability; it isn’t intended to be one.”
Real tears in my eyes right now. I’m actually crying.
7. The “No Reply Means No”
Perhaps the most frustrating response I receive is no response. Even if I receive an automated reply that says, hey, just a heads up, we don’t reply to everyone, that’s still some kind of contact, and weirdly doesn’t count as a no reply to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I know why a majority of agents don’t reply to every single query they receive (seeing as some can get up to 230 queries in a single week), but it’s still a pretty crappy end game when every query I send feels like another year off my life. It’s all fine and good, I’m not bitter.
After all, I’ve received replies to some queries I assumed were just a “no reply means no,” type situation almost a year after originally sending it. So, maybe all those agents I haven’t heard back from yet still plan on replying, it’s just at the bottom of their to-do list.
For a long time, I saw every agent who rejected me as the enemy. I felt personally slighted, I asked myself what was wrong with my query and sample pages, wracking my brain as to why these people just couldn’t see my genius. I parried comments from family and friends that would ask “how’s that book coming?” before snickering, because they thought I was all talk and no work. I had to constantly remind my dad that no, I can’t email a rejection back and ask why.
The thing is, though, that a rejection is none of those negative things. Although it might be a frustration, and a punch to the ego, try looking at it in this light instead: you would rather have an agent who’s as passionate about your plot, obsessed with your characters, and moved by your voice as you are yourself. You don’t want the first agent you send it to, who thinks, sure, ok, I could break even on this– no, you want one who will fight tooth and nail for the best book deal, and then subsequent movie deals (if that’s what you’re into, at least.)
Keep querying, keep waiting, and keep searching for your agent soulmate. They’re out there, and they’re waiting to find you, too.