Because I've just received my first two rejection letters! Wahoo!
Wait, you're surprised I'm excited? Shouldn't I be upset, or crying, or something? Pssh. Every writer starts out being rejected. It's the first step on the road to success. Me, I think I'm going to frame my first rejection letter and hang it on my wall somewhere...
Since I've only sent out brief queries, and haven't had full manuscript requests yet in response to my queries, I haven't gotten any kinds of specific feedback. And, I'll admit it: I've been lazy. Instead of sending out queries on a weekly basis, I've been editing my first novel, planning and beginning writing on my second, applying for a second part-time job, and working a first part-time job. See? Pure laziness: If I don't get my query letters sent out, no one will ever publish my book! Priorities, girl, priorities! It takes (on average, based on the majority of agents I've sent letters to) about 4-6 weeks to hear back for an e-mail query. Having sent my first queries out in mid-February, I'm doing pretty well to have already heard back from two!
What does a query letter look like?
Okay, so, I haven't had a successful query letter result yet. But here are some important elements:
- Correctly spell the agent's name. Use the agent's name, too, and not "Dear Agent"
- Immediately state your title, genre, word count, and that your novel is complete (don't query an incomplete manuscript if you're a fiction writer)
- Give a short blurb about your story. Include your plot hook (what makes your novel unique) and vivid, fast-paced, intriguing language. Don't leave your agent hanging with a question, even a rhetorical one. Every agent I've found discussing queries hate blurbs that end with a question.
- Include a short section with your creditials (if you have none, don't pad it.) Include ONLY information directly related to your ability to write, your past writing experience, and your experience as it relates to THIS manuscript. You may also mention why you chose this specific agent, and show that you did your research.
- Try to keep it under 250 words.
- Sign with your real name, not your pen name.
- Include your contact information.
What does a rejection letter look like?
All personal information removed to protect the literary agents, here's what I got back:
Thank you so much for querying us with your project. Unfortunately, we did not feel it was the right fit for our agency. Thanks for thinking of (Agency name) and we wish you nothing but the best in your writing career.
And my second rejection:
Thanks so much for letting me take a look at your material, which I read with great interest. Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit my list at this time. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work, and I thank you, once again, for letting me consider your work.
I have to say, the latter was a very, very nice rejection. Kudos to this agent for incredible people skills!
Writing Your Own Query
Pretty much any agency you visit will have somewhere on their website what they want in a query letter, and there's hundreds of different sites online about how to write a query. Here's two links to get you started:
Rejection isn't something to be feared. It's as much a part of writing as making an outline, and probably just as essential. Remember, literary agents get thousands of queries, so every unsolicited query is like buying a lottery ticket - even when you know your book is just what your agent would like. Here's a glance at the other side of the ticket, through the eyes of a literary agent talking about writing rejection letters:
Have you ever sought an agent? How many letters did you get before getting accepted? I'll make sure to include a final count when I finally do get published. For me, the biggest challenge is not to get discouraged. So instead of looking at rejection as a critique of my self-worth, I consider it a necessary part of the writing process, and a chance to improve on my weak points as a writer. Most of all, I always keep thinking, "When I get published..." I don't give myself if's, or any kind of subjunctive clauses. This isn't a wish or a possibility; it is something which will happen, and I just have to keep working at it until it does. When it comes to rejection, it's all about stubborning yourself through.
Fortunately, I'm pretty good at stubborn.