A frequent part of my role as a job search coach is to help job seekers rewrite their internal stories. When we don’t hear back from companies, we are often left wondering what we did wrong – even if we have yet to have any contact, let alone an interview.
As many of you know, I write fiction. I’m at a place with my second novel where I’ve decided to shop it around in the hopes of finding a literary agent who will help me find a publisher who will be interested in buying the rights. To those not familiar, agents are commission-only sales reps who help writers gain access to publishers. For my publishing purposes, this is akin to conducting a job search.
In order to find an agent, I need to research which agents are open to new clients (which, as it relates to a job search, is like building my target company list), determine what types of projects they’re looking for, and then draft a query letter (like a job seeker’s cover letter). My letter must have a great hook to capture the agents’ interest, as well as explain the logistical details of my book and a bit of my biography (cover letters should follow that flow: why them + why you = let’s talk).
Agents say they’ll take up to a month to reply to a query and then if they’re interested, they’ll ask for a chunk of the book to review (this is like the initial phone interview in a job search).
A few weeks ago, I spent several hours early on a Sunday morning on AgentQuery.com (for publishing purposes, my version of Glassdoor, Indeed, et al.). I built my list, created emails, and began pressing Send. After emailing five queries, I noticed a glaring typo in all caps – I had inverted two letters: FINGING LANCLEOT. Can you see the errors? As you may surmise, all agent websites clearly state their zero-tolerance policy about typos.
I can’t go back and resend my letter to those agents. I could choose to stress over this, but instead I choose to let it go. There are way too many fish in the sea for me to freak out over five lost agents. If an agent isn’t willing to realize that I fat fingered my typing, oh well. I can drown myself in anxiety or I can choose to tell myself One day they’ll regret that they passed over my novel when I make it big on the best-seller lists. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers.
Tuesday rolled around and I’d already received three rejection letters, form letters that agents send to almost everyone. I was bummed, but after two rounds of agent searches with my first novel (and years spent coaching job seekers), I know that they’re coming and I don’t read into rejections anymore. They probably glanced at my letter, never read my first few pages, and simply said Nope, this doesn’t sound like something we’d like, similar to what we do as readers when we read the first paragraph of a book jacket cover.
So now I need to source 10 more names. And like a job seeker working full-time, I have to fit sourcing in around my other commitments with greyzone, parenting, and house maintenance. So I do what most job seekers do and carve out time early in the morning (because I’m useless past 8:00 p.m.) and I set baby goals – say 10 agents a week – so that I’m making progress, even if at a slow pace. While my goal was 10, the reality was I only sent off eight that week. I could bemoan my lack of achieving my goal, instead I celebrated that I was able to get eight emails out there and that’s eight more than I would have sent if I didn’t have a goal. And this weekend, I sent zero because I needed a weekend to simply ignore the to-do list.
I know I’m going to get a lot more rejections before I get a win. My first novel took 40 queries to land an agent – and that agent wasn’t able to sell it. I know this is a process I’ll be continuing for weeks and months to come.
Also, what if after 60 queries no one is interested? Then the universe is sending me a signal and I’ll need to find a different way to get my book out into the world. I recognize that this book is not conventional and there’s a decent chance that no traditional publisher will be interested. My tag line is that I bring metaphysical concepts to the chick-lit audience. That niche is not for most.
So what then? Then I can choose to go the entrepreneurial route and start my own business aka, self-publish. My first book was self-published, so I know I can do it again. There’s a lot more work involved on my end when self-publishing and I have to outlay money on the front end instead of being paid by the publisher, but the complete control – both creatively and of the timeline, publishing when I’m ready to publish, not when I get slotted into a publisher’s schedule – remains deeply appealing and, as I already know, is incredibly rewarding.
Entering this vetting process, putting my creative work out for judgment, is a very vulnerable, raw experience, just like putting yourself out there for a new job. But I’ve learned – both through my past publishing journey and my years of coaching job seekers – that a rejection of my query is not a rejection of me or of my ability to write. We can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. If an agent is going to take me on commission, then they have to be really, really excited about my book. I don’t want an agent who’s only mildly interested.
We all need to find the right homes, be they employers or markets for our creative pursuits. In the meantime, we keep shopping. And while we look, we always and unflinchingly believe in our product.