Question: What does a unicorn have in common with a rejection-less author?
Answer: Neither one exists. (Sorry, unicorns.)
By this point, everyone knows about how many rejections J.K. Rowling received for Harry Potter. It’s a classic motivational story—J.K. Rowling is enormously successful now! Her books are modern classics that are beloved around the world! People name their dogs after her characters! And yet, most of the publishing professionals who initially read her manuscript didn’t see then what the world sees now.
Her story isn’t unique among authors. She isn’t the exception to the rule. There are no exceptions. Name an author—literally any traditionally published author—and I can guarantee you that they have dozens of rejections to their name. At the very least.
In my first blog post, I talked about the rejections I got for all of my queries, dating back eight years. There were over three hundred rejections in all, but let’s look just at my stats for Ash Princess.
I sent thirty-seven queries, which I sent out in batches every few weeks. I didn’t exhaust my query list because I signed with my agent before my list was done. Of those thirty-seven queries, I got thirty-three form rejections. Two revise and resubmits. Three full requests that bowed out after I got an offer. One offer. (Side note: my first offer came from a different agent for a different manuscript, which set off the above bow-outs.)
So that’s thirty-six Nos and one Yes. The ratio is pretty shitty, but it’s par for the course.
And one Yes is all it takes. Ash Princess sold at auction in a major deal. It’s since been sold in eleven other countries and territories. If I’d given up after ten rejections none of that would have happened and it certainly wouldn’t have happened if I’d been too scared of hearing no to query in the first place.
Unfortunately, that’s more common than you might think. I’ve talked to other querying authors who balk when I tell them how many agents I queried before I got an offer. Other authors have said they don’t want to query certain agents with all-star lists because they know it’ll only lead to rejection. Still more authors have said that they scrapped their book after getting just a few rejections because they think that means their manuscript is unsellable. And every time I hear these things, it makes me want to scream.
If there’s one thing I learned interning at agencies (and I learned a LOT, blog post to come) it’s that agents want to fall in love with your story. They get excited when a query grabs their attention, they wait impatiently for the manuscript. They want to enjoy it so much that they can’t stop talking about it. Taking on an author is a lot of work, it (usually) involves editing a manuscript and reading it a dozen times before sending it on submission and still loving it enough that you can pitch it to editors with passion, and then (usually) following it through on the rest of it’s journey. My agent continued to read every new draft even after I got an editor; at this point she’s read Ash Princess nearly as many times as I have! So, unfortunately, a lot of times an agent will really enjoy a book—love it even—but they’ll know that they just aren’t as in love with it as they need to be.
It sucks. Send more queries until you find an agent who who is.
Here’s an ugly truth: you will hear ‘no’ a lot in publishing. It’s unavoidable. You’ll hear it when you send out queries. You’ll hear it when you go on submission to editors with your first book. You’ll hear it when you’re selling your second, third, fourteenth book. You’ll hear no a lot from other people so there’s no point in wasting time saying it to yourself.