I’m almost at the point where I feel I should stop talking about querying and rejections. It’s time to focus on the positive, yes? With Query Hell behind me, it’s time to retire the spreadsheet and move forward in this process. There’s lots to be done and I really believe it will get harder from here on out (but in a good and more challenging way).
But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t pause and reflect before moving on, so please indulge me with one more post. Then I swear I’ll get back to the craft of writing about writing.
Out of all the rejections I received (which, now that I’m blessed with the gift of hindsight, really weren’t that many considering I’d only been querying for three and a half months), only two were personally written. All the rest were form. Which is not a bad thing – agents do this to save time, which is precious – but anything not form can’t help but stand out.
Because personal rejections force you to think. Hard.
I received this one in November, which was the best compliment and most painful rejection all at the same time:
I requested a reader’s report on CREEP and there is good news and bad news.
I hope you find this helpful:
I found the writing to be flawless and the hook firmly set. What’s missing is likable characters. It took me awhile, because it was so well written, but I ultimately realized I didn’t care what happened to anyone in the story. If the protagonist has a redeeming quality, the author should have established it early on.
Based on this I must wish you well with another agent, someone who upon reading your [manuscript] ultimately doesn’t agree with this assessment.
Ultimately I didn’t agree with this agent’s feedback. But his rejection made me think very, very hard about whether or not I thought he had a valid point. I eventually concluded that I’d rather have a protagonist who’s interesting rather than likable, and while risky, that’s what felt right to me and right for the story.
What his comments did do was inspire me to go through the manuscript one more time (which I said I wouldn’t do once I started sending it out) and GET RID OF all the extra stuff I’d added into my earlier drafts in my attempts to make the protagonist more likable. Because in doing so, I had dropped the tension in chapters two and three that I had worked so hard to create in chapter one.
And it was this new, unpadded, and somewhat unapologetic version that landed on Victoria’s desk. And she likes it! As do I! So thanks, Mr. Agent, for indirectly forcing me to stand up for the characters that felt right to me.
And then another personal rejection came in just five days ago, the very morning I received The Call. It gets my vote for the nicest and most potentially helpful rejection ever (actual names redacted, of course):
You absolutely must try Really Great Agent at Really Great Agency with this one, firstname.lastname@example.org. Your writing’s great and I think it could be really perfect for her (she’s actively looking for thrillers with great female protags, and I’ve been pulling back from thrillers). If you’re going to get in touch I’ll give her a heads up so she keeps an eye out.
Thanks for thinking of me!
Super Nice Agent
What a great way to reject someone! She didn’t have to take the time to refer me to another agent as she’d already spent time reading the query and sample I’d sent her. But she did. And had I not already received an offer, I would have been excited to see where this one ended up.
I have never before responded to a rejection, but I thought this one deserved something. Here’s what I wrote back (sent on Monday):
Hi Super Nice Agent,
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for your kind referral to Really Great Agent. Fortunately, it won’t be necessary as I’ve just signed with an agent at Levine Greenberg.
This query business is tough and your email really stood out. I appreciate the time you took to let me know someone else might be interested. Thank you for that!
And she responded!
Huge congrats Jennifer–fingers crossed for your sale!
How nice, right? I thought so!
The moral to this story?
Agents are people, too.
They are nice people. Normal people. With opinions that vary widely. It was easy for me to forget this, and much easier to think of agents as fish in a big sea that I had to land or hook or reel in (yes, these are all terms we writers use in our pursuit of an agent). They do read what you send them, and when they write back saying it’s not for them, it really isn’t for them. You don’t want someone representing your book who isn’t wholly passionate about it, do you? It doesn’t mean that somebody else won’t love it. I got better at understanding this as time went on, but the first few rejections really did sting. No way around that.
But over time, it got better. And in the end, it was all worth it. And now, when I scroll through the rejections I received, I wonder, what was I so emotional about? Everybody was nice! Nobody told me I sucked. Nobody told me to stop writing. In fact, just about everybody recommended I try again elsewhere.
It just didn’t feel that way at the time.
And in the end, it doesn’t matter how many rejections you get. It just takes one yes.