Thursday, October 09, 2008

Poised For Success or Rejection

Last week I received a short query from a science fiction writer who had self-published his novel and was now looking for a literary agent.

If you know anything about what I do, do you see a problem with this pitch? First, I have never worked in science fiction and rarely even read it. This author had obviously pulled my agency and submission email from some place but was sending off a random email in hopes that someone would be interested in his material.

I responded with a couple of ideas and he wrote back his appreciation. Then he added, "You are the only person who has responded to me."

Once again this would-be author has pointed out the massive amount of material which is floating around in publishing offices for magazines and books. In one way, this author already has some strikes against him--and he doesn't even know it. If you are a novelist, your absolute last course of action in my view is to self-publish--unless you have a large platform or reach to be able to sell many copies of your book.

Why is self-publishing the last resort for novelists? Because to the editor or literary agent you appear impatient--and many of the self-published books in this category are not edited and poorly-written and poorly-produced. It is not impressive to an editor if you've sold 100 copies of your self-published novel. It's not even impressive if you've sold 2,000 copies of that self-published novel. My advice is to think before you leap in this direction.

Yesterday I sent out a tweet about bestselling author Steve Berry. I pointed out this recent article in Publishers Weekly and notice that Berry was rejected 85 times before his first novel was published. Most authors lack the patience and persistence to be rejected 84 times before finding a publisher. Are you poised for success or rejection?

Before you fire out your latest submission to a bunch of publishing houses, I have several suggestions. First, if you are approaching the publishers and the agents at the same time, then possibly you have eliminated yourself from getting an agent. Why? Editors keep records or logs of their submissions. If you get an agent, your agent will not be able to easily approach those same publishers. Yes, it is possible but you will need a whole new title, opening and many other elements to successfully make that pitch a second time.

I have a free list of over 400 agents that you can get here. But do not simply use this list to add to the glut of submissions. You need to create a plan of attack, then work your plan.

One strategy is to use John F. Baker's excellent book, Literary Agents: A Writer's Introduction as one education strategy. Baker, a long-time writer at Publishers Weekly profiles long-established literary agencies and includes information about the different specialties of each agent. A careful reading of this book will help you select some agents that you want to approach. Unfortunately this book is out of print but do pick it up on the used market or in your library.

For a second strategy look at what David Henry Sterry suggests in this brief video. (I put this out on twitter several weeks ago. I suggest you follow me on twitter if you aren't already). He suggests looking in similar books to your book for agent names. I met David several years ago and I love his co-authored book, Putting Your Passion Into Print.

Before you send anything to a publisher or agent, make sure you are sending them something they could potentially be interested in reading. Read their guidelines and see if your idea is in the range of possibilities. Just this step alone will save you lots of rejection.

Also download this free material from Noah Lukeman and study it before sending anything out into the market. As a writer, you have an obligation to learn everything you can about your craft and the business of publishing before you send your submission.

Finally persevere because at the end of the day, your submission still needs to reach the right person at the right place at the right time with the right idea. Plan to be poised for success.

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11 Comment:

At 11:09 AM, Blogger BonnieRose Left a note...

a wonderful post! Thank you for such wonderful advice... right now, I'm sitting in my local library working on my first book manuscript. My goal is to be finished writing by Christmas. Then I figure anothr 3-4 months for revisions, devising my book outline/proposal and query, then doing my research and sending it with a SASE to the right agents. Hopefully I'm on the right track. Thanks for all you are and all you share with the rest of us.. it matters! hugs, bonnierose

At 11:56 AM, Blogger David A. Todd Left a note...

Got a rejection yesterday, from an editor I had an appointment with at a conference and requested the proposal. It was a nice, personalized rejection. Unique non-fiction premise, excellent writing, no room in their publishing schedule.

I guess I'm stronger for it, but it sure doesn't feel that way right now.


At 12:30 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


When you get a rejection, I'd encourage you to get that proposal back into the market as soon as you can just to keep it out there. Persistence will pay off.


At 3:04 PM, Blogger Lynn Left a note...

Terry, thanks for a great post for fiction writers. Most of the information on the Internet seems to target writers of non-fiction.

There are differences, and they are very important to keep in mind.

Rejections let you know you are a "real" writer.

Authors Tools Blog

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Amy Deardon Left a note...

Terry, a great post -- and a good reminder to writers not to clutter the desks of the poor agent with more unwanted material! Still, it is a frustrating world to be an unpubbed author. Many writers talk about slow responses, agents who don't submit, editors who take a 6 month turnaround to say "no," and authors informed that their words are going to be changed the day before the book goes to press. All of these things have happened to me personally or to my friends. In a writer's moment of honesty, it's hard to know if your writing isn't up to par, or you're just not hitting the *right* people to sell a ms to. Not a wonder that writers get impatient!

At 5:53 PM, Blogger Krista Phillips Left a note...

My thoughts may seem a little *religious* but I'm not caring today:-)

In the end, God knows.

He knows when it’s our time to get published, he knows the editor who will accept us, and he knows the agent who will champion us. He knows when the perfect timing for each of our books.

I view every rejection as God just saying, "Nope, not the right one."

And that's pretty awesome, because I sure don't want the WRONG person to publish my book and it to flop because of it.

That's why I haven't contemplated self-publishing. I view it as giving up and taking it into my own hands. (not that this isn’t right for some people… just not for me.)

On the flip side, I can’t sit on my duff and wait for the 'right' publisher to come to me. God wants to use those rejections to strengthen, and I need to be obedient and use the brain and talent God gave me to get my name and book out there.

Anyway, I didn't mean to preach tonight, but it's an important principle God's been teaching me about rejection, so thought I would share.


At 8:37 AM, Blogger Sheila Hall Left a note...

Krista, I’m soooo uplifted by your post of October 9 … sorry, am just now reading it. I’m still developing my literary chops … but I believe (unequivocally!) that Divine precision links my readiness to God’s timetable. You hit the nail on the head beautifully … God knows the 3-Pronged Mystery of each of our publishing futures … date certain, agent champions, and accepting editors. My understanding is that rejection letters are part of the proverbial publishing process. So if I'm getting ‘em, I'm still in the process.

Let the 3-Pronged Mystery unfold!


At 4:18 AM, Blogger Christine H Left a note...

Thanks for this blog... I just discovered it. My questions is... how do you know that persistence will pay off? To put it bluntly, how do you know whether you book is just unpublishable?

At 5:45 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


Welcome and thank you for dropping by. Make sure you dig into the other 900 searchable entries here which amounts to loads of information.

Publishing is a mysterious mixture of skill and talent. Other people call it art and science. You can learn one but the other you have to test the marketplace and see if it is there. Most people begin with a book but they should be testing the waters with a smaller piece of writing--such as a short story for novelists or a magazine article for nonfiction. I have a lot of information on how to begin that at Right-Writing.com.

Also I encourage you to join a critique group to get feedback before you send it out into the marketplace. Follow that link to find out much more of the specifics.

Then persist and grow. You can do it. I believe.

Author of Book Proposals That Sell

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Christine H Left a note...

Dear Terry,
Thank you for your response. I am at the point where I am just trying to finish the first draft of my manuscript. It's like that Elton John song 'A Candle in the Wind.' If I let myself think too much about what comes after, or let a critique group pick it apart, the little flame of confidence I've nurtured will go out. I know, because it happened with my last project.
I have this book in me, and I'm just going to write it, come hell or high water, even if nobody ever reads it. At least I'll have the satisfaction of completing it.
Your advice about short stories is very good and I've heard it before, but I just hate writing short stories. I tried, but I can't do it. Probably because I don't read them, I read books.
By the way, I think I'm supposed to tell you that I found your blog via Writer Interrupted!
Have a great day,

At 7:11 AM, Blogger Christine H Left a note...

P.S. I certainly do plan to read here and other places for information, and get feedback from other writers in the future, when I've revised my book as much as I can. And I already have a couple of nonfiction articles published online. I didn't mean to sound like I was discounting what you are saying.

Thanks for believing, although I'm a total stranger!


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