Rejections and Partials and Fulls … Oh, My!

Today’s post continues our ongoing Publishing 101 series with a look at what happens “after the query.” (For a look at writing the query letter itself, click here or check the archives for Publishing 101.)

Most writers agree that the query process isn’t the most fun you’ll have on the way to publication. Essentially, the query is a new car design … and the author, the crash-test dummy. If you’re like most of us who query, you’re going to hit a few walls before you reach THE CALL that leads to representation.

However, the querying process is neither a license to gloat nor cause for despair, and there are several things you can do to ease the experience.

1. The first rule of querying is DO NOT TALK ABOUT QUERYING. Not in public and not in detail, anyway. General comments like “I’m querying!” are ok (though I generally advise silence even here – you never know who’s watching) but do not EVER give details. Badmouthing an agent in public can blackball you with all the others – and even if it doesn’t, it makes you look petty. Agents and publishers often Google authors before making offers – don’t let your blog, Twitter, and Facebook depth-charge your career.

2. Query multiple agents simultaneously, but not the entire phone book at one time. Make a list of the agents you want to query, pick a reasonable number, tailor the queries and send them out. Pick a reasonable number that works for you – somewhere between 3 and 5 gives you a few options. Don’t query every agent at once – multiple rejections often indicate a problem with the query letter, and you may want to change the query as you go.

A note about exclusivity: Some agents request exclusivity when it comes to requests for full manuscript reads, but exclusivity should be granted carefully, if at all. If you do grant an exclusive read (& that’s a business decision), make sure there’s a definite time limit and end date.

3. Keep a detailed list of who you queried, and when, and what response (if any) you received. Agents who request a partial may like your style, even if they ultimately pass on a given project. Records will tell you who to approach the next time.

4. Be Classy. Be Professional. No Exceptions. Maintain a polite, professional demeanor no matter what response your queries receive. Do not respond to rejections with venomous or sarcastic responses telling an agent (s)he will regret the decision to reject you.  Do not vilify agents, publishers, or the industry generally, on your blog or in any public forum. You’re not a comic book villain, and the rejection wasn’t personal. This is business for the agents – and if you want to be published, it’s your business too. Remember that, and be professional ALWAYS.

Let’s repeat that for emphasis: Querying is emotional, but do not let the “tweet” button go down on your anger.

4. Rejection Means it’s Time to Get Back on the Horse. You will receive rejections. It’s part of the process. A rejection isn’t a statement about your value as a human being, or even the value of your work. A rejection simply means this agent isn’t a match for the project at this time. Remember that list of agents? When you receive a rejection, send a new query out at once. Within 24 hours, if you can. The easiest way to recover from the sting of rejection is forward movement – and in this case, that’s sending another query.

5. Focus on Writing, Blogging, Social Media, or Other Platform-Building Activities. A writer’s life – and job – doesn’t end when the queries go out. Writers write – and you need to continue writing while you query. Writing will keep you from focusing on the query “what ifs” and also helps you advance your career while you wait.

Generally, I don’t recommend writing subsequent books in an unsold series – an agent who rejects book 1 probably won’t want to read book 2. Find another project to work on, either exclusively or (if you MUST write sequels) while you continue work on the series. The query process is also a good time to work on blogging, social media, public speaking, and other platform-building activities.

6. Above all: do not become discouraged. Veterans of the query wars agree that rejection never stops hurting. Thick skin helps, but won’t completely take away the sting. It took me almost nine years and five manuscripts to get from “no” to “yes” – and I had many query rejections along the way. Patience and fortitude are the keys to surviving the query process. Remember, you only need one “Yes.”

Join me next week, when we take a look at what happens when that YES finally comes – THE CALL.

Have you got additional secrets to help survive the query process? What worked – or is working for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!