Today I participated in Pitmad on Twitter. By the time I publish this post, it’ll be long over, but it really got me thinking about something. One of the struggles with being a writer and going the traditional publishing route is that the whole business is subjective.
Now, let me preface this by getting a little depressive.
A long time ago, nearly two years, I had my first manuscript finished. It was cleaned, edited, it had passed and gave me my M.F.A. I took it to a conference I was going to with my friend. We only went to this conference specifically because they were holding agent and editor meetings, where you had five minutes to pitch and talk about your book to up to 3 agents or editors.
I struck out with the first two cause my book didn’t feature a lot of romance (and of the agents and editors in attendance, about 90% were romance people). But the third one got interesting. The third one hit me with that ‘go ahead and send the full manuscript over, this sounds really interesting’.
And for those of you not in the business or who are just starting out, that’s a pretty big deal. Rarely does a meeting like this end with a full manuscript request. I remember rushing out of the room and immediately going to my laptop and sending it off.
After the eons of waiting it takes for anything to happen in this industry, I got the reply. You can probably tell it wasn’t going to be a good one. But it was worse than that. It was a fill-in-the-blank, enter-name-here kind of rejection. I figured, hey, if they wanted the whole manuscript, they might have had something to say about it.
Was I going to let that stop me?
Okay, maybe briefly, but I got back up again.
(Insert long interlude featuring a not-to-be-named agent who ghosted me)
For the last four or so months, I’ve been sending this book and two others out to anyone who would even remotely be interested in their genres/concepts. I’m going to make a chart of the responses so far. It’s fun, trust me.
That’s a total of 27 queries. Well, there were 28, actually. But this one response was so unique it couldn’t possibly fit into any other category. (As it turns out, it is possible to start a story too close to the start).
For a little clarification, Response limbo are queries that I haven’t heard back from that either didn’t have a ‘if you don’t hear from us by’ date, or just haven’t reached it yet.
I highly encourage everyone to keep a record of the response times and reasons for rejections. On the one hand, it gives you something to do while you’re waiting/working on the next manuscript. It also provides amazing insight.
For example, I have gotten six responses that were along the lines of: I didn’t connect/like this story as I had hopped. Which got me down to thinking that I’ve maybe got a good idea for something here but my writing is just terrible.
(That’s a fun rabbit hole to go down, I don’t suggest it).
But this chart here shows that that kind of response isn’t even a full quarter of the responses! (22.22% for those wondering).
Now I’m not going to go on a rant about how I don’t think it should be all that hard to send a simple rejection back. (I’ll save that for later). But I do want to get back on track, finally, and look at those 10, Not Fit for List responses.
THE PUBLISHING WORLD IS SUBJECTIVE. AND THAT’S REALLY TERRIBLE.
Okay, got that out of my system.
What do I mean by the publishing world is subjective? Well, it should come as no surprise to fellow veterans of the pitch wars that agents and editors both feel the need to fall in love with a book. Which is totally valid.
They need to love the book so they can get the urgency to promote and sell it. You want them to love your book. You need them to love your book so they’ll do all they can to get it out into the hands of other people who will love your book. (And pay you for it, of course).
So yeah, it makes sense that an agent is going to look at your query, think, “okay this is kind of interesting I see where they’re going with this, but, eh, not my cup of tea.”
This doesn’t mean they don’t think your book can sell. This doesn’t mean they don’t see an audience for it. It just means that they aren’t the audience for it. Which is why:
IT’S REALLY TERRIBLE.
Alright, I lied. I had more yelling in me.
The thing is, there’s this connection in your brain that starts to happen as you get rejections over and over again. You think your writing isn’t good. You think your idea is crap. You think there’s no one out there in the world who will ever read your book because agents and editors are supposed to know the market and if no one is taking your book than clearly there’s no market.
Listen, our brains aren’t stupid. They may be dumb but they’re usually logical. And with all the stuff you hear from everywhere about agents and what not, it’s easy to see how they got to this conclusion. (I wrote it down in the paragraph above in case you missed it).
So that leaves us with a precarious problem. What do you do when you keep getting rejected and you want to scream and/or give up?
Get a grip, first of all. Start keeping that log of the amount of time a response took and why it was rejected. Go through old emails and query tracker responses to check. Make a chart or graph. Study it. Learn from it. Discover your common response. (And make note of the fun, unique ones).
You’ll probably see that a certain response or type of response isn’t as big a deal as you thought.
Secondly, remember this phrase. Don’t worry, I won’t shout it this time.
The publishing world is subjective and that’s really terrible.
Say it to yourself. Make it a mantra if that’s your jam. Write it on a post-it and stick it on your monitor.
Third: Do some math. Pick a popular book. The book you hold in your hands at night weeping over because you’ll ‘never be that great’ and you wished you had written it instead. I’m going to use Harry Potter because, well, it’s Harry Potter.
Some quick, possibly factual google searches later…
The last major milestone that the series, as a whole, hit was 500 million copies in 2018. Keep in mind, that’s over a 20 year span, covering 7 books, and includes the rise of fame via a movie deal.
Let’s math it up. Not every book sold the same amount, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say they did. That rounds down to 71 million copies sold per book.
Sounds like a lot huh. That’s a lot of people who have read that book, huh?
But really, lets look at the bigger picture. There’s 7. whatever billion people living in the world. But you’re right, you’re right. Not all of them read, and not all of them can afford books. So let’s say, for this example, that we’re only going to look at people in the developed world and we’re going to pretend they’re all adults capable of reading.
If you believe everything I read on the internet, there’s about 1.16 billion people who fit that bill.
More math. Isn’t it fun.
Divide the 1.16 billion people who live in this section of our world by the copies of books sold. Yes, I know some books were probably shared among people and we can’t account for library reads, but who said math had to be precise?
So, theoretically, the audience for Harry Potter is 1 out of every 16 people. And that’s for a cultural phenomena with a movie deal and 20 years backing it.
I’ve sent out 28 queries. If I was querying Harry Potter as it’s known now, I’d still have only, theoretically, gotten 1 response. (And that’s 28 spread out among three books, keep in mind.)
Do you see what I’m getting at here?
For every person that does own a singular Harry Potter book, there’s 15 that don’t.
So do the math. Find out your favorite books percentage. See how big their audience actually is. Realize that yours is going to be smaller, especially at the start.
(This can also be accomplished by trying to find out how many times your favorite book was rejected. Harry Potter’s was 12, which is only four off our statistical estimate. It also means my most queried book is only one away from the magic number).
The last, and final step.
Now that you’re tired from all the math, do some research. On self-published authors.
And I don’t mean get discouraged and go look up how to do it yourself. I mean go find them and read their blogs or tweets. Heck, you can even try to reach out to them for an interview. Find out why they self-published. Discover what kinds of rejections they got. Realize that they’re selling copies like hotcakes because, and here’s the kicker: there’s a market for everyone and everything.
Yes, even your book with it’s X number of rejections. Yes, even my book with its interesting concept but terrible execution. (I may still be stuck in the rabbit hole. Toss down a rope, would ya?)
The point of this constant rambling is: don’t lose hope. Keep up the good fight. You just gotta find the one agent that is part of your audience, and then you’ll get to watch it spread. (Or be your own audience and self-publish and inflict your greatness upon the world. Either way works).