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

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...
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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?)

Column by award-winning former journalist Kristi Belcamino, whose debut
mystery BLESSED ARE THE DEAD has been compared to Sue Grafton's books
and offers chilling, authentic glimpses into the mind of a psychopath while also
mining the psyche of an extremely likeable and sympathetic protagonist. The
novel (HarperCollins June 10, 2014) was inspired by Belcamino's dealings with
a serial killer during her life as a Bay Area crime reporter. Find Kristi on Twitter.

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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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