What Do You Do When You’re Rejected by Literary Agents?
When I last left you I had just left the James River Writing Conference with a full head of steam.
I sent out an email to all seven agents who had my novel. I updated them on my wonderful Pitchapalooza news, commitment of a blurb from a New York Times Best Selling author, all the while not asking for an update.
What was the response? Silence. Yep, nothing. My insecurities rose and I began to stress.
Two days later I received an email from the agent at the conference who requested my manuscript—rejection. Crap! I told myself this wasn’t her type of book anyway, but my confidence was beginning to dwindle.
A day later I received this email from agent Jeff XXXXXX:
“So I’ve given this a look and was disappointed to find that the first 150 pages on my e-reader was devoted to back-story before the characters get into war time. This won’t work! You need to leap right into the story and just develop the back-story in the occasional flashback. If you do revise it you can come back to me.”
Great advice and I really appreciated Jeff taking the time to let me know this, unlike some agents who apparently just threw my submission into the trash because I never heard from them. But I still thought some agent would take a chance with me.
A couple days later I received a thin envelope from agent Susan XXXXXX. I knew it wasn’t good news. It wasn’t.
“Thank you for sending me Paws on the Ground. I enjoyed your detail description of the circumstances that lead to the protagonists to enlist and inner conflict the protagonists feel after graduating high school. However I feel this manuscript is not ready for representation. There are places in the beginning of the novel where the writing is not fluid and the pacing feels slow. Paws on the Ground would benefit from a couple more rounds of revision, but unfortunately this project is not for us.”
Four days later I received an email from agent Scott XXXXX. Heart pounding and head spinning I opened the email from my initial dream agent. Rejection. It appeared to be a form letter rejection.
O my….now my world went spinning downwards, but I needed to get it under control. So I did the unthinkable and emailed him back two days later. I asked him a simple question:
“If you could give you one or two pointers on what would have made a difference, I would really appreciate it.”
“I felt that the narrative was not fast paced enough and that it took too long until we got to the heart of the story.”
Damn it….. I knew this was going to be a problem. I knew if I could get the agents into the book that they would love it. But guess what? This is not a good strategy! You need to grab your reader and agent right away. Teach them something new or excite them immediately.
Scott was kind enough to agree to re-read my novel if I edited the book. He recommended I hire an experienced commercial fiction editor to guide me through the novel. He also gave me two recommendations of commercial editors that he works with frequently.
I’m new to this business, but I’m not senseless. I had three agents tell me the same thing and a host of high-level agents reject my submission. I came to terms with the fact that there was something wrong with my submission. I didn’t dwell on the rejection. I realized I needed to fix it. In my world failure is not an option.
But with a new baby coming and money already invested in the first edit I agonized over the next step. I discussed this dilemma with my wife. Since we moved to Virginia Megan had left behind her job in North Carolina. We weren’t hurting for money, but our bank account was basically drained.
“If I don’t try, then I will regret this the rest of life. The only failure in life is not trying,” I told her.
She hugged me and said, “Kevin, I support whatever you decide. I don’t want you to regret this for the rest of your life.”
I knew I had her blessing so I took the next logical step. I consulted with my trusted mentor Ginger Moran who encouraged me to find an editor that was deeply intertwined in the New York publishing world.
I still hadn’t heard from the Book Doctor, David Sterry, and wanted to before hiring an editor. But I commenced my search for a new editor. I also began a new list of agents who had requested a re-submission. I began with two.
I was down, but I wasn’t defeated. They hadn’t seen the last of me.
Note: Originally I had actual agent names in my posts. I received some advice to remove them. It is probably for the best so I decided to remove them.
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