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Monday
Dec282015

The Query Process and When to Accept No for an Answer

Writing a novel isn’t too much different from having your first child, raising him to be an adult, and then sending him out into the world on his own. It’s just as difficult and often more painful. As a writer, you spend months—even years, sometimes—pouring your thoughts onto the pages of a manuscript with hopes that someone will see your vision within the words. You write late into the night, often between other jobs and parenting responsibilities—really, just anywhere you can find five minutes. Then the day finally comes when you type the last word of your document! Relief!

But hold on friend—you’re not done! Now you edit what you’ve already written, sometimes reading it so many times that you begin to hate your own writing. But the day finally comes when you’re completely satisfied, and now it’s time to take that first leap of faith by sending it out into the world through the process of querying for an agent or publisher.

You’ve already spent a good part of the last year or more writing this novel, now you spend the next several weeks writing and rewriting that query letter. In 250 words, you have to tell the person on the other end a little bit about your book, what makes it so special, who you are and why they want you for an author, and—finally—why they just can’t do without your book. When you’re finally satisfied, you sit back and smile a little, then—very gently—you press the send button. Your “baby” is now out in cyberspace!

And now you wait.

And wait some more.

Finally one day you open your e-mail inbox to see a response from one of the many agents or publishers you’ve contacted. Your heart beats rapidly in your chest and you hold your breath while saying a silent prayer to your favorite deity.

Please let this be a yes! Please let this be a yes!

You cross your fingers and close your eyes, leaving one eye open just enough to see the button on the keyboard that allows you to open the e-mail. You press the button, and then you very slowly open your eyes to read the response.

Thank you for taking the time to query me with your project. I’m sorry but...

I’m sorry but... Three little words, and they send your heart plummeting to your stomach.

It’s easy to feel rejected by a “no” from an agent or publishing house, but you shouldn’t. A “no” doesn’t mean “I didn’t like it” or “You’re a terrible writer.” It simply means that the agent or publishing house lacks the same vision as you have for their ability to sell the book.

Some of the best selling and most popular authors today have received more than their fair share of rejections. The difference between those who find success and the rest of the world is how they handle that rejection.

When you receive a rejection, you have several choices. Sometimes—though it seems infrequent—the agent or editor will give you something to work with; some reason for their rejection that you can take under consideration for revisions. When they don’t and you’re left scratching your head and asking “why,” you can choose to give up, or you can choose to believe in yourself and the original vision that sent you to your keyboard that first time.

Lorna Landvik once told me that she received enough rejection letters to cover New York City, but she refused to quit. She told me that she wouldn’t accept “no” until it was her “no.” She would not quit until she decided it was time to quit; not when the rejection letters implied it was time to quit. Today Landvik is a very successful author and one of my favorite writers.

Mary Kubica, best-selling author of The Good Girl (and the more recent Pretty Baby), was turned down repeatedly by literary agents. Busy with other things, Kubica decided to just put the manuscript aside for a while and move onto other things. Two years later, she was contacted by an agent who’d previously rejected her manuscript. The agent asked if it was still available, as she’d been unable to get the story out of her head in those two years since taking a pass. Sometimes it’s not about not liking the manuscript so much as it is the ability to sell it to a publishing house in the current market. The agent snatched up the manuscript this time, and Kubica went on to be a best-selling author.

The question today is this: What will you do with that next rejection letter? Will you take it for what it’s worth (which is less than the number of keystrokes it took to send it)? Or will you keep your chin up and hold true to the vision that kept you writing late into the night for months on end?

As for me, I think I’ll remember Lorna Landvik’s advice. I won’t accept “no” until it’s my “no.”  

C.H. Armstrong is a 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma and holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in History. Her first novel, The Edge of Nowhere, is expected to release on January 19 by Penner Publishing, and is a work of historical fiction inspired by her own family’s experiences as survivors of the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl. For more information about this author, visit her website at www.charmstrongbooks.com

 

Reader Comments (1)

Wonderful and encouraging post; I enjoyed it!

January 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaire Fullerton
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