This post (Inside Voice and the Internet) on Gabrielle Harbowy’s Gabrielle Edits blog is actually one of the most heartening pieces of writing advice I’ve read in some time. I’ve received a lot of rejection letters and e-mails since I began submitting my fiction for publication, and I’ve saved almost all of them. Somewhere around 99 percent of them are form letters (“Not for me, thanks” or “Doesn’t meet our needs” or “Not the right project for me.”) These letters, by their nature, tell me nothing about what might have swayed the agent or editor to make the opposite decision.
I understand the numbers. Literary agents receive somewhere around 200 queries a week, roughly 10,000 a year. Of those 10,000, the agent may end up taking on fewer than five. Them’s ain’t good odds. Obviously, agents cannot physically provide personal responses to all of the queries they receive. I get that. This knowledge does not reduce my frustration; every time I get another rejection, one word inevitably pops in my head: “Why?” Followed by a few other words: “Why didn’t he/she love it? I’ve written a good book — what do I have to do make someone in a position of influence see that?”
Of course, once I wonder “Why?”, I then start wondering, “Did he/she think it sucked? Was my query all wrong? Did I sound like an idiot? Did my sample pages inspire physical reactions such as laughing, gagging, or intense hiccups?” Gabrielle’s blog post is reassuring because it reminds me that I probably did the query properly, that my sample pages were no worse than the average submission, and that I didn’t come off as a fool. When agents receive 200 queries a week, they have to narrow down the pool to the cream of the cream of the cream.
Armed with this knowledge, my job is to soldier on. In my quest to get Acts of Desperation and Purgatory published, there are two possible outcomes: One, they get published. Two, I give up trying. Given that real writers submit their work (see my post of Sept. 11), I must eliminate outcome number two as a possibility.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I just heard the beep of an incoming e-mail.