from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – stubbornly continuing to query

Dear Agent Manners,

Having sent my novel out to about eight carefully chosen agents, and having had them all decline to represent me (though a couple asked for partials), I am at a loss as to what to do next. Each response was gracious and encouraging, but none of them asked me to query again were I to revise it. What should I do? Shelve it and begin working on a new novel? Search for more agents to send it to? Find a way to rewrite my current one so substantially as to warrant a new round of querying? And if I were to submit a new novel down the road to the agents who requested partials, is it worth politely reminding them of our previous exchange?

Yours truly,

Disheartened in New York

Dear Disheartened:

Take heart.

Agent Manners is sure that many who follow this column would be dismayed that you are considering moving on after only 8 negative responses. Many of those who are agented can no doubt report a far larger number before finding a match.

Evenso, your questions are not without merit.

Query widely is the standard advice. There’s no reason not to be particular in your choices of agents, of course. In fact, it’s encouraged. However, consider that Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected over 30 times before finding a home. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle scored 26 rejections before it got an offer.

Agent Manners advises that you do, indeed, consider querying more agents, and while you’re at it, keep working on a new novel to submit should this one not find a home. Just yesterday, one of my newer clients – Mary Robinette Kowal – described why it was her fourth novel that came to my desk, rather than an earlier one. Agent Manners suspects the number of authors who initially sell their first novel is probably a low percentage. So, by all means, keep writing!

Of course, if there are reasons in the responses to consider revision, do not lightly cast them aside if the resonate with you and fit your vision of the story. By all means revise and then query again to see if there is interest in seeing said revision. But do remember that even though agents and editors read widely and near-constantly, their feedback still only represents one opinion, however informed it might be.

Do not despair. This is only one step on the road to publication. One has to experience the journey before one enjoys the reward.

16 responses to “from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – stubbornly continuing to query

  1. Did you sell your first novel would be an interesting post/poll topic. If you don’t want to take it, I might do it this afternoon…

  2. Dear Disheartened,
    I’m certainly no expert, but it sounds to me that if you’ve had a couple of partial requests out of 8 queries, you at least have a concept and query letter that are working.
    Sounds like a good starting place to me for agent-wooing.

  3. My first novel collected over 100 agental rejections before it sold.

  4. Curious: Were those rejection numbers for Carrie and Wrinkle in Time the number of publishers that passed, or the number of agents?

  5. And dare I suggest, enjoy the journey?
    Doing my best to take the Western Centered focus on goals out of the submission process…

  6. My latest book was rejected over 30 times before I signed with an agent. Even now, two months after we accepted an offer from a publisher, I get form rejections from agents I queried last fall.
    If you sent 8 queries and got a couple requests for partials, you’re doing better than I did–I had about 1 in 9 agents ask to read more.
    Keep going and good luck.

  7. I’m in the middle of this process myself and my numbers aren’t so good. My first reply was a request for a partial. She turned it down, but only had nice things to say about it so there wasn’t any guidance for me in terms of a revision. Since then I’ve collected close to 30 form rejects and I have more than 30 that I’m waiting to hear back from.
    Confusing and frustrating but I’m not giving up.

  8. Dear Disheartened,
    Why did you list one of your options as “Shelve [the novel] and begin working on a new [one]”?
    Personally, I think the best course of action is to keep pitching this novel to thirty or forty more agents while working on the next one. Keep cranking out novels. The more novels you complete, the better your chances of selling one of ’em.
    Any multi-published author will confess they have several different projects at different stages, all at the same time. While one novel is being shopped around, they’re working on the next.
    So, why not you?
    At this stage, there is nothing more you can do except send the novel out and wait. Spend that waiting time writing instead of twiddling thumbs.
    The Journeyman.

  9. Heartened in NYC
    Dear Miss Manners and Commentators:
    Thank you for the encouragement and advice! I suppose I was too quick to take the rejections by these top agents as a solid referendum on the quality of my work; this is my first time around the block, and I am still working on developing an in-the-trenches mind frame.
    Journeyman: the reason I listed that option was because this is the second novel I’ve written, and I can see how much better it is than my first. By leaps and bounds, actually, and it made me think: what if my third were as great an improvement over my second as my second was to my first? Perhaps then these agents I had pinned my hopes on would do more than ask for a partial..?
    Though great news—an agent I had given up on hearing from has just asked for the full manuscript, and I am now a quietly simmering hot spring of anticipation.
    Wish me luck!
    ~ Heartened in NYC

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