I hear this question a lot. You’ve sent out your manuscript to 10, 20, 30 agents/editors and are awaiting a reply. Or maybe all of them came back as rejections, and you’re wondering whether to hang it up and shove your book under the mattress. You’re looking for a magic number that confirms that your book doesn’t have a chance of being picked up.
In truth, no one can answer that but you because you’re the only one who knows your personal limit. I know successful authors who endured a hundred-some-odd rejections. I always say that it only takes one to hit a bull’s eye. That one agent or that one editor [mainstream] who sees the potential in your work.
Querying is sort of like play the tables at Vegas. You keep playing one more hand because, hey, this might be the one that sends you home a winner. And you keep playing with that mindset until they finally toss you out of the casino wearing only your favorite Vickie Secrets and your lucky Adidas.
Since agents and editors aren’t a casino that sit under one roof, the only thing you have to go on is your collection of rejections. Every author has their personal limit as to how far they’ll go. Some give up at 30 rejections while others are still going strong at 600 rejections [seen it, pinky swear]. IMO, both of those numbers are the extreme; one gave up too soon, and the other has a healthy set of chestnuts.
If you’re unsure as to when it’s time to call it a day, do yourself a favor and base your decision on sound thinking rather than emotion. Writing is emotional enough. But this is a business, and decisions based on emotion aren’t usually to the author’s benefit.
The question of abandoning a book idea should hinge on how well-prepared you are. See, writing doesn’t have an equal playing field, and it’s all about the survival of the fittest. Some people are better writers than others, be it in their plot or raw talent. Some of you know you have a marketable product and stick with it. But you know because you understand the biz.
The more you understand how books are sold and how the marketplace works, the better able you are to know when you’re pushing daisies or whether you’ve got a book worth sticking with. Authors who understand their competition, genre, and readership are able to decide an appropriate number of rejections before they realize that this isn’t the right time or place for their book.
It makes me think of the Great DaVinci Code Tidal Wave. When The DaVinci Code came out, all anyone – agents and editors – saw for a year were Dan Brown knockoffs. Had the beagle been born, she would have drunk herself into a coma. As it was, I had to do it on my own. Not a pretty sight; Captain Morgan’s rum and I are on a permanent vacation from each other.
Most of the writers penning DaVinci Code knockoffs were new and knew nothing about the industry. They didn’t realize that the big houses take about two years to pub a book. Even us small fries take a year. So what’s hot now may be very cold in one or two years. The big guys rushed in and pubbed a lot of knock offs so they could gravy train off Dan Brown’s success. The genre became saturated and we all got to the point where we’d rather have our eyebrows shaved off than look at another Dan Brown wanna be.
But these new authors had no idea, and they continued to push their books to agents and editors for far too long. Had they been more educated about the business, they would have put the ms under the bed and written something else. Collecting hundreds of rejections for something that will probably never see the light of day does nothing for a writer’s confidence.
So when asking yourself “should I hang this manuscript out to dry?” consider the genre, the marketplace, your competition, and your readership. If you’re doing a teen vampire romance, you shouldn’t be too shocked at the high number of rejections. This is a highly specialized genre right now, and the flood of these queries give agents and editors the pick of the litter.
Mind you, I’m not saying dump the project. I’m saying be realistic and take a giant step back from your emotions. And the only way you can do that is by knowing the industry. The more you know, the better able you are to make intelligent decisions that will enhance your literary career. I’d like to think Darwin would appreciate that.