What it Takes to Get Published
For many of us, becoming an author is more than just a dream. It's a craving. It's a nerve-wracking thing to announce to people because you either get nodding and smiling like "you're adorable for having such delusions of grandeur", or rapid blinking as if you just told them you want to compete in "extreme ironing" (yup it's a real thing).
But drafting a novel is no small feat. They say that only the top 5% of writers finish a manuscript, so if you have made it that far, congratulations! After spending your precious free time drafting, editing, researching, learning, agonizing, and polishing, it's time to enter the dreaded query trenches.
That's where many writers drop off like flies. I think many of us assume that if we wear off the letters on our keyboards, we'll naturally land a New York Agent, a six-figure advance, and national tour with our bestselling novel. But when the first inevitable rejection letter lands in our inbox, we have to contemplate how much gumption we have to see this thing through.
I want to show you just what it took for me to get published...
This was my query letter:
Dear (Agent/Editor), (Insert personalization including why I'm querying them specifically). I was excited to see your interest in fantasy, and am happy to place my manuscript in your hands. GRANTED is a YA urban retelling of the middle eastern folktale THE FISHERMAN AND THE GENIE and is complete at 58,000 words.
Sixteen-year-old Liam Covington lives in a sun-bleached skeleton of a house in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The only colors in his life are the glowing shadows that appear whenever he faces death. After Liam nearly dies at Shaw’s Cove, he brings home a fossilized conch shell and discovers a luminescent jinni named Gideon living inside. Gideon grants Liam powers that reveal a hidden world and a jinni with a mysterious vendetta named Darius.
As Liam learns to protect himself, one of Liam’s wishes goes horribly wrong, pulling him into the jinn world of vibrant illusions and back-stabbing deception. Desperate to escape, Liam finds the door home locked by a two-thousand-year-old curse. If he manages to return, it could let Darius out of his cage—a sacrifice Liam is not willing to make.
I currently live in Southern California where I enjoy sand at its best: the beach and the desert. I work as a freelance writer for Writers Domain and have an article contracted with the NEW ERA magazine. I have attended multiple LTUE conferences in Utah, am in a weekly critique group, and studied courses in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children and Adolescents at Brigham Young University.
Thank you for your consideration,
I began sending out my first round of queries in July 2015. These are the responses I got:
Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, this is not quite the right fit for me. Best of luck, Agent
Thank you for considering me as a possible fit to represent your book. I have reviewed your query and, at this time, I do not believe that I am the right agent to represent your work. Please know that we are extremely selective, even with the materials we review. I do appreciate you thinking of us as an agency, however, and I encourage you to continue your search for an agent who is just the right fit for you. I wish you every success in your publishing endeavors.
All my best,
Hi there Rachel,
I’m so sorry for this incredibly delayed response to you, but I didn’t want to leave you without a response at all so I'm writing to you super late! I was knee-deep in work and thought I had sent an email I’m realizing only now that I never sent. My hugest apologies! But thank you so much for querying me last year. Despite my tardiness, I do want you to know that I consider each project I receive very carefully, and while your story was not exactly what I had been looking for at the time, I do hope you kept on trying… agents are subjective and we’re each looking for different things. I know your work is important to you and I’m absolutely grateful that you wrote to me. And again, so sorry for this late reply! Thank you again, and all my very best, Agent
Thanks so much for giving me the chance to review your work! Unfortunately, after reading your letter, I just didn't feel strongly enough to request pages. I'm of the belief that authors deserve an agent who will be passionate about the projects they represent, and I didn't connect as much as I'd hoped.
Please know that every agent feels differently, and this is merely my personal preference. I encourage you to keep querying as what doesn't fit for one agent is perfect for another. I wish you all the best in finding the perfect agent and good luck in your future writing endeavors.
All the best,
And then, a breakthrough! Someone requested a full!
Dear Rachel Huffmire, Thank you for submitting your manuscript Granted. Unfortunately, this submission isn’t quite what we’re looking for. You have a very strong voice, a competent writing style and overall your manuscript was very technically proficient. We also appreciated the mythology that you developed over the course of the manuscript and how it fit into the world you were building. However, for our purposes, we felt the plot overall progressed too slowly and the path the novel was taking wasn’t very well defined. To clarify this feedback: It isn’t until about 80 pages into the manuscript that the plot begins to pick up its pace. Until this point the majority of the story is background information delivered largely through exposition. This is something that we generally try to avoid, as it makes the progress of a plot tedious and drawn out. The plot does start catching its stride about the 100-page mark and from that point the story gets interesting, but that is just far too late in the manuscript. Additionally, while the plot does significantly improve as events begin falling into place, it isn’t a strong enough payoff to justify the very slow beginning. Along these same lines, the protagonist doesn’t have a clearly defined goal for the majority of the story. This is something that we prefer to see made obvious early on (within the first 50 pages of a manuscript) as it gives the reader something concrete to follow. This wasn’t the case here and even as the novel came to a close the protagonist’s “quest” was still somewhat ambiguous—was his goal to release Gideon? To break the curse? We didn’t feel this wasn’t made clear enough as the plot progressed. While this manuscript, in particular, wasn’t what we’re looking for, we do feel like you are a talented author and the strong parts of your manuscript were very well done. We would love to see more submissions from you or even an edited version of Granted in the future. If you would like further clarification please feel free to send me a response. We wish you the best in your writing career. Publisher
After this feedback, I put Granted through massive re-edits and joined a writing group. They helped me get the manuscript into much better shape!
I resumed querying in 2016.
Thank you very much for your query, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately, the project does not seem right for this agency, and we are sorry that we cannot offer to serve as your literary agent.
We also apologize for the form rejection. The sheer number of queries we receive prevents personalization in order for us to respond in a timely fashion.
We wish you all the best in finding more suitable representation, encourage you to query widely, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.
So glad you found us! And an extra big thanks for your patience as I wade through my submissions inbox. I need a jinni to give me more hours in the day, so if you can write that into a story, that’d be great. :-)
I’ve read through your query and the first pages of GRANTED. Your premise is definitely interesting, and I enjoyed your initial characterization of Liam and his friends (well, frenemies, maybe…). I can tell you are comfortable in your writing skin, and that’s refreshing.
That said, unfortunately I need to pass on GRANTED. While I am sure the remainder of the story is intriguing, we are looking for something quite specific to round out our catalog for the upcoming year. I wish you the very best on your publishing journey and invite you to submit to us again if you have something else that might fit our wish list.
This was my first non-form response from an agent and gave me so much hope that I was on a good path.
Thank you for submitting GRANTED for review and for your patience while I considered it. Unfortunately I am unable to offer representation at this time. I am just starting to build my list and need to be extremely selective with the types of projects I take on.
Please know that this is one opinion in a highly subjective field and another agent may feel differently. I wish you the best of luck and thank you for thinking of Writers House.
All the best,
We would like to thank you for your submission, Granted, and for the time, effort, and skills that have gone into preparing your manuscript for our consideration. After careful evaluation of your manuscript, we have decided not to publish at this time.
Although we did not accept your manuscript, we recognize the courage it takes to present a work for others to review.
We thank you for your interest and wish you the best as you continue writing.
Thank you for your query. I regret to say, it's not a perfect fit for me. I apologize for not having better feedback for you -- sometimes it’s hard to put to words something that is just a matter of personal taste. I wish you much luck in your journey, and I appreciate you sharing your work with me.
Dear Rachel, Thank you for sending me the query for your novel Granted, which I have read with interest. I am sorry to say it is not right for my list. We wish you luck with your work. All best, Agent
At this point, I discovered a publisher I had previously queried stole a concept from my book and implanted it in one of their new releases. This resulted in conversations with lawyers, a lengthy phone call with the publisher's CEO, and the realization that there ARE predatory publishers out there. I began researching agents and publishers with a fine-tooth comb after this.
Thank you so much for submitting your query to me. Unfortunately, I am going to have to pass. I know you've put a lot of time and effort into your project. The publishing industry is very subjective, so what may not work for me could be exactly what another agent is looking for. I encourage you to continue your pursuit of publication, and to never give up on your goals.
Thank you for considering me for your work. I wish you great success with your writing career.
Many thanks for your submission – I appreciate you thinking of me and (agency).
I’m sorry to say that I’ve decided to pass on your work. The children’s and YA markets are very competitive, and I have to feel a high degree of confidence in a story to take it on. I just don’t have quite enough conviction that this is one for me at the moment, though please bear in mind that another agent may feel differently – it’s such a subjective business. I’m also sorry that I can’t offer editorial comment or advice on your story; we receive such a high volume of submissions. If you haven’t already done so, please see our website and my blog – links below – which will tell you more about what we seek and writing craft in general.
Best wishes, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to consider your work.
Thank you for your submission, which I have carefully reviewed but must decline. Unfortunately, due to the volume of queries I receive, I am unable to respond to them individually.
I hope you will not be discouraged by this reply—as with all readers, I am limited by my own subjective preferences, and so I imagine other agents will feel differently. I wish you the best in finding the right match for your work. If, however, you end up querying a new project in the future, I would of course be happy to consider it.
With warm regards,
Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, it's not quite what I'm looking for at this time, so I will have to pass. Best wishes in your search for representation.
Thanks so much for letting us take a look at your materials, and please forgive me for responding with a form letter. The volume of submissions we receive, however, makes it impossible to correspond with everyone personally.
Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time. We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work, and we thank you, once again, for letting us consider your materials.
This is not right for me, but thank you for the look.
Thank you so much for allowing The (Agency) to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for us at this time. As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.
Again, thank you very much for allowing us this chance to consider your material, and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors.
Thanks so much for sending along the sample pages of Granted. I’m sorry to say, though, that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped. What with my reservations, I’d better bow out.
Thanks so much for contacting me, though! I really appreciate it, and wish you the best of luck.
Please forgive this impersonal note but the high volume of correspondence makes it difficult for us to respond to you personally. Thank you for your query. Unfortunately it doesn’t match what we are looking for at this time. We hope other agents feel differently.
Best of luck.