I was initially going to call this blog ‘How it feels to be rejected by literary agents’, but that’s super depressing, why not focus on the positive this time? My novel, Mesmerise, has been officially rejected (since last friday) by the grand total of five literary agents I was able to query it with. Most of my initial queries were actually successful, and (another bonus) I learned heaps of valuable info about the query process, which should come in handy for the next round – submitting to publishers.
Most of the Australian literary agents I queried requested partials (then they were like, what the hell is this shit?) LOL JOKES. If you don’t know, a partial submission is the magic that happens when your query letter is successful and the agent wants to see the first 3 chapters or the first 50 pages of your novel etc… I thought I’d put myself out there and give you an example of one of my query letters that received an initial positive response. But before I share my query, here are my nine tips for when you start querying literary agents:
1) Submit to agents before you start submitting to publishers
The whole reason you want an agent is so that they can submit to publishers on your behalf. Imagine getting an agent only to tell them ‘oh yeah so I’ve already been rejected from all the publishers in the country, but you know, you can try again for me!’ yeah… no
High five on that one!
2) Submit to agents who are actually accepting submissions in your genre
This is particularly important even if it means your new adult steam punk romantic suspense novella can only be submitted to the one agent in the entire country. Agents waste huge amounts of time going through ineligible queries, which is why it takes so long to get a response from them in the first place. Oh and also figure out exactly what genre your book fits into first, there’s nothing more embarrassing then realising your romantic suspense novel is actually a psychological thriller.
I think this may be a trap
3) Closely follow the guidelines on each agent’s website
Double and triple check if you have to. I know this is an obvious one, but your query will be immediately passed over if you are tempted to ignore the rules or accidentally miss an important step. Agents no doubt get a ton of queries every day, so it’s best to make sure yours is perfect. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be an exception to the rule. Seriously, have you not seen He’s Just not that into you? But my god I love that scene with Justin Long & Ginnifer Goodwin when he tells her ‘You are my exception…’ my heart dies every time.
How many guidelines are there!?
4) Write a kickass query letter that is short, sweet, and to the point
First step is to send a simple query letter (usually just an email with no attachments) to the agent who may then either send a rejection or request a partial or full manuscript. If you’re not getting any requests for partial submissions, then there may be something wrong with your query letter. Either do more research on ‘successful query letter writing’ or attend a writing workshop on pitching your novel, like I did, which you can read about here.
Make sure it has some bite
5) Tell them about your writing achievements
Most agents like a short paragraph about yourself and that means they want to know about your writing-related achievements (writing competition wins or previously published work). Sadly I don’t have any, so I just insert a quick writing-related blurb about myself. Whatever you do, don’t go on about how many cats you have, or what type of coffee you like to drink… Yes, I admit, I did that once.
I like coffee, any type of coffee
6) Try to personalise each query letter
It’s important to make sure your query is tailored for each agent so that it can stand out. Agents will notice that you’ve put more effort in then the usual ‘cut & paste’ perpetrators. For example, address the letter personally to the agent in question, not the agency or the dreaded ‘To Whom it May Concern’. Also, if you want to compare your novel to an already published one, choose a similar novel from their list. Nothing screams ‘amateur’ more than when you tell them your novel is a mix between Twilight and The Hunger Games. That’s a super weird mix anyway. And yes, I did this once too.
What Twilight cross The hunger Games would look like (btw if you didnt get it, that’s Damon plus Primrose’s cat)
7) Be patient
Refrain from sending a follow-up email to a query unless given a time frame on when you are supposed to expect a response. Agents take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months to get back to you. One agent I submitted to responded to my initial query within 20 minutes, and then read and rejected my partial submission within a day. No joke. I was super impressed. The last agent to reject my novel took about two months to get back to me (with a form response no less).
Keep yourself occupied while you wait
8) Only submit to multiple agents if they allow simultaneous submissions
Some literary agents prefer that your work is “not currently being considered by any other agent or publisher.” For those agents who do allow simultaneous submissions, they would appreciate a heads up when another agent requests a full submission or sends you an offer (this also gives you a chance to let the other agents know you’re hot property and they better put an offer in before you get snapped up!)
That feeling when you get a request
9) Be super excited when they ask for a partial submission AND try not to dissolve into a furious mess if you get rejected
Agents are people too! On that note, even though I really wanted to thank them for their consideration, I DID NOT reply when I received my rejection emails (even the personalised ones), while it seems like a nice thing to do, agents are really too busy to read your ‘thanks so much for taking the time to reject my novel’ emails. You’ve been rejected. Move on. It would be like sending a message to your ex-boyfriend saying how much you enjoyed the breakup. I could be wrong, but that’s my personal take on it.
Friends and family will be a good source of sympathy
It’s a little bit embarrassing admitting my novel was ultimately rejected by all the agents I tried, and that’s exactly why I’m blogging about it. The more of us who admit when we fail, the easier it will be for the rest of us. There are thousands of other writers getting rejected right at this minute, or even this second. You are not alone. I even wrote a blog post last month on The nine states of facing rejection – with cats – in my attempt to make myself feel better.
For now I’m just trying my best to see the positive side of things – I was lucky enough to interact with agents who sent real replies. I was just so excited and thankful for getting an authentic response, that I honestly didn’t care that it was a rejection. After reading a few terrifying news stories, I soon began to sympathise with agents on how difficult it must be to dash the hopes of (sometimes) very sensitive writers on a daily basis. They really have no idea which writers will turn into crazy stalker psychos, like this horrific story about literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg who was attacked by a disgruntled writer.
So finally (and thanks for waiting), here’s a query letter I submitted that successfully received a personalised response from an agent. I’m very happy to share, even though it took forever to come up with, because it’s tough enough out there, why not help each other out?
Dear [INSERT NAME OF AGENT] (do not put ‘To Whom it may concern’!)
I would like to query with you my novel Mesmerise, a 70,000-word young adult novel (for ages 15+ to early twenties and even beyond) that I see in the tradition of [INSERT AUTHOR AND BOOK NAME FROM AGENTS LIST]. What if there really are subterranean humans living deep beneath the surface? And what would happen if you met one? [IN THIS SECTION YOU CAN ADD: ‘It is a standalone novel with series potential’].
The story begins when seventeen-year-old Phoebe Rose uncovers what she believes might be a ghost living in an old warehouse close to where she lives. Inexplicably drawn to the mysterious creature, she soon uncovers his true nature – he is a strange human called an undergrounder, who, in a bid to save Phoebe’s life, takes her to an underground city called Hades that exists deep beneath the surface.
I am an aspiring young adult author living in [INSERT LOCATION]. While I work fulltime as a WH&S Officer, I spend most of my spare time writing, blogging and studying a Master of Arts in Writing at the University of New England.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my query!
Address: [INSERT ADDRESS]
Phone: [INSERT NUMBER]
Email: [INSERT EMAIL]
Website: [INSERT WEBSITE]
Now that I’ve exhausted my list of agents, I’m ready to submit to my slightly longer list of eligible publishers! (Hehe) Unfortunately most of the ones on my list are closed for submissions over the Christmas/New year period, with some not reopening until at least February.
So while I’m waiting for the publishing industry to wake up to 2017, I’m going to continue working on this really weird and slightly insane thriller/suspense novel I’m working on, I’ll update you all about it soon! 26,000 words and counting!
Happy new year everyone!!