Some words come easy to us. Words of tenderness for a loved one. Colorful metaphors. The proper order of terms for the grande triple mocha latte flavored coffee you order every day at the local Starbucks. But there are also those times when the words are not so easy to say. Things like I’m sorry. You were right. Those hot pants make you look great. And in my case today, thank you for turning me down yet again.
Yes, today I received another rejection letter from another agent. My stack of shame letters is beginning to grow, much like the wedgie count for the nerdy kid at school after the first day of classes has come and gone. The most amusing letter to date came a few days ago. It contained so much information on how busy the agent was, offering statistics on how many letters they receive a week. I actually missed the fact that they had even read my query and were turning me down. I must have blinked through that part. Needless to say it made me laugh at first. But yesterday’s letter wasn’t all that amusing. It was another ‘I think am going to pass’ letter. Those are the hard ones. Again, it leaves the impression of the unsavory meal.
Sending out query letters makes me feel a little like the ancient penitents of the old church. The ones who wore hair shirts and giant crosses on thin twine cords. The ones who flagellated themselves and walked barefoot in the snow. The more the penitent suffered, the more worthy they were of glory in the end. For a writer, query letters and the flow of unending rejection letters are the penance. It’s what making your bones is all about, or so everyone keeps saying.
I always do my research before I send anything out. I learn about the agency. I try to learn as much about the agent as I can. All the things they say you should do before submitting. I was reading one agency website (which will go unnamed) that was kinda snooty on their submission page. Aside from the unusual “look how great we are” part of their introduction, they were really hard on authors in general, as though we as a general breed were lazy and shiftless in our approach to what we did. The “onus of responsibility” lay at the author’s feet to “thoroughly research, understand, and implement the current standards of query letters”, and any author who had not met this level of “rigorous research” should not bother to submit.
Oookkaaayyy. So here is my problem with that terse little presentation. There is no standard. Not that I can find. Before you shoot me down and start quoting this or that book, hear me out. I have read the books and the blogs and watched the oh-so-riveting vlogs dedicated to the topic. I have read the list of the 50 most earth-shattering query letters ever to be submitted and accepted ever, ever, ever, and why they were chosen by each of the agents who selected them. Do you know what I found in all of it, after all that time and energy? THERE ARE NO RULES!!
What appeals to one agent will annoy another and what draws an agent one day might be the very thing they dread the next. Some loved gimmicks. Others hated them. Some wanted whimsy while others wanted a straightforward, cut-to-the-chase letter. Then there were the frustrating instances where the agents themselves said “This isn’t the kind of query letter I normally LIKE to receive BUT….” Even when the agents set their rules in black and white, they broke them, so I say again….THERE ARE NO RULES!! THERE ARE NO STANDARDS!!
There is hope wrapped up into each query letter that is sent out, even though the greater part of you knows a resounding ‘NO’ awaits you as the last grain of sand falls in the proverbial hourglass. Like little Oliver Twist asking “Please, sir, may I have some more”, you are asking for more disappointment, more rejection, more heartache each time you click the SEND button, but that glorious letter is the only way to open the door to the bigger publishers. It is that very act of self-immolation that makes your bones as a writer, and I hate it sometimes. I hate that hopeful feeling of desperation that comes with wanting this so much. Where the desire is so dependent upon someone else’s mood. Someone else’s whimsy.
But like the fighter who has yet to earn the “prized” moniker, I am undeterred. I keep sending and hoping and writing and dreaming, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling the impact of the blows. I would be lying if I said it didn’t matter what answer I received. If I said I didn’t feel it each and every time when the answer was no.
And to the agent who felt it necessary to expound in the form letter of rejection just how many query letters they receive each week. NEWS FLASH! I get about the same amount every week in my day job as well and that is on top of all of the other work that is required of me in my highly technical career. It is part of what I do. It is how I pay the bills. And after those long, arduous days that sap the life out of me and leave me with little more than mush on the brain, I write and dream and research the very things you demand (as best I can) so that I can land in your slush pile and receive your impersonal rejection. So please forgive me if I seem a little snarky at being told how busy you are while my dreams get to stay in a perpetual holding pattern.
To the agents who have shown kindness and consideration and mercy even in their no’s, THANK YOU! And I do mean Thank you. Sometimes it is a hard thing to say when what you want to hear from the other person is “YES. Please send me your manuscript”. The way you deliver the ‘no’ however makes it possible for me to send out another letter and still hold onto the hope that maybe this time, a YES might be waiting on the other end.
If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to connect with H.L. Stephens on Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. Also check out H.L. Stephen’s mystery series The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. Book 1 – The Case of Jack the Nipper and book 2 – The Case of the Wayward Fae are available in print and eBook format at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. Coming Soon! Book 3 – The Case of the Monkey’s Misfortune.