Seeking a literary agent was once something I thought I’d fear. There were horror stories of writers griping that their unread manuscripts for their novels (usually, their first) were ignored by hordes of agents, who ignored their numerous calls, e-mails, and form letter submissions. These agents were to be an intimidating and untouchable gaggle of literary snobs, if I had listened. But as my sisters can testify, I never, ever, have done that.
After going to several writers’ conferences, I was humbled and realized there was work to do. My writing needed to get better. While it was highly unlikely I’d find the perfect match with a lit agent–that is, find someone who was looking for a story like mine in a genre like mine in a style like mine by an unknown writer like me–I discovered many lit agents felt that it was just as unlikely that they’d find the next story by a new writer that would captivate, entertain, and tease them with the opportunity to acquire the next great work that would sell. And that changed everything.
I do not have an agent. I don’t know if I’ll ever have an agent. I’ll continue to search for one, but I won’t be jaded by the current publishing system–with all of its strengths and weaknesses in the ever-changing publishing world–in its pursuit of the best possible material that the book-buying public will buy. I’ll be the best I can be, I won’t give up on my work, and the best that can happen will happen. I won’t stop. Because of this, my skills improved more in the last two years than they had in the previous ten. Progress.
Here are the five ways I’ve learned to overcome rejections–or lack of response–from my submitted query letters or requested manuscript submissions, and keep determined, focused, and sane:
- Recognition that taste is a big part of this submission and approval process. I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you want to call yourself an artist, you can’t blame the world because they don’t embrace your work.
- Somehow maintain life balance. We all have people and priorities in our life other than our passion projects, and remembering to be in those moments–physically and emotionally–not only makes the rejection process bearable, it can be something to look forward to conquering.
- Peppering instead of blanketing submissions. I’ve heard of writers sending out huge blocks of submissions to dozens of agents at a time. Why do that when you can send out a few, learn from your feedback, improve your work, and then send out more polished submissions? This requires a bit of patience, yes. Think of it–if you can manage it with time and expense–a lot like tuition!
- Network with other writers, successful ones included. Don’t hang out merely with lesser writers than yourself but ones who have other skills, mindsets, or success stories that you don’t. You’ll learn something like I have, and you’ll be inspired.
- While it pays to be attentive to criticism and other people’s judgements sometimes, it can be invaluable to find the belief in your project that no one else can. If you’ve done research and have studied the subject, the genre, the industry . . . and believe your work is great in a calculated way, fight for it. Quincy Jones had tried again and again to convince Michael Jackson to pull the song Thriller off his legendary album. The moral: In the end, if you don’t believe in it, no one else will.