Literary agents and publishers reject an overwhelmingly large number of query letters than they accept. With those odds, it’s hard not to have gone through the rejection and dejection phase. In many cases, it’s not even an outright rejection of the query letter through a template responses. It’s that eerie silence from the other side that gets on the nerves of new authors. There are ways for authors to deal with rejection.
But does a rejection (implied or explicit) from a literary agency that was on the top of your wishlist mean it’s the end of the road for you?
Nope, it doesn’t need to end that way. You can still take another shot at it. In fact, many shots… if you have the patience. But there are a few pre-requisites to keep in mind before you enthusiastically start flooding their inbox with your query letters.
Warning: I’ve been in consulting roles for a significant part of my corporate career. So, fancy three-letter-acronym (TLA) generation is a skill that has been honed over the years. Even if they aren’t the most memorable ones, they can still add some structure to a seemingly chaotic process. If you don’t like TLAs, skip the label and focus on the idea behind it. Alright, now that you’ve been warned, allow me to propose…the IRE approach.
There’s always a reason why your query letter didn’t get the response you expected. The tough part is putting your finger on it, as it’s highly unlikely that the rejecting literary agency or publisher will give you the specifics. So it’s up to you to figure out the probable reasons for the rejection.
– My novel / writing sucks: It’s easiest for new authors to assume that the rejection had something to do with their quality of writing. At the query letter stage, when you’ve not even shared the manuscript with the agency, they can’t reject you on the basis of your story-telling abilities. So don’t punish yourself unnecessarily and keep this reason out.
– My query letter sucks: Yes, this is more likely. Even if you are a strong novel or non-fiction author, that doesn’t make you an expert at marketing (that’s what a query letter is, anyway). The skills needed to draft a kick-a$$ query letter are very different from the skills you needed to write your book. That means there’s a learning curve involved.
– I’m not following the rules:
When you are getting into a business discussion (pitching your idea to an agent / publisher), there are protocols to be followed. About what you are saying, how you are saying it and when you are saying it. When you are competing with thousands of other authors who are trying to do the same, you can’t get any of these aspects wrong. The submission guidelines on the publishing company or literary agency website should give you an idea of what they are expecting from you.
– I’m not targeting the right team:
Continuing from the barrage of what-how-when questions we saw in the previous point, there was one we left out. Who you are saying it to, also is of paramount importance. Are you sure you are knocking on the right door?
– My novel / writing sucks: Damn! Tough to keep that thought out of the head, huh? Anyway, for reasons we talked about earlier, let’s try to consciously move away from the self-defeating stream of mental chatter.
Once you’ve got a set of ideas (assumption, actually) in your head about what could’ve gone wrong, the next step is to see if and what you should do differently.
For instance, revisit the guidelines for the agency you approached earlier. Were you over-jealous in sending across a huge attachment with the query letter (to save both sides the trouble of a second email?) when the submission guideline just wanted a few paragraphs? Did you skip some sections that they specifically requested?
Also, re-check if the literary agency (or the agent within the bigger agency) is actually specialising in your genre. If not, could you approach another agent in the same agency? If the answer is yes, check out more details about that agent. has she just joined the agency or is she a veteran? Does she have a blog where she shares thoughts about what she or her agency is looking for in the next 3-6 months?
Lots of questions that you can ask in the when, how, who departments.
And yes, do read up on how to write query letters and see how you can make your earlier version more impactful.
This is the part when you re-write your query letter and shoot it out again. Hopefully this time the hit rate would be better – if not in getting a publishing contract, then at least in getting the initial interest from a top literary agency.
There you have it – the 3 things you can do to keep your chances alive in the publishing race. So before you vent your, er, ire at the cruel gatekeepers of the publishing world who stand between you and the best-selling author crown, see if the IRE & Fire approach might be worth a shot.
Have you had your query letter rejected? Tough to tackle the whole approach on this blog, but let me know what the Introspect phase suggests? Why do you think you are getting rejections? Happy to share my perspectives if you think it helps.