It happens to the best of us. We finish writing a book we’re excited about. Our friends tell us how wonderful it is. Our critique partners say it’s the best we’ve written yet. Sponge Bob’s annoying song starts running through our heads, “I’m ready! I’m ready! I’m ready!”
So we send it out.
And get smacked down.
I can’t speak for every other writer out there, but I can share what I’ve learned from the experience.
You’ve only got one shot.* Once an agent turns your query down, you can’t rewrite it and query them again. Your chance with them is blown, at least until you have a new book written. Make sure your query is the best it can be. Make sure your novel is the best it can be.
Agents are busy. Even though you’re giddy with excitement because you met them at a conference and you want to get the story to them right away before they forget who you are, take a deep breath and slow down. Chances are they’re going to be inundated when they get back from a conference and that doesn’t even take into account all the queries, partials and fulls that were in their inbox before they left. It will likely be weeks before they read your submission.
Take your time and make sure what you’re sending out is the best. How? Here are a few tips:
Let your story sit. At least a week, preferably two or three weeks. I’d heard this one but I didn’t have the patience. I figured it was one of the rules I could break. Turns out it’s a good one, even for seasoned writers. Never underestimate the power of distance. Being away from your story helps you spot issues or clunky prose more clearly.
Print it out. If you’ve only been looking at the story on screen, you’re not getting the full impact of your words. Just like taking time away, seeing the words on a piece of paper will give you a completely different perspective on your novel.
The truth hurts. Even if there’s only one person telling you something in your story sucks, don’t completely discount what they’re saying. That one critique could be all that’s standing between making your story good and making it great.
Perfect your query. You’ve spent a long time working on your novel. Spend at least a proportional amount of time working on your query. It should have the tone of your story, include a strong hook and leave the reader wanting more. Get as many people as possible to read that query and give you feedback. (Query Queen Elana Johnson is giving away copies of her book From the Query to the Call on her website. Her blog has plenty of fantastic advice on querying.)
Query slowly. Don’t query everyone on your list all at once. Send a few out and gauge the responses. If agents are asking to see pages, then your query is doing its job. If you’re getting rejects without requests, then you need to work on harder on your query.
Every situation is different, but you owe it to yourself to give your story the best shot. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. Even bestsellers get rejected. (And if you’d like to read some of the rejections received by a recent bestseller, check out this post from Kimberly Derting, author of THE BODYFINDER.)
*I did email an agent to ask if I could resubmit after I made drastic changes based on her earlier rejection. She was gracious enough to say yes. And then she rejected me again 🙂 But don’t count on this. Many agents specifically state that they will not accept re-queries on the same project.