This is a post I’ve been waiting to write for over half a year — no, scratch that, five years! Ever since I finished my very first novel in 2009.
I am officially a repped author!
Many of you know I’ve been neck-deep in the agent querying process since this past December. Here’s the breakdown of my querying statistics to date:
- Timeline: December 5, 2013 — July 21, 2014
- Queries Sent: 89
- Rejections: 41
- No Response: 47
- Partial Requests: 2
- Full Requests: 4
- Offers of Representation: 1
I’ve evolved in many ways since I started writing books and querying agents, and I thought this was the perfect time to look back at my learnings regarding querying over the last half decade or so.
While I’m quite proud of Queer Greer, the first full-length novel I’ve ever written, I am not proud of my decisions with it once I thought it was finished; this is true for my second book, Choice, as well. I barely tried looking for representation for either, likely knowing in the back of my mind I was nowhere near ready for such. In fact, looking through my emails from October 2009, I queried a mere two agents I found through AgentQuery.com only after I had already gone the self-publishing route with both.
What the heck was I thinking?!
Those queries read more like pathetic first drafts of cover letters for a summer job in high school than what I intended them to be. Not surprisingly, I never got a response from either agent I queried (if you can even call it that…).
By mid-2012, Queer Greer had been picked up by an independent publisher, given a full, professional edit and a cover enhancement, simply through a connection made via Twitter.
I was working on the third draft of my Malawian-based novel, Vuto, and trying to decide what to do with it after I finished.
I had a great feeling about this third book and I wanted it to have a chance to succeed. So, I returned to AgentQuery.com once more. This time around, I sent out over 40 queries, even submitting to the embarrassment that often comes with having a query up on Janet Reid’s Query Shark. But when you’re trying to get serious about writing, you treasure all the constructive criticism you can get.
Even with help from the Shark, I made some major mistakes at this juncture as well. Some of the comments agents were making about Vuto in their replies to my query included:
- “I do admire the quality of the writing and the execution and I’m sorry it wasn’t a fit for me.”
- “Your writing is strong, but unfortunately I’m afraid I’m not the right agent for this project.”
- “This is fascinating and has potential but the structure renders the reading experience a choppy one. Have you considered other approaches?”
What I should have gotten from these comments was that I was headed in the right direction and that I should not give up yet. With the last comment and question, I had an agent on the hook — if I was willing to make some structural revisions. Instead of seeing the hope and possibility in these responses, all I saw were rejections and an agent who didn’t like what I’d written in the way I’d written it.
When I got my first full request, it was from one of the best agencies in New York and I was on cloud nine for the few weeks it took them to read it.
- “I regret to inform you that we will not pursue representation. While your work certainly has merit, it simply isn’t right for our list. Please don’t be discouraged…I urge you to seek another opinion if you have not already done so.”
Reading that now, I must resist the urge to slap myself across the face. A prestigious agency was telling me I was on the right path, that my writing “has merit” and to keep querying. What did I choose to do instead? Crowdfund on Kickstarter to raise enough money to go the indie route once more.
While there are definitely a lot of positives to independent publishing and I do not regret the books I’ve personally taken this route, it’s one indie pubbed novel in a million (maybe more) that takes off to commercial success; it’s a rough road requiring a substantial investment from the author upfront, and there are no guarantees that you’ll be making that money back.
For my fourth novel, I aimed to learn from everything I had and hadn’t done previously. I sent out just under 90 queries to agents I’d found through the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, WritersDigest.com and by looking into the agents representing authors with similar styles to my own. I worked and worked on my query letter until it was where I thought it needed to be to attract attention.
Two months of query emailing later, amid what seemed like daily rejections, I received my first request for a partial; a week later I got two requests for fulls from two other agencies. By four months in, there were four agents considering various lengths of my novel, helping me wave off 37 rejections and 39 unanswered queries like I’d never sent them out in the first place.
One agent asked me if I’d consider removing the point-of-view of one of my characters entirely, restructuring the entire work to be told from just one protagonist. At that point, I looked back over those old rejections for my previous books and realized that I was standing at a precipice — turn around, refusing to change a thing, and move further away from my goal; or take the jump, hoping for an as-yet-to-be-seen bridge to appear beneath my feet. This latter choice involved cutting my book in half and rewriting about 40,000 words or so — no easy jump to take, no matter which way you looked at it.
But, I did it.
I did the work.
I made the jump.
I still had four agents interested and I sent them out the new version, painstakingly rewritten in two months time. It was May at that point and I would have two more months to wait for their responses:
Agent #1: “It’s clear that you’ve made significant revisions to this manuscript since I last saw it, but unfortunately I’m still going to have to pass on going further with this project. My biggest concern is that with the removal of [the second protagonist’s] perspective from the novel it was less clear to me what the central conflict is — what’s making the reader have to continue to turn the pages?”
It was a bit frustrating reading this feedback considering that she was essentially saying I needed to re-insert all of the copy she’d originally recommended I cut. Considering this, it was clear we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the project and likely wouldn’t have made a good team moving forward. Fortunately, she did end her email letting me know she thought I was a “talented writer and there’s a lot to love about the premise here.”
Agent #2: “There was much I enjoyed about [your manuscript], but in the end I found myself questioning whether the multiple POV did justice to the story.”
Right there I realized she hadn’t paid attention to the most recent version of my book that I’d sent her, since there were no longer multiple POVs. This once again told me this agent would not have been the best fit either.
Agent #3: “Hey! Would you have time for a phone call at some point tomorrow?”
When this note came through, my breath left my lungs. I knew what that meant. Of course I had time to talk and, once we got on the phone, I realized Agent #3 saw my manuscript the same way I did, with the same vision and same level of passion for the project as a whole. When she offered representation, I had to let the last agent considering my project know. Here’s what she had to say:
Agent #4: “That is the best news I’ve heard all week!!”
Agent #4 ultimately declined an offer, why? Because she doesn’t even represent the genre I write in. She put in hours to read multiple versions of my book and give extensive, essential notes when she doesn’t even work in the same wheelhouse. Instead of being upset, I was so flattered, especially when she insisted that she knew my book would sell and that she “can’t wait to read it” once it does.
The next day, I let Agent #3 know that I would be absolutely thrilled to sign with her and the rest, as they say, is history. I am now officially represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary Agency and I couldn’t be more excited!
And now the work really begins. Back to editing!