I think this week might secretly be listed on agents’ and publishers’ calendars as National Rejection Week. *smile* Okay, not really. But judging from the online conversations I had with writing friends over the past couple of days, it certainly feels that way to many of us.
In other words, the rejections were flying in response to this person’s query, that person’s full request, this client referral, and that conference pitch request. Virtual chocolate was passed around and the general mood was grim.
The toughest rejections, believe it or not, were those where the agent or publisher loved the story—they just didn’t love it enough. Their feedback was the type we’d be happy to put on a front cover blurb:
“Beautifully descriptive writing…”
“I just fell in love…”
“Your world-building is so fantastic…”
But all that praise wasn’t enough.
When Love Isn’t Enough
We used to hear, “A story can’t just be good. It has to be great.”
Then we were told that an agent or editor had to “fall in love” with the story, characters, or voice.
Agents and editors won’t take on a story unless it’s at the Oh-my-God-I-love-it-It’s-awesome-I-can’t-live-without-it level of love.
I don’t blame them for that new high bar. The publishing industry is being squeezed. Publishers aren’t printing as many new books, especially from debut authors, and agents aren’t able to sell as many new books or authors.
Just “falling in love” with a project isn’t enough anymore. Agents and editors have to be champions of a story to push it through the publication channels. And signing on as a champion requires a level of dedication beyond mere love of a story.
We know from our own experiences with books that there’s a difference between stories we love and stories we love enough that we grab our friend’s shoulders and demand “You must read this book!” There is a difference there. And that difference is the obstacle we face when we want to find an agent or editor.
Love Is Enough for Readers
But guess what? That extremely high bar for finding agents and editors doesn’t apply for readers. As readers, we’re perfectly happy to find stories we simply enjoy. We don’t need to think we’re going to Oh-Wow-Love a story before we read it. And we certainly don’t need to expect that we’ll become a champion for a story before we buy a book.
So the good news is that our struggles with finding an agent or publisher don’t reflect on our ability to find and attract readers. Sure, we hope at least some of our readers love our story enough to spread the word, but that level of “love” isn’t required for every single sale.
Think about that for a minute:
The bar to acquire an agent and publisher
is higher than the bar to acquire readers.
Jumping Through (Secret) Hoops
Sometimes we’ll hear talk about how agents or publishers make writers jump through hoops to get their attention. Those hoops usually refer to submission guidelines or the like.
But this is a secret hoop that no one talks about. The hoop of needing to be better, luckier, something-er than readers or anyone else requires of us in order to land an agent or editor.
Unlike with the search for readers, just loving our premise and our writing isn’t enough. We have to find the agent and/or the editor who loves our work enough to champion it.
The chances of finding that needle in a haystack are like a horrible math problem: If x percentage like our book (enough to buy it) > y percentage who love our book (but not enough to champion it) > z percentage who want to marry our book and have babies with it, then solve for A. I don’t know about anyone else, but that gives me a headache. *sigh*
What Can We Do?
We’ve talked before about how reading and writing are subjective activities. Between the variety of genres/subgenres and the different publishing options, the saying “writing is subjective” applies more than ever.
A rejection should not be taken as the end-all-be-all. A rejection just means that agent or editor wasn’t “the one.” The rejection doesn’t reflect on the quality of our premise, story, characters, or writing ability.
So we’re faced with a choice. If we wish to pursue traditional publishing, the only way we’re going to find “the one” is to keep looking. We might have to go through a hundred rejections before we find the right match for our story. Or we might decide our goals are more in line with self-publishing and give up the search.
Not Having an Agent Is No Longer an Indication of Quality
The decision to give up used to imply that we were looking for a shortcut and weren’t willing to put in the work to improve our writing. However, with this new bar set higher than any other point in the industry, that distinction between “having an agent”=good quality and “not having an agent”=bad quality is gone.
Many high quality manuscripts—good enough to evoke fantastic feedback from agents and editors—will have a hard time finding a champion for the traditional publishing route. I don’t blame authors for deciding their time is better spent pursuing readers than attempting to find that elusive perfect match among agents and editors.
I still caution any author who chooses to go the self-publishing route to obtain professional editing to ensure their writing is really ready. But there’s nothing wrong with authors who decide they’d rather spend their time writing their next book than stretching to reach a subjective bar that’s higher than necessary for guaranteeing quality.
Some of us will decide the pursuit of readers is more important than the pursuit of an agent or editor. And as long as the author remains dedicated to high quality writing, I don’t think we can fault people for that choice. As for myself, I’m still hedging my bets. *smile*
Do you disagree with my theory about how it’s harder to find an agent or editor than it is to find readers? Do you think a great story is enough? Or do you think even great writing can have a hard time finding an agent? Have you encountered the problem of great writing not being good enough before? How have you dealt with that?Pin It