Querying and the decision to shelve your manuscript

Side note: this post is not about my personal situation. It was inspired by conversations I’ve had this week with other writers. I’m not shelving Lily In The Shadows (just yet).

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about querying and rejections. I offered advice on what to do to make it out of the slushpile and get an agent’s attention – and hopefully an offer of representation. Today’s post is about the other side of the coin: what to do when, despite your best efforts, that offer of representation doesn’t come and you’re faced with the decision of shelving your manuscript.

Making the decision your Beloved Manuscript isn’t The One is hard. You’ve put so much effort into it, you love it so much, how do you know it’s time to move on? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you make your decision:

1- Is your submission the best it can be?

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you’re getting rejections because of the quality of your submission. If, deep down, you know your query could be better, your first pages could be rewritten and your manuscript could use more polishing, ask yourself if it’s not worth a little extra work. If you think it is, just walk that extra mile and make your submission outstanding.

2- Have you exhausted all your querying opportunities?

The second question you need to address is whether you have queried all the agents interested in your genre/category. If the answer is no, then keep querying. If the answer is yes and you feel you’ve burned all those bridges, it might be time to move on.

3- Is it just down to bad timing?

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with  your query or manuscript. Maybe you’re getting rejections because your timing is unfortunate. Ask yourself if you’re querying a genre that’s over-represented in the slushpile. The NewLeafLiterary Tumblr is a great source of info on that matter. Right now, Dystopian, Greek mythology, Sci-Fi, mermaids, vampires and werewolves are not what editors are looking for. Be aware of these trends when trying to decide whether or not you should give up on querying your story.

4- Am I shelving this manuscript forever?

Parting ways with a manuscript you love is hard. But knowing there’s a chance it might still hit the shelves one day can help you putting it aside for now. Maybe, once you have an agent thanks to another manuscript, you can take your beloved manuscript out of the drawer and send it out on submission.

5- Can I move on from here?

Although it may seem unthinkable at the moment, moving on is possible. Write another story. Focus on another project. It may be the one that will get you an agent. And you won’t regret shelving your Beloved Manuscript then.

Have you ever shelved a manuscript you loved? What brought you to that decision? Do share your experience below or ask questions I haven’t thought of!

Querying, making sense of rejections and finding the right agent

Hello gentle reader,

September is just around the corner, and for some of you it might mean a new step in your writing endeavours: the querying process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume you’ve done your homework, finished and polished your manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines. You’ve read all the success stories about writers who got multiple offers one week after sending out their query and signed with an agent within 3 months. So you send out a batch of queries and you start drafting your “How I got my agent” blog post while refreshing your inbox. You’re ready for the offers of representation to roll in.

Except instead, rejections start piling up.

And you have no idea where things have gone wrong.

So here is a little 4-stage guide to help you make sense of those rejections and hopefully help you on your way to finding your perfect agent match.

Stage 1

The problem: You’re getting form rejections, with one or two random partial requests thrown in to keep you guessing.

The diagnostic: At this stage, it’s likely the issue lies with your query letter. “But,” you’ll say, “my letter follows the guidelines and doesn’t even mention Harry Potter!” Fair enough. But to compete with the hundreds of query letters that land each month in the literary agent’s inbox, your letter has to stand out and be stellar.

The solution: Revise your query letter. Post it on forums like Agent Query Connect, Absolute Write or WriteOnCon. Enter contests and giveaways offering a query letter critique. Revise again. Re-draft until your letter is concise, clear, eye-catching and true to your story. Writing an outstanding query letter might take 20 or 30 drafts, but if it gets your manuscript requested, who’s counting?

Stage 2

The problem: You’re getting partial requests, which turn into rejections with a personal comment from the agent.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your first 50 pages. Whether it’s pace, characterization or plot holes, hopefully you’re getting the same feedback at least a couple times.

The solution: Revise your manuscript. Work with your Critique Partners to fix your manuscript’s issues. Once your revisions are done, send your story to beta readers who haven’t read it before and listen to their feedback. Enter contests and giveaways to win a manuscript critique from an editor, an author or even better, an agent.

Stage 3

The problem: You’re getting full requests, which turn into rejections with detailed feedback or a Revise and Resubmit (R&R) request.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your manuscript, and agents highlight what it is.

The solution: Again, revise, get feedback, revise again, and resend.

Stage 4

The problem: You’re getting requests left and right, which all turn into “I like it but I’ll pass” rejections (aka the “not for me but best of luck with it” rejection, aka the “not the right fit for me at the moment” rejection, aka the “I didn’t fall in love with it” rejection).

The diagnostic: It’s the hardest one, because there’s nothing wrong with your query letter or your manuscript. Nothing the agents are telling you about anyways.

The solution: KEEP QUERYING. You’re so close to your goal, the next agent you’ll contact might be the one falling in love with your story. And this is the one agent you want, the best possible match, the one who will wholly believe in your manuscript’s potential.

So tell me: which stage of the querying process are you at now? Do you have any questions I didn’t answer in this post? Or any advice for other querying writers? Feel free to leave me a comment below!