Yesterday, in the span of one hour, I received a full request and a form rejection.
Same query. Same sample pages. Different agents.
If that’s not a lesson in just how subjective this business really is, then I don’t know what is.
Two different agents can read the exact same thing at darn-near the exact same time. For one, their curiosity is piqued. The query grabs them. The sample pages leave them wanting to read more. Full request. Another agent may only get through the first sentence before he or she is clicking a big old nope. Perhaps the query is there but the writing is not. Perhaps he or she is tired, grouchy, and just trying to get through ‘x’ number of queries for the day. Whatever the case, its a form rejection. Dear Author, thanks but no thanks.
The painful thing about the querying trenches is there is no accounting for subjectivity in it. You can do your research, find agents who represent similar projects, even search Manuscript Wishlist to find an agent looking for your EXACT manuscript…and still come away with a rejection. It’s heartbreaking, brutal, unfair…and all just part of the process.
Think about the last book that you loved-with-a-capital-L. The book you couldn’t put down. The book you recommended to your friends. The book you didn’t want to end. Can you remember?
I read a lot. A LOT. And there’s been many, many books I’ve liked. Hundreds, probably. But the books I’ve loved? Those I could probably count on two hands (if I’m counting the entire Harry Potter series as one finger, which I do). The last book, however, I loved was Kristen Hannah’s THE NIGHTINGALE. I read morning, noon, and night. I stayed up late reading (and this coming from someone who values sleep above just about everything else). I sobbed at the end. I literally felt breathless. I blabbed to my husband (a non-reader, mind you) about a story and characters he knew nothing about. I tweeted about it. I went to the library and grabbed two more books by the author.
Because I loved the book.
Since then, I’ve read a dozen books. And I’ve liked plenty of them. I wouldn’t have finished reading them if I didn’t (life is too short to read bad books, y’all). But I haven’t read a book since then that’s given me the same emotional reaction that I had while reading THE NIGHTINGALE.
That is what an agent has to experience in order to offer you representation. That love-with-a-capital-L kind of feeling. And you as a writer should want that too. Because an agent that loves your book is going to fight a whole heck of a lot harder to find it a home than one who just likes your book.
And that’s where that pesky subjectivity comes in to play. I’m sure there are people out there who didn’t like THE NIGHTINGALE. Probably some who thought it was okay. Maybe even some more who thought it was good–read it, enjoyed it, and put it on a shelf, never to be looked at again. And then there’s me…who is going to tell you again that YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK BECAUSE IT’S BEAUTIFUL AND HAUNTING AND WILL NEVER LET YOU GO.
This is what you must always keep in mind while you are querying. A form rejection doesn’t mean your book is bad. It doesn’t mean your writing sucks. And it most definitely doesn’t mean you should quit. It just means you have to keep looking.
And yep, that sucks. Finding that person is hard and frustrating, and it can seem like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. But it will be worth it in the end. Because you and your book are precious and deserve that love-with-a-capital-L type feeling from an agent or publisher. Don’t settle for a “gathering-dust-on-a-bookshelf” like. Find someone who will fight for you, who can’t stop talking about you, who will bug their friends for days until they finally relent and read your beautiful words. You’ve worked too hard for anything else.
Oh, and please go read THE NIGHTINGALE.