Getting rejections may be the hardest part of a writer’s job, but understanding what they tell you could save your career. By studying the pattern of rejections you receive, you may identify problems – the first step toward improving.
After your first 5 to 10 rejections, see what they can tell you by reading between the lines.
If you send a query letter and get only form rejections, you may have a problem with your concept or the way you’re presenting it.
Maybe your idea doesn’t appeal because the market niche is too small. Make sure you’re targeting appropriate publishers, maybe those with a specific genre or regional focus. Or try to broaden your audience appeal, for example by playing up the mystery angle and downplaying the historical era, if historical fiction isn’t selling well.
Maybe the idea feels too familiar. If you’re following a trend, you’ll need a fresh take on the subject to stand out from other imitators. If your pitch sounds like a hundred other books, focus on what makes it different.
If your manuscript isn’t currently marketable, you may need to make major revisions. If you can’t fix your idea, the best thing you can do is start a new project.
On the other hand, if you’ve done extensive market research and you’re confident that your idea is marketable, maybe you’re not expressing it well. Are you starting your query by clearly sharing a catchy “hook”? Are you focused on the main plot and character arc, or are you getting bogged down in unnecessary details about secondary characters and subplots? Ask friends who have not read the manuscript to read the query and tell you what they think the story is about. See if they get a good feel for what you’re trying to convey.
One final possibility is that you didn’t target appropriate editors or agents. If you suspect that’s the case, do more research.
Good Idea, Poor Execution
If you have a strong idea and a well-written query letter, you may get a request for a partial manuscript. That’s a great sign that your topic is marketable. But if an agent or editor reads a few chapters and then passes, you may have a problem with your writing. That means more work on the writing craft. Is your opening too slow, with lots of back story and info dumps? Are you struggling with point of view, showing rather than telling, or pacing? Are you sure the writing is as good as you think it is?
Many books and websites offer writing craft lessons. A good critique group can also help, but less experienced writers may have trouble identifying problems, and even published writers are not always good teachers. Consider getting professional feedback, perhaps by taking classes, signing up for conference critiques, or hiring a freelance editor.
If the agent or editor likes your sample chapters enough to request the whole manuscript, that suggests your “voice” is working for them. If they don’t make an offer after seeing the entire manuscript, maybe you have plot problems or the manuscript isn’t strong enough to sell well in a competitive market. At that point, you’re more likely to get specific feedback if they decide to pass on the manuscript.
Rejections are always painful, but think of them as chance to learn. You’ll lessen the sting, and maybe help yourself reach acceptance next time.
Help with Query Letters
Author and former agent Nathan Bransford has many excellent posts on query letters: http://blog.nathanbransford.com
AgentQuery.com has advice on writing query letters, with examples of hooks: http://agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx
QueryTracker.net allows you to organize and track your query letters, and also to see reports of agent responses, for comparison: http://www.querytracker.net/
Query Shark shares hundreds of real queries critiqued by an agent: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/
Slush Pile Tales also critiques real queries: http://slushpiletales.wordpress.com/
Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with over 30 published books. Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. If you struggle with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. Chris also offers paid critiques. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.
Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. What We Found is about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page.