Recently I filled out a little questionnaire for QueryTracker.net that they send to users who have successfully accepted representation from agents. (If you are curious what QueryTracker.net is all about, jump to the bottom of this post for a moment.*) One of the questions that I could answer is one about offering advice. I thought about how presumably – hopefully – those who are using QueryTracker and reading these little success stories have been reading everything else under the sun that has given them tips and tricks and whatnot and therefore, my “advice” would only sound trite and unoriginal.
Everyone says “Don’t give up! Follow the guidelines! Tighten that query! Make sure your opening pages are fabulous! Research so you know which agents to query! Be patient! Keep writing!”
And no one is wrong with all of that. It’s just… ugh. It can all get so tiring to hear, you know? You’re like, I swear I’ve done ALL of that and where is it getting me? NOWHERE. At least that’s how it feels sometimes.
Then there’s the “an agent needs to fall in love with your book” in order to sell it and again, you can know this is true, but not feel it because you are wondering, what is wrong with my book that they aren’t falling in love with it?
Today I thought of this analogy. I thought about my Goodreads shelf and discovered I’ve given 34 of 236 books a 5-star rating. That’s 14%. A higher percentage than I thought, but also a good number to keep in mind. Your future agent is someone that needs to feel that your manuscript is 5 stars. Not 4 stars (which is still really good – I have lots of 4-star books on my list), but top notch. Unforgettable. Something that has sunk into your soul and given you that book hangover.
Now, if you are someone who gives out 5 star ratings for most things you just really enjoyed, then this whole comparison will mean nothing to you. But for me, it helps to better understand just how this works for an agent. I gave Louse Erdrich’s The Round House 5 stars, but my sister thought, “eh, I don’t see it”. Sometimes we refuse to believe that when agents say it’s subjective that they really mean it. I thought The Round House was probably the best book I’d read all of last year, but if my sister doesn’t agree, who is going to offer Erdrich representation if we are both agents? Who would she want to represent her? (Actually, probably my sister because she rocks at this marketing-style thing, but let’s remember the story I’m trying to tell and go with it, mmkay?) My 5-star percentage is still more generous than an agent’s statistic for finding his/her 5-star manuscript from the slush pile, but if my stat is still as low as 14%, then this, for me, drives home the challenge of wowing an agent – who really has to be wowed even more than if s/he just picked that book up from the library or bookstore because it looked good. That agent has to be a CHAMPION for your book. That agent has to more than just think your book is really good, s/he has to read it and suffer that book hangover.
If I had thought about this just a month ago, I mean really thought about it, I might have been able to muster up just enough more calm and patience to make it through a few more rejections. It feels like something that would resonate with me.
Or maybe not, because this is the part of the post that you remind me that it’s all well and good for me to say this NOW. I mean, I have an agent, right?
You’re totally right. Go ahead and sling curses at the screen… but after that, try to find the analogy that works for you to help you keep faith in what you are reaching for –whether it be publication or something completely different. Share with me what keeps you going on your path to attain whatever goal you are working towards right now.
[*QueryTracker.net is one of a couple of very popular sites to use when you are both getting ready to query agents and during the process of searching for agents. They run a forum where you can help one another perfect your query, your synopsis, your opening pages and also just ask questions. The tracker portion includes a database of agents and allows you to create a personalized list of agents for yourself and if that isn’t helpful enough, you can report publically about when you queried, when you got a response, and what kind of response it was. Sometimes users put in additional comments such as what the rejection looked like so that we can recognize if we indeed received a form rejection or a semi-personalized one. (Back to the beginning of the post.)]
I am pretty certain that I have used this exact Brendan James song in a previous post, breaking my own rule that I won’t repeat a song. However, this song was my own personal mantra for the past 1-2 years or so. I’m not 22, so dreams sometimes feel like they are on a shorter waitlist, you know?
Never gonna get it for yourself / if you keep your eyes on someone else / Nobody started from the place that you started from / And nobody hopes to go where you’re hoping to go / And nobody out there wants the life you do / ‘Cause none of them are you / None of them are you