Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When do you stop looking?

In yesterday's post I updated you on my query status: WAITING. In the comments, Rebecca pushed me (lovingly) to keep sending queries while I wait, reminding me that one's dream agent is not always found in the expected place.

So here is my question to you: when do you stop looking?

I have sent my query to 90 agents. I had a damn good hit rate, getting partial or full requests from 15 of those agents, as well as getting some really great personal rejections. I'm still not totally certain whether my book is "chick lit" or "women's lit", so when I started the process I looked for agents open to either of those categories when doing my AgentQuery research. (Actually, I might fit best into that new New Adult category, but that's not a searchable industry term yet.) I re-ran those searches a number of times, to make sure I'd captured everyone open to new clients in those genres. That was in April-May-June of 2009, and I sent out about 75 queries.

Then in September-October-November of 2009 I sent out a handful more. In some cases this was because an agent finally lifted her moratorium on queries, in others it was because a particular agent finally rejected me, thus allowing me to apply to a different, seemingly-a-good-fit agent at the same agency. I also came up with another genre to search for: Gay & Lesbian lit, because two of the main character's three best friends are lesbians. That brought me up to my current total of 90 queries.

So, I ask you: what have I missed? I think I've found all the agents who play in my field. You never know which agent will be the one who really "gets" your novel, but I'm not going to send my stuff to agents and say, "hey, I know you don't say you represent books like mine, and I don't see any books like mine on your list, but I thought I'd throw this your way anyhow."

So, I wait. I hope that one of the remaining four agents is The One. I guess I can take another gander at the AgentQuery listings, but at some point one does run out of reputable agents in a given category. I think if this last group doesn't pan out, then all I can do is take comfort in the fact that some rejections included an expression of interest in whatever my next project might be. It's nice to have a ready-made short-list for novel #2.

WHEN IS IT TIME TO GIVE UP? Querying writers, how are you choosing which agents to try for? What will you do when that list is tapped out? Agented writers, what would you have done if the answers had all been "no"?


  1. Carrie,
    You never give up on your writing. Sometimes you decide to find a different avenue for it, sometimes you self-publish, sometimes you get an unexpected publication or rejection but you never give up on the writing. It will find its place in the world, and just like us, it will often struggle and fall and then, unexpectedly, it will rise. Just have faith in that.

  2. I guess for me i stop when i run out of agents.
    Who knows, maybe you'll snag an agent on your next project and are able to also sell the one sitting in the drawer.
    Starting a new project isn't necessarily a bad place to be. It's a chance to start fresh with better knowledge than last time

  3. Hi Carrie,

    My first suggestion is write your next book while querying your first. I assume you've been doing this; I know you've also been going through the GRE and MFA application process, and those are great "keep moving forward" activities as well, but writing another novel might refocus your energy in a different way. Now that the application is in I hope you take some time for yourself and return to the pain and joy of creating. Keeping yourself writing for the sake of writing is a tremendous step toward sanity (you lose the drudgery of "will they won't they" and when they say "yes" its an exciting moment, but not the goal).

    Second, how long have the four agents had the manuscript? If it's been six months or so, send a kind follow-up e-mail. Swinging in purgatory ain't so fun.

    Keep the faith (oh how it pains me to say that to my nemesis).

  4. For me, I shelve a project when it's not getting enough nibbles to maintain momentum. Then I write something else. (I talk like that has happened a lot, but it actually hasn't. Just the once.) While I am SURE this is not the case in your situation, it might be the story or the query that's just not right. You have to ask yourself that question, because if it was great, wouldn't it have been picked up?

    I think also that you should seek out agent contests and the like that will give you feedback on first pages and the query (from agents and editors).

  5. Just based on the title of your post, I couldn't help but think the answer is "When you get married!"

    If you really feel you've exhausted your possibilities, then I think Sierra's and Sean's advice is great. Wish I were better at taking it. ;) Sometimes it feels like cutting bait and running, but if nothing's biting for that particular lure, it may be time to go tie a new one. (Cliche or metaphor, take your pick.)

  6. When I was querying I made up my mind that I wouldn't stop until I'd queried every reputable agent who took my genre. I didn't get through the entire list. I sent about 50 queries before I got the offers. (And I did a major rewrite in the middle based on an agent's notes).

    I'd say now is probably a good time to sit back and wait. One of the current agents might have great revision notes or one might offer.

    Once you hear back you can decide if maybe a small press might be a better fit. There are a lot of great small presses and that's an option too.

    And yes, work on the next book. You've got wonderful contacts for the next query process and you'll probably end up with a better agent if you don't have to go looking at the bottom of your list.

  7. KL, giving up on writing was NEVER an option!

    Falen, Jordan, that's what I was getting at. I mean, I'd LIKE to keep querying, but unless I've really and truly missed something, I think I've done all I can on that front! It feels weird to have a clear point of abandonment, but... yeah. If these last 4 don't come through, I think I have to shelve the book for a while.

    Sean, follow-up emails have been sent, witty banter has been exchanged. Sadly, novel #2 and I are not on speaking terms right now, but I'm working on some shorter pieces. And I know that you only want me to succeed so that my eventual fall will be all the sweeter for you.

    Sierra, I may have a separate blog post at some point about contests... and I've gotten lots of feedback on both query & pages now, so I think it's really down to subjective preferences and saleability. (Not to say that my writing or storytelling is flawless, but, you know.)

  8. The sadly missed Miss Snark used to say, "When you've hit 100 rejections, you can stop."

    So if you've exhausted your possibilities at 90, it's probably fair to stop, particularly since you've had a decent number of requests for fulls and partials. You've worked hard enough to have decent statistics now; there's something about this manuscript that isn't quite there yet.

    It's close--because you've gotten clear interest--but it just doesn't quite make it over the finish line.

    Keep writing, and shelve this manuscript with the intention of coming back to look at it again in a year or two. By then, you may have improved enough to see what the last hurdle is, and you can rewrite it and try to re-query it.

    (Just make sure you say up-front that it is a re-query, but that the manuscript has been rewritten extensively, when you query agents who have seen it before.)

    Good luck!

  9. Natalie & JJ: yep. That's the plan. If it makes it this round, that's AWESOME, but if it doesn't, I'll have to just try to write even better next time.

  10. I'm not sure if there's a magic number. Maybe by 500 rejections?

    How many publishers have you queried? If you've had that many agents request to read the story, you might find your winner with a mid-sized publisher who takes direct submissions. That opens up a whole new realm of options!

  11. I'm glad you found my comments "loving" rather than just annoying! Ha!

    My experience is different because my co-writer and I were shopping around a non-fiction proposal rather than a novel. But the same thing happened to us--instant excitement based on the query, then rejection after they read the full proposal (which in our case was not a manuscript). The rejections came really fast for us. If we didn't hear from them within days, we never did hear from them.

    Anyway, after every rejection we re-wrote the proposal, sent it to all our friends, and agonized over what could be wrong with it. Once we did land an agent, she told us she really liked the project but that her concern was that we didn't have a platform. Why didn't the people who rejected us tell us this?! Here we were doing all this nitpicking with the proposal, but it was about starting a website, getting known in our field, etc.!

    So this is where I was coming from with my idea for you to shop your ms around again. MAYBE your ms is "just not there yet" as some people have mentioned. But maybe it IS, and the issue is that the agents aren't sure how they'd sell it because of genre confusion or something. Just the fact that you've started this blog and have proven that there is a readership out there might allow the agents to take a chance on your book.

  12. I stopped querying my first after I got a few personalized rejections and realized there were issues I needed to tackle. It's still shelved for now.

    But if you feel your manuscript is strong, have you considered submitting directly to small presses or e-publishers? A lot of authors are now jump starting their careers by beginning with an e-publisher. Just a thought.

  13. All the good advice has pretty much been given. Once you're out of agents, you can try publishers and move on to other projects.

    Good luck on those last four replies.

  14. I'm about the same place as you with novel #2, with roughly the same response rate (though the reactions to my novel weren't as enthusiastic as to yours). I recently gave up on this one, but it was only after I started a new project that I think is stronger. I lost enthusiasm for my novel--I knew it had some good things going for it, but in my gut I knew it also had unfixable problems.

    But if you still feel as enthusiastic as ever about your novel, keep sending out queries, perhaps while you begin a new project. Do you also use Query Tracker? I found reputable agents there who weren't on the Agent Query site.

  15. Keep writing, Carrie, and keep sending queries. With the number of hits you've had, it sounds like you've got a good query. The problem is your genre (it's mine too.) There's this crazy fear of women's fiction right now (especially single women's fiction), because the market got so saturated with bad chick lit a few years back.

    Plus the market for all debut adult fiction has been pretty much dead for over a year. If you look at agents' recent sales--it's mostly all YA. So the only thing editors are buying is zombie mashups and vampires. But they're going to saturate the market again.

    And then maybe they'll figure out that grown up women are the main buyers of books and start publishing for us again. Then you'll be golden--and you'll have INVENTORY (I blogged about that a couple of weeks ago.)