DNR: Do Not Resuscitate.
Writers on Query Tracker have a similar acronym: CNR. When an agent doesn’t respond to your query and you know they are all caught up, it’s a CNR: Closed No Response. I had to do a CNR for one of mine today. I saw on Twitter that the agent had zero queries left her inbox and I had not heard anything, so even though mine was only 3 days old, I CNRed it.
Just like a DNR, it’s pretty final. Oh, sure, there is always the very slim possibility that you will CNR a query and then a month later get a request. I think that happened to me once. But usually a CNR means you’ve had your one shot and you blew it, for whatever reason. Your query wasn’t strong enough, your sample pages weren’t strong enough, they weren’t looking for the kind of book you wrote, they just signed another author who wrote a similar book, they hadn’t had their coffee and were feeling cranky, they once had an old nemesis with your name... Frankly, who the hell knows why they didn’t like it? You certainly never will because they don’t tell you. Even the agents who do respond don’t usually tell you exactly WHY they are rejecting. Their answers are vague and polite. These are actual responses from my last book:
I understand why they are vague.
First, they don’t want to encourage more communication with any authors they don’t want to represent. They get hundreds of queries a week and if they are more than tersely polite, they will be getting follow-up emails from authors who now think they are best friends, looking for feedback, advice, etc. They don’t want to give us false hope or waste their own time.
Second, they’re trying to be gentle. Maybe your writing sucks and they don’t want to be the one to tell you. Maybe they're afraid any specific comments will come back and haunt them if your book ever does become a hit. I mean, even Twilight and Harry Potter were rejected before someone took a chance on them. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so who knows? Maybe another agent will LOVE your stuff even if they don't, so they keep their thoughts to themselves.
Third, they may not even know why, exactly, they don’t like it. Taste is a tricky thing. There are lots of reasons to reject and the best they can do is just politely tell you no. It’s kind of like the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” saying of the relationship world. Polite, but not 100% truthful.
So I’m sure in the coming days I’ll have many more CNRs. I’d much rather have a clear rejection than have to do a CNR. Even though it’s more final, at least you know for sure.
I think it's better to know than to wait and wonder.
I’m getting to the obsessive stage of early querying.
Oh, who am I kidding? Getting to? I'm full blown OCD at this point. It rears its ugly head in times like this, when I’ve gotten just enough quick feedback/requests to have hope, but time is passing on the other queries that are out there, and I’m checking my email and Query Tracker hourly.
When I was a kid we just had regular phones. With actual CORDS that attached them to the wall. No cell phones. No texting capabilities. Just old fashioned land lines with no answering machine and no call waiting. Back in the day when you were expecting a call from someone, you would stalk that phone like a lion hunting prey. Remember picking it up real quick to make sure there was a dial tone? And then worrying that maybe that was the EXACT moment that they tried to call you? And God forbid my mom was on the phone! They could be trying to call and get a busy signal and I would NEVER KNOW! Torture, I tell you.
With technology things are a little different, and yet very much the same. Querytracker.net is a website where writers can research agents, track submissions and even socialize with other writers. It’s a GREAT tool that helps me monitor my queries and where agents are in the process. For example, writers can log in their queries to specific agents and then enter the responses they get. By checking an agent’s “data”, you can get an idea of where they are in their “slush pile,” how often they are requesting manuscripts, what type of manuscripts they are requesting, etc. (Slush pile is the term they use for their ever-growing collection of unsolicited queries/manuscripts.)
As I said, it’s a GREAT tool. But sometimes too much information can create anxiety, right? For example, there is one agent who gave me some encouraging feedback on my last novel and invited me to submit to her again. She seems to be pretty timely in her query responses. When I look at her response data, my submission shows up highlighted in yellow.
As you can see, she has rejected two queries that were submitted after mine. Does that mean she’s thinking about mine? Mulling it over? Or does it mean she never got it? (Some agencies have an automatic reply when you submit so you know it was received. Others don’t. She does not.) I find myself checking her stats many times a day, like I used to check for that dial tone on the phone. My “reply” will not show up until I log it in, but the other writers above me give me a hint as to where mine is in the process. Since I know she responds to all queries, it’s just a matter of time before I get an email, positive or negative.
It kind of reminds me of imessage. For those of you with iphones (maybe other phones do this too? I don’t know...), you know those three little dots – the ellipses – that show when someone is reading your text or responding? Kinda cool, right? Except for when the person doesn’t actually respond. You know they’ve read your text – you can see it right on your phone – but they’re not answering! Are they mad? Blowing you off? Having fun at a party without you? Your mind can go to crazy places. Same thing with this Query Tracker stuff. Maybe we were all better off in the good old days, when what you didn’t know couldn’t hurt you!
Anyway, excuse me while I go check Query Tracker…
So I got my first rejection on a full submission last night. Right before bed, unfortunately, which is my prime “wallow-in-self-doubt” time. It wasn’t a bad rejection – in fact, it was quite a pleasant one. Here’s what she said:
Thanks so much for sending along ZENN DIAGRAM!
I rather enjoyed what I read, but out of loyalty for an existing book/sale, I think I need to pass. It reminds me of SKANDAL by Lindsay Smith--which involves "powers' invoked by touch. I sold that book a little over a year ago to an imprint at Macmillan (Roaring Brook).
So I'm sorry to pass for such a "surface' reason, but I wanted to give it a fair look and see whether it was reminiscent or not.
Pretty straightforward, and it had nothing to do with my writing or my story – just timing. Again. And that is one lesson I’m trying to learn with this process: you can’t control certain things. I wrote the best story I could at the best time I could (for me). I have no control over the industry, this agent’s previous clients, or anything else -- only my actions.
That being said … it still sucks getting a rejection. It’s like that glimmer of hope, that possibility lingering out there, just dies in a “ping” of my cell phone. I have a gmail account set up just for my writing stuff, and when I see that notification on my phone, my heart skips around in my chest. Good news or bad news? Sometimes I literally hold my breath as I open the message.
When it’s bad news, my mind starts spinning, spiraling down to negativity. This will never happen. I’m fooling myself. What makes me think this is even a possibility? I’m nothing special. All my inner saboteurs come out to play and I believe them wholeheartedly. So I went to bed feeling pretty sucky last night.
But this morning I sent a thank you to that agent for responding so quickly and asked her if she thought any other agent at her firm might be interested (you are only supposed to query on agent per agency at a time – they don’t want you blanketing them all with simultaneous queries). She emailed me back that I should query one of them. So I did. Boom. Action taken, another line cast out into the sea. I feel better already.
So that’s the update for today. Here’s where my numbers stand:
Total Queries Sent: 26
Query Rejections: 1
Partial Requests: 1
Full Requests: 3
Requested Submission Rejections: 1
Possibilities Still Out There: 24
So … because I didn’t start this blog last Thursday, I’ve got a little bit of catching up to do. I’m going to fill you in on some background real quick and then we’ll get down to where I am now. Once I get this first update posted, I’ll go back and cover a lot of what has happened, writing-wise, over the past 25 years or so. I’m sure you can hardly wait!
I’ve been writing fiction for as long as I can remember, or at least since I was in 5th grade and won the Young Author’s contest at my school/district with the instant classic “My Mysterious Double”. In 6th grade I won again with “Anteater’s Reluctant Journey”. How many stories can you think of with “anteater” in the title? None? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I can scan/post those stories somehow – they’re a hoot. Check out the covers above -- I'm rocking my Toni Tennille haircut on MMD. To this day I’m not convinced it was actually my writing that won those contests: it could have been my brothers’ illustrations or my mom’s professional binding of the books, or just the incredible covers. But, either way, winning made me believe I could write.
So since I got out of college I have completed (or very nearly completed) 6 novels and 1 feature film script. You can see descriptions of these projects to the left. Unfortunately, most of them are, like many young writers’ attempts, a suckfest of suck. Looking back as a more … um … mature woman, I realize that was all “practice” – it felt good at the time, and there are flashes of brilliance, but now I can see how mediocre most of it is. I shopped some of it around and actually even had an agent for one project (ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS) for a time, but nothing ever came of any of it. Because none of it was really publishable. This is a problem with most writers: we all want to believe we are publishable. But the truth is, we may not be … yet.
If you haven’t read the below Ira Glass quote about creative efforts, please do it. Do it now. It is so good and so true.
About 4 years ago I had an idea for a Young Adult story (I’ll write more about this idea and how it came to me in a later blog post). Over the course of the next 9 months (but really 2-3 months of concentrated writing, and 6 months of just sitting on my ass) I wrote a YA dystopian novel called THE SWAILING. I was convinced that THIS WAS MY MOMENT and embarked on a mission to try to get it published.
For those of you who may not know, here’s a quick summary of the pre-publishing process as I understand it (for fiction, anyway):
(A lot of people ask me why I don’t self-publish or go directly to publishers and avoid the agent middle-man. There are reasons for this, but I will address them in future posts.)
So, after I finished writing and revising THE SWAILING, over the course of a year I sent out 102 queries. Of those 102, 10 agents requested more. I had two R&Rs which eventually turned into rejections. Believe it or not, those probably aren’t terrible numbers. But when I showed my daughter all the rejections I got the other day, she was dumbfounded. “Poor Madre,” she said. Yes, trying to get published is not for the weak!
Ultimately I was told by many agents that, although my premise and writing were strong, the dystopian market was oversaturated and they wouldn’t be able to sell it. Basically, I had sucky timing. I missed the Hunger-Games-aftermath window. So … I begrudgingly put that project aside.
After that year of hard work and hope and thinking I was this close to getting published, I was feeling blue. I wasn’t writing at all and I was wondering if the dream I’d had for the past 30+ years was maybe never going to happen. I knew I had to get myself out of the funk of rejection. So one beautiful fall day I went for a walk and brought along my journal. And I sat at a picnic table at the park and brainstormed ideas for a new novel. And one of those ideas turned into my next project, ZENN DIAGRAM. (I’ll talk more about the writing process for ZENN DIAGRAM in a later post.)
Now here I am, a year and a half later with another completed manuscript, ready to face rejection again. It’s terrifying.
So this is where I am today: I am sending out queries. Last Thursday, when I bit the bullet and sent the first batch out, I targeted the agents who had requested my previous manuscript, or agents who at least wrote me a kind note of encouragement with their "thanks-but-no-thanks." You grasp at whatever straws you can, and if an agent liked your writing once, they might like it again. That first day I sent out 10 queries. The next day I sent out another 5.
Then, miracle of miracles, I got one request for a partial and two requests for fulls! WHAT?! Three responses in one day??? My stats were already skyrocketing past my last project! Then I got a rejection, which sucks the wind right out of your sails. But before I let myself get down about that, I sent out another 2 queries. And that is my first piece of writing advice -- or maybe just life advice in general: NO MATTER WHAT, DON’T WALLOW AND DON’T STOP AND WAIT. Keep moving forward, casting your line out there, keep writing. When you stop, nothing happens. When you wallow, all your energy is spent on feeling sorry for yourself. You have no control or momentum. As long as there is the potential “yes” out there, there is hope. So keep on keeping on.
So I am continuing to send out queries and waiting to hear back. I’ve started this blog. I’m making a list of blog topics. I’m not just treading water while I wait – I’m keeping busy and taking action.
Whew … this is a long one. See why I write novels? ;-)
Because I like to write, for years people have been telling me to start a blog. I’ve always shut down the idea because 1) Nonfiction is not my cup of tea and 2) Being the type A personality that I can sometimes be, I don’t like the idea of starting a blog without a theme. And since I don’t have any particular parenting/cooking/decorating talent or advice, I always thought my blogging would be sort of pointless. And even a blog on writing didn’t sound particularly appealing. I mean, who is going to take writing advice from an unpublished 40-something?
And then I sort of missed the whole blogging window because now everyone and their brother has a blog that I’m pretty sure are being read only by their moms and a few close friends. It felt kind of pointless to jump on a bandwagon that was long gone.
But … last week I had an idea. I don’t know if anyone else does this (please, please let someone else do this – not just weirdo me), but I sometimes interview myself. Particularly in the car on my way home from work. I pretend I’m a successful published author and I ask myself questions about how I got where I am, what was my path to publication, etc. I guess these goofy interviews are my way of putting my dream future out to the universe. If anyone ever sees me driving down the highway talking to myself ... don't just assume I'm singing along with the radio. Anyway, now that I am actually in the process of once again trying to find an agent for my newest manuscript I thought it might be interesting to actually document the process real time – the successes, the failures, and the missteps. If I were a young writer, or a writer who doesn’t yet know much about the publishing industry, I think I’d find something like this fascinating. And someday, if I am ever actually interviewed by a real person and not just myself, I’ll have something to refer to when my memory fails. So this will be like my writing diary of sorts.
Interspersed with the real time stuff, I’ll go back and talk about the last 25 years of my writing (and occasionally trying to get published) so that people can learn from my mistakes and hopefully down the road, my successes.
And if no one reads it at all that's okay because, like I said, this will be like a diary for me. It's something I want to do regardless of whether I have an audience or not. Just like all of the other writing I've done in my life. Well, besides writing fanfic. I had an audience for that. But we'll talk about that later...
So … that’s the theme to this blog: Wendy Brant’s rocky road to publication. I hope it has a happy ending and we’ll see one of my books in print before too long.
Want to come along with me for the ride?