Query Rejection: What Now?

A. R. Silverberry, Author of The Stream

A. R. Silverberry, Author of The Stream

Query Rejection: What Now?

You’ve worked hard on your manuscript, writing and rewriting, submitting it to beta readers, then polishing it some more. You’re editor has given it several passes. The manuscript is as good as you can get it, and now you’re ready to try to find an agent. You send out query letters and wait for a response. Flash forward three months. No one has requested your manuscript. Some agents declined by not responding. Others sent a form rejection letter. Still others were kind enough to send a personal rejection.

It hurts. There’s no way around that. But what now?

The above scenario captures my process last fall. My novel seemed ready. I didn’t know how I could improve it. So why did no one bite?

The truth is, you may never know. But let’s look at some possibilities. First, the competition is fierce. Agents are bombarded with one thousand or more queries a year. At those numbers, the chances of getting a manuscript request—much less a deal—are extremely low.

Keep in mind the reasons an agent doesn’t respond favorably to your query. They may be looking for something specific. They may already have a similar kind of story they are representing. They may feel your idea and your writing is good, but that it will be difficult to sell to a publisher.

Another reason for a rejection is that your story may not have adequately engaged the agent or the agent’s assistant. Remember that 1K-plus figure above? They will make a split decision as to whether they want to keep reading. They may not get past your first sentence or your first paragraph, let alone your first page.

Here’s what I did with the rejections I got. First, going into the querying process, I told myself that the worst that can happen is that I’ll self-publish. I did that with my first two novels, and it worked out well. I built an author platform. I’ve got readers who enjoy my writing. So continuing on that road isn’t a bad thing. Adjusting my expectations from the get-go took a lot of the sting out of those rejections.

Next, I looked very closely at the rejection letters that were personal. They were actually quite encouraging. One said my writing was solid. Another said that the concept for the novel was strong. What I take from this is that my query and synopsis weren’t the problem. In fact, there may have been no problem at all. It just might not have been their thing.

But I had a feeling that if I’d really grabbed them by the lapels, I would’ve gotten a different result. So I scrutinized my opening pages. After all, that’s all an agent has, the first five, ten, or twenty pages.

After taking careful stock of the opening—Act I, if you will—I decided to pull the existing chapter one. In it’s place, I wrote three new chapters, and significantly revised the fourth, which previously had been chapter two. Then I went back to my editor, and we polished the new beginning, ironing out all the rough spots, clarifying and tightening the prose.

Is any novel perfect? I don’t believe such an animal exists. (For some reason it does in movies, but that’s another story!) But I believe the rejection process encouraged me to dig deeper and find more to say, to create a stronger set up, to deepen character development and the inner story.

Bottom line? Don’t take rejection as rejection. Take it as an opportunity to improve the story, if you feel you can. I still may not get a positive response from my queries. But I sure feel good about what I’m sending out. Either way, I have a better novel to share with readers, whatever route it comes to them.

Comments welcome, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

WYNDANO'S CLOAK, by A. R. Silverberry

WYNDANO’S CLOAK, by A. R. Silverberry

The Stream, by A. R. Silverberry

THE STREAM, by A. R. Silverberry

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