You are an aspiring author, hoping to publish your book by traditional means. In order to make this happen, you likely are querying literary agents, not only to help you to land a contract with a powerful publisher but to help you navigate in the brutal world of book business. But the odds seem to be against you. The competition among writers, like in many other professions, is insane in this humongous country of ours. You may have wondered, frustratedly and more than once, why you aren't getting an agent when so many other writers are. You doubt whether you are, in fact, good enough.
I've wondered the above many times, discouraged, baffled, and jealous, as I've read the success stories of other writers. Repeated rejection seeds self-doubt, which in turn can tempt you to give up querying. It may also create a writer's block, and stunt--if not stop--your progress as a writer. I had been querying literary agents for about two years, when I understood that getting published was going to take a while.
If I was going to get published at all.
At first, the realization was suffocating. But the moment passed and, as I persisted in writing and, somehow, improving, my patience increased and my hopes remained.
The oldest query rejection that I've saved dates to August 2016. It wasn't the first query I sent out, but it was one during my first year of querying. For six-plus years (and like countless other writers) I tried to find a literary agent, who in turn would try sell my books to a publishing house. While I didn't lack in professionalism in regard to my queries, I was horrible at summarizing my books in a commercially captivating, succinct, grabbing style. But this wasn't the only reason I was being rejected by agents seeking manuscripts in my genre. I believe it was also my writing, composition: too much of this, too little of that.
You see, agents requested to read my full manuscript(s), but as each read fell through for nebulous reasons, I decided that my stuff wasn't as good as it should have been. (And yes, sometimes your stuff is great, it's just not trending, so to speak. The fault isn't always with the writer, though, I believe, it is 70-ish% of the time.) So. I grew adamant to improve myself as a writer. While I waited to hear back from more agents, I wrote. I continued fiddling with story ideas. I did countless rereads and tweaks and some major edits on three full novels (two of which have gone through the discouraging querying process).
By the time I found my agent, or, she found me, it had been sixteen years since I began writing my very first novel and six years of querying it on and off. (In my defense, I did have the English prose to figure out, kids to raise, and a house to keep.) In fact, I had put the said novel aside for good (2019), until one random summer day in 2021, my teen daughter picked up a draft copy of it from my shelf and read parts of it. She said she liked what she read and that I should continue to try publishing it. When my younger teen echoed her sister, I was stirred enough to start playing around with the troublesome beginning of the novel.
Inspired by not sure what exactly, I wrote my best beginning for the novel since its birth. And I realized that, with my writing having improved over the years, and to stylistically match the beginning to the rest of the story, I now had to rewrite (again) the whole thing. For eight months, I did, deleting and adding scenes (again). Then I gave it to a freelance editor for a copy edit. (She was kind enough to also suggest a couple of paragraph changes and dialogue alterations.)
My effort proved successful. The revised novel attracted an agent a week after I had started seeking presentation--and, surprisingly so, at a Twitter pitch contest instead of via a query letter! I had never had any luck with these contests; I had given up on them as a means of finding an agent. In fact, I rarely got on Twitter, anymore. Call it luck or providence, as I was doing research on literary agents, I stumbled upon an agent tweeting good luck to SFF pitch contesters.
I checked out the pitch contest (already taking place), and participated on a ten-minute whim.
Throughout the day, I tweeted my quite pathetic pitch and read tweets from other writers getting likes from agents on theirs. I was certain I had wasted my time on yet another contest.
In the afternoon, I got a like from an agent. Just one. I checked her out, her instructions for submitting, and herself. I sent a query and a sample.
That evening, she requested the full manuscript. Three weeks later, this same agent expressed her desire to represent it. The novel that I had toiled with and despaired over for a decade plus, and given up on, once.
After years of querying and total of 225 query letters (for two separate manuscripts), the offer was, should I say, welcome. Especially since the agent came across very able and smart and driven and pleasant.
Having found an agent at last, I have entered in from the first of the four (plus) doors to signing a contract with a publisher. Now, as of present, I am freshly on submission, which, in itself, is an unnerving process. I tell myself that since I have waited and worked hard for so long, I can continue to do so. All I can do now is cross my fingers, say my prayers, finish polishing another book, and write the next one.
To you who are searching and querying literary agents, I wish to empathize with you and affirm that finding representation is rarely easy. Getting successfully published is harder. Not to mention staying published. The obscurity and the often unpredictable, almost fickle nature of the publishing world can be very frustrating and discouraging to a writer! Agents may feel pressured to choose between what they love and current market trends. Often, a good book will never make it. And, sometimes, for a variety of reasons, you may have to look for another agent.
All you can do is do what you can. Work hard. Study. Push aside self-doubt. Accept the fact that a pinch of insanity just may make the seemingly useless travail more redeemable. (Sometimes this equals to having hope.) Do your research. Then, either with a stroke of luck or divine intervention, and right timing, a moment of magic will occur.
Don't give up hope. Despite the odds.