In My Publishing Journey: The First Cut is the Deepest, I wrote about my experience of meeting with an enthusiastic agent at a writer’s conference, and putting all my publishing dreams in her hands.
While that turned out to be a rookie mistake, I wasn’t about to give up on my pursuit of finding an agent. I’ve since learned (thanks to a Publishing 101 course put on by the Writers Union of Canada) that approximately 1% of unpublished writers land an agent. But in the summer of 2013, I didn’t know that. And so, my search began in earnest.
I’d like to tell you that I had instant success, with big city agents clamoring for the rights to represent me. Such was not the case, although sometimes the wait was mercifully short, anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. This might mean good news for some authors, but for me it simply meant that I hadn’t even made it past the agent’s intern. For those of you who have yet to experience a form letter rejection, here’s a typical example:
Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. After careful evaluation, I have decided that I am not the right agent to represent your work. Since this is such a subjective business, I am sure another agent will feel quite differently.
As devastating as these speedy rejections were, nothing is worse than not hearing anything, and by not hearing anything I mean not so much as an acknowledgment that your email has been received. Sadly, that’s not as uncommon as you might think. That’s where Querytracker.net really is invaluable. While the basic agent and publisher database is free, the Premium service ($25 US for one year) gives access to statistics such as agent response time to queries, partial requests and full requests, comments from other users, as well as acceptance/rejection statistics. If an agent has received 100 queries in the past six months, and not responded to (or accepted) a single one, chances are you will NOT be the exception to the rule. For this reason alone I cannot recommend Querytracker.net enough, at least when it comes to agents. Their “publisher” database is far less extensive.
Using QueryTracker to zone in on my best bet for success, by late fall 2013 I had queried roughly 30 agents, with better than average results. I’d netted a few partial requests (the first so many chapters or pages), which in turn led to three full manuscript requests, and one offer to write a cozy mystery under the name of another author. It was an existing series, last published in the early 2000s, and the agent thought there might be a market for a new e-book. (Sadly, the agent had no interest in representing my novel.)
I sent in the partials and full requests, and after reading the earlier books in the cozy mystery series, turned down the offer. As much as I was honored by, and appreciated, the offer (and I did), I’d never been to the State, let alone the city, where it was set, and I couldn’t seem to connect with the characters. Besides, I didn’t want to write someone else’s story, under someone else’s name. I wanted MY book to get published. Under my name. I’ve never regretted that decision.
As for the three full requests, one agent wrote to say she was swamped and it would be several months to a full year before she even had a chance to read my manuscript. The other two agents ultimately rejected it, albeit kindly. They loved my writing, they said, and my premise, but the story had two protagonists, and too many points of view. I’d already heard much the same from other agents who’d reviewed and rejected my partial submissions. As stubborn as I am (and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m very stubborn), it was time to accept the inevitable: a complete rewrite. One protagonist, one sidekick.
I spent the remainder of 2013 consulting with a professional editor, and then rewriting the story, start to finish. As much as I hated to let go of my two-protagonist, multiple POV premise, I had to admit the story was much stronger without it. I’d also given up on finding an agent. The process was too slow (I’d already invested a year) and too one-sided. It was time to find a publisher who would accept unagented submissions.
This time, I knew, luck would be on my side.
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