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  • Guide to Literary Agents

Don’t Give Up Until You’ve Queried 80 Agents or More

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, Queries and Synopses and Proposals, What's New.

The other day, a writer friend asked for my advice in dealing with all pesky rejections in the query stage. I asked how many agents she had queried. “Forty,” she said.

“Well, then you’re halfway there.”

I wasn’t trying to be flippant, but if you are serious about getting published, then don’t even think about giving up until you’ve queried at least one hundred agents. Really. But there are a lot of caveats attached to that advice…

(What query letter mistakes will sink your submission chances?)

 

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First, let me point out that some people send out that first query and bam — agent. Bam — book deal. From what I’ve seen in my limited time in the trenches, this applies to about one percent of the writers out there — or maybe .000001 percent. Not sure. One or the other.

But don’t let me be a downer, go ahead and dream of being that minority and more power to you if you fall into that scenario. The rest of you doomed sorts can join me as I slog through the publishing quagmire I call “Building my Career.”

Luckily, there are many signs along the road that will help guide you in the right direction. Before you begin, you might want to make sure you’re stocked for the trip.

Here are four things you’ll need to pack for your journey:

1. Perseverance. Be stubborn and refuse to ever give up.

2. Work. Cultivate a constant desire to improve as a writer. This means putting words, lots and lots of words, on paper. This also involves studying the craft of writing and reading as much as you can as often as possible.

3. Teflon-Mentality. Develop a force field to deflect ego-smashing rejections. It is crucial to have the ability to effectively handle rejection, letting them bounce off you, and not allowing them to stop you from plugging away. (See #2 Work.) Get used to it. You think after you get an agent that the rejection is over. HAHAHAHAHAHA. (Sorry.)

4. Patience. Here’s a little secret — the world of publishing runs on a completely alternate universe concept of time. Tired of waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher or editor? Grab a beer and put your feet up. In other words, get used to it.

If you have those four tools in your trunk during your trip, you’ll eventually make it to your destination.

Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not in one year. Maybe not even in ten years. But one day. If you are always working to improve as a writer and refuse to give up, one day you will be successful.

Sound easy?

It’s not. But it can happen.

(Headed to a conference? Learn how to approach an agent.)

Let’s talk more about that road to publication. Luckily for you, this road is marked with helpful road signs that let you know you are heading the right way.

So, let’s get back to my friend’s 40 queries.

I asked for even more information. Is she getting requests for manuscripts? Yep, no problem there, she said. Well, that tells me that her query is solid. It’s working.

That’s a mile marker she’s passed on her journey.

My next question for her: When she did get a manuscript rejected was it a form rejection or an encouraging, specific rejection with lots of feedback?

Form rejections could mean a detour. Exit and go consult a developmental editor. Feedback with specific rejections could mean revising and resubmitting, especially when more than one agent says basically the same thing needs to be fixed.

If you are getting feedback that takes up the entire page, jump up and down with joy — you are getting close. That road sign says your exit is ahead.

Do the revisions and massage that manuscript even more, if necessary.

Do not give up.

Look for more signs that you are nearing your exit. I remember the day I knew I was close. I was taking a writing class at a local literary center. The teacher said he’d never snagged an agent with his novel. One agent had told him, “It just didn’t make me want to miss my subway stop.”

I practically did a cartwheel in class that day because an agent had called me the day before telling me this:

She’d started reading my manuscript on her phone on the train home and had intended to stop and read the rest on her iPad or computer once she got to her apartment. Instead, she finished reading my book, sitting on her living room couch with her jacket still on.

Although, she never did make an offer of representation, when she told me that story and then I heard my writing teacher tell his, I knew I was close.

Then one day, the ultimate road sign appears: Exit now.

An email in your inbox or a phone call! Yay! An offer of representation.

Congratulations! Go celebrate! I did. I had a helping of bacon ice cream and a shot of vodka. You might prefer a kale shake and a slice of tofu — whatever guns your motor. The point is to take a minute to enjoy this milestone. You’ve made it. So far. We’ll talk about getting that book deal in another post! For now, enjoy your success.

(How successful writers are using the Internet and social-media to sell more books.)

 

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9 Responses to Don’t Give Up Until You’ve Queried 80 Agents or More

  1. Joe Snoe says:

    My two cents: I’ve not queried any agents but I have sent out resumes in a job hunting process (twice).; and to publishers of books (technical – narrow field) (with royalties) and to reviews and journals (nonpaying). I was successful each time. In the job seeking process I think I sent out like 80 applications once and maybe 15 for the other. I had sterling qualifications for the jobs. If memory serves, maybe 10-15% of the companies even acknowledged my applications. I got 4 interviews from the 80 and 4 interviews from the 15. Similar experience in sending out articles (Even though nonpaying). Luckily for my sanity, I “knew” I or my product was excellent and I only needed one acceptance, so the rejections and nonresponses didn’t bother me on a personal basis. The problems with the agent hunting process is the sheer number of solid authors writing different categories of books competing. It’s scary wondering what will happen. But I have to assume my novel will click with a good agent somewhere and a good publisher. Have to.

  2. Great article! And author must adhere to these in order to succeed…well these and also by drinking lots of coffee! I still have a few queries out myself and a request for a full. Trying very hard to concentrate on other things! Now there’s an article idea for you.

  3. JohnA says:

    100? I had 50 in mind as a loose target. And I have had a few rejections that have been more than the form kind rejection. But I have heard of many more than 100 queries, without giving up, so I’m inclined to go with Kerr Berr’s view of numbers.

    As an aside, with non-replies, there is no excuse whatsoever for an agency not to respond to each submission received, even if only with a couple of lines.

  4. Lisdoonvarna says:

    I already knew querying agents was going to be quite a process but it’s good to hear there are stages of progress. I’ve heard of query letter bingo and think that will be fun so I don’t take rejection letters too seriously.
    Where did you encounter bacon ice cream? I thought that was only a Southeastern thing.

  5. ARCTG says:

    I’m pleased to read this article, and passing it along. I’ve heard so many give up after submitting 10, or 15, and yet I hear the stories of well known authors who didn’t get their agents until the 99th or 110th. They also didn’t revise between then either. This is my year to brave the query letter sending, I’ve worked 8 years on this, and I’m not giving up after 10 or 15. I want an agent rather than self-publish.

  6. Kerr Berr says:

    Another funny contradiction, regarding your story about the agent reading your ms: She intended on finishing it when she arrived at her apartment, but instead, she finished reading it sitting on her living room couch with her jacket still on.

    Is her living room and couch not in her apartment?

    I’m smiling and teasing, not chastising you. :)

  7. Kerr Berr says:

    Moderately interesting article, but outrageously absurd and STUPID article title. How can you even dare to put a number to the rejections before “giving up”? That’s insane.

    You even contradict the title in the article: 1. Perseverance. Be stubborn and refuse to ever give up. …and then later: Do not give up.

    And yet the title states “Don’t Give Up UNTIL…”

    Sorry, girl, but that sounds like you’re trying to subtly pare down the competition… and failing at subtlety miserably.

    Ask yourself this: How many writers will read this and think, “Oh, no, I’m on rejection #79, only one more to go before I have to give up.” See how moronic and idiotic that sounds now, spelled out?

    I suffered through over FOUR HUNDRED rejections (with a handful of ms requests) to seven novels over eight years, and just last year was offered (and accepted) two publishing contracts at the same time from two different reputable publishers for two different novels. Would this have happened if I assigned a number to the rejections I was allowed before quitting?

    The article makes sense. The title… well, the title just sucks. Shame on whoever named it, shame!

    Cold beer, no bacon ice cream, but a fresh BLT sounds great. And freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that you can smell baking from down the street.

  8. TheMostUnfunny says:

    Bacon Ice Cream?

  9. DanielR says:

    Thank you for this article today! I am just ten queries in and questions of self-doubt creep in with each rejection or lack of response. I have a manuscript that I poured my heart into and feel good about, which is quite a feat for a perfectionist.

    Your advice here reminds me that there are many more out there on the same journey. Thanks again for what I found to be an encouraging article.

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