Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work
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CafeCliche
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Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by CafeCliche » March 2nd, 2010, 11:57 am

Hey guys! I've only been on the agent hunt for a few weeks, but I have a question that some of you hopefully will have some insight into.

Like many of you, I'm sure, I was pretty much promised that as long as I write a good pitch blurb, of course the agent will want to see my sample pages. And if I get rejected, it must be because my query wasn't good enough. As it turns out, that's not the case! I think it was Kristin Nelson who said a while back that a query letter could hit all the notes it was supposed to, but if the idea didn't grab her, she wouldn't bite.

So a rejection might mean "your idea didn't get across," or "you conveyed your idea just fine, but I'm not interested." Of course, this sort of thing is absolutely impossible to infer from a form rejection, and you can't ask the agent what s/he meant. But this makes me curious because of the two rejections I've gotten so far, one was a form rejection, but the other was from someone who said on her website that she didn't send rejections, but she e-mailed me just to say that it wouldn't be a good fit. I'm not really sure what that implies.

So I'd like to ask you guys who have been in the game for a while: when you get rejected, is there any way to figure out whether it was your query or your idea itself that put the agent off? Besides editing the query itself, what are some ways you guys have changed your game plans as you continued your search?

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taylormillgirl
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by taylormillgirl » March 2nd, 2010, 12:49 pm

Here's the thing--a really, really well-written query can make even the strangest idea sound appealing. If you're not getting any partial requests, I'd assume it's your query.
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r louis scott
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by r louis scott » March 2nd, 2010, 12:52 pm

Send your queries in small batches, say no more than ten at a time. Look at your results. If all ten are "no", adjust query and move on. Rinse. Repeat.

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Holly
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by Holly » March 2nd, 2010, 12:56 pm

Beg/bribe/force other people to read the query before you send it out. Post it on critique websites and contests and pay attention to the feedback.

CafeCliche
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by CafeCliche » March 2nd, 2010, 1:08 pm

Holly, I had it critiqued a couple times before I sent out my first round... I'm just trying to figure out what would indicate that I need more. If I don't get any interest from this round, I'll let this forum have a go.

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Holly
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by Holly » March 2nd, 2010, 1:17 pm

CafeCliche wrote:Holly, I had it critiqued a couple times before I sent out my first round... I'm just trying to figure out what would indicate that I need more. If I don't get any interest from this round, I'll let this forum have a go.
You might also post it on Evil Editor: http://evileditor.blogspot.com/
Just have a thick skin -- they'll rip it to pieces. You might get some good advice, though.

The Public Query Slushpile is another, more polite critique website: http://openquery.blogspot.com/

Good luck!

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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by Kniki » March 2nd, 2010, 2:49 pm

I'm starting to wonder whether it's a good idea to get your idea to the "query" stage before writing the full manuscript. Not in terms of submitting to agents, but for feedback. It seems so wasteful to give six months to a year of your life to a project, only to have it rejected everywhere because no one is into your idea. Is there any way you can think of whereby ideas/plot synopses could be vetted in some way before you give your all to them only to find no one else is into your idea?

CafeCliche
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by CafeCliche » March 2nd, 2010, 3:41 pm

Thanks Holly! A friend in the business offered to look it over as well, so hopefully that'll get me somewhere.

Kniki, I think the interests of agents and publishers are so fluid, something like that could go wrong very easily. At the time you start writing your book the industry may have a thing for vampires, but by the time you finish, they might already have moved on to zombies. Agents may be especially picky right now with the industry going through so many changes, but you can't know for sure until you try them out. (And in the meantime, we hold onto those day jobs...)

BlancheKing
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by BlancheKing » March 2nd, 2010, 4:28 pm

try a few "query only, no partials" agents. if they all say the same thing... it's probably the query.


best of luck =)

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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by Bron » March 6th, 2010, 1:53 am

I've also heard that agents and editors don't vet ideas beforehand because so much depends on the writing. Even if they love the idea, if the writing isn't up to scratch they won't necessarily bite. Likewise, excellent writing can carry a not-so-exciting idea.

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Kirril
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by Kirril » March 15th, 2010, 3:52 pm

It's all so very subjective that if I could underline "very" twice, I would.

Before you even write a novel, here's what I'd do.

Write a logline, i.e. the general gist of the story that's in your mind. I.e. Overweight baseball player clones famous golf player in a bid to rule the world and win the heart of a gospel singer.

Take the logline, turn it into a blurb like on the back of a book cover. When Billy Caruthers found the love of his life in gospel singer Cindy Lou Ray, he knew quitting baseball and losing 30 pounds wasn't the way to go. Capturing world-famous golf player Cutsauce Peckwater and cloning him would help him win her heart. But he didn't count on boy-genius Encyclopedia Brown jumping on the case of the missing golfer.

Now write a query letter based on that. Outline the entire novel based on the query letter and condense it into a 2-3 page synopsis. Then write the first 30 pages or so of the novel and polish them. Now you've got a query package without too much time invested in what will likely be yet another bitter disappointment in a long string of failures as the fluid writing market continues to treat your ideas with disdain. On the upside, if you get a lot of hits on your query and can send in those 30 pages as a partial which lead to requests for fulls, then you'll know you're onto something!

"But wait!" you might exclaim in an ejaculatory manner. "I won't have a full to give them. I'll be exposed as a fraud!"

Maybe. But at least you'll know which of your ideas grabbed them by the tender bits and made them notice.

And if you receive no positive replies, at least you haven't invested a year into polishing a full novel that'll be relegated to the backwaters of your computer hard drive. See, this way you invest only a little hope instead of EVERYTHING into one massive tome. Plus, you start to learn the business and how to attract the agents.

On the other hand, writing a novel is a process. You'll want to be good at it, so write whatever tickles your fancy in the meantime just so you can practice your craft.

What I'm suggesting is nothing new, by the way. Google the "Snowflake Method" for writing a novel. But instead of actually writing the novel, stop where I said and give the pitch process a try to see if anyone is even remotely interested.

And by the way, don't steal my idea about the baseball player cloning the golf player to win the heart of a gospel singer. I know the story has been done a million times, but I think the added twist of the gospel singer is enough to push it over the edge and into the big time!

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Matthew MacNish
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Re: Rejection: how do you know if it's the idea or the query?

Post by Matthew MacNish » March 15th, 2010, 4:32 pm

Kirril, I have to admit when I first read your post I completely disagreed. Then I went and read about the snowflake method (thankfully before commenting) and I have to say it makes sense. I would NOT suggest querying agents regarding works of fiction unless you have a finished (see: polished) manuscript but otherwise what you say makes sense. In fact I will be doing the spreadsheet scene processing step on my MS soon because at 310,000 words (and falling) I need to keep CUT, CUT, CUTTING!

As a matter of fact I think I read an interview with Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials, The Golden Compass Trilogy) where he said he does something similar, but in an old school, analog way. He puts each scene on a post it note, and then arranges them all on a board of some kind. That way he can cut or re-arrange his scenes at will. Makes sense!

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