Today I’m drawing from the archive to bring you some mid-week inspiration. Whether you querying five agents or fifty (and btw, I recommend aiming for the lower end to start), the reality is you have to be ready for some agents to say, “no.” But is that the end of the story? Not always! As odd as this sounds, sometimes the quality of a rejection letter makes all the difference.
WHEN A NO ISN’T REALLY A NO
It’s a no-brainer: rejection stings. And when it comes from your dream agent, a “no” stings times ten. Time to move on and never look back, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes “no” just means “not yet.”
I’m talking about your partial or full manuscript. If an agent requested your work, then responded with a fairly impersonal “no thanks,” she probably just didn’t connect with your concept, style, etc., and it’s better to concentrate on your other top choices. If, on the other hand, you got personalized feedback on why the story didn’t work for her, or what you could do to improve it, chances are she’d be willing to look at your work again in the future—either the same project or a new one. And this time, you might get a whole different response. Want some real-life examples of how smart persistence pays off? How about amazing authors Marie Lu, Gail Carriger, Tiffany Reisz, and Michael Martinez. You can read their stories on the clients page of the Nelson Agency website for a healthy dose of encouragement!
When you resubmit, here are some things to include in your new query letter:
- Make note in your subject line and opening paragraph that you’ve thoroughly revised the project based on the agent’s feedback, and give a few details about what aspects you reworked to make the project stronger. If the agent explicitly said he’d be open to your work again, certainly mention that, too. It puts you way ahead of the crowd and shows you have grit.
- If you’re pitching a new project instead of a revision, there are pros and cons to mentioning your previous submission. On one hand, the agent could say, “Yes, I remember—this author’s work didn’t resonate with me.” On the other, it shows you have a history of great concepts that caught her interest, even if the writing itself wasn’t quite ready. In general, I favor being up front and reminding the agent you’ve “met” before. It might save her searching through her archive to see why your name sounds so familiar.
- Include any updates since you previously submitted. Did your revised partial win a contest? Have you had a lot of interest from other agents or editors? These things show your new draft isn’t just different—it’s much better. It also adds a sense of polite urgency: this project is hot—better take a look before someone else grabs it!
A final note: this advice assumes you agree with the agent’s feedback from your initial submission and your respective visions for the project align. If not, no matter how much you admire that agent and want to work with her, you’re setting yourself up for frustration, and it’s best to knock on other doors.