I’ve heard the saying that is you can give up writing then you should. While this may not apply to all passions, I think it’s particularly poignant for writers working towards publication because this is, perhaps, as competitive an endeavor as you can pursue.
To put it in perspective I’ve read that only 1-3% of querying authors land an agent and make it to publication. No that’s not a typo; it’s just that competitive. Nathan Bradford, a literary agent at Curtis Brown, has said on his blog that he receives between 15,000-20,000 queries a year and, of those, only takes on between 3-5 new clients. Kathleen Ortiz, a literary agent at Lowenstein Associates, said from January to April of this year she received 1,622 queries and, of those, only requested 6 full manuscripts.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to convince anyone to give up writing. I love writing. I always have. I just think the first important step before querying is to do your research and that first piece of research has to do with understanding what you’re getting yourself into. So for me, the quote has to do with shear enthusiasm and an ability to handle rejection. I say the later because getting rejections can feel like someone is telling you to give up. I say, “Don’t.” I say, “Keep pushing and get better; perfect your craft.”
As writers, we must be confident enough to think we have something worth saying. For those of us trying to get published, we must think that what we’ve said is worth investment (both financial and time on the part of agents and publishers) but is also particularly unique to stand out in the marketplace.
Ironically, despite the confidence that writers have, most that I know also seem to have their fair share of insecurities. We need re-assurance from time to time. Yet the pursuit of publication is riddled with rejection. This means we need to be able to take on constructive criticism. We need to realize that rejection of this nature is never personal. Different agents have different tastes; they may have just taken on a project or author similar to you; they may like the idea or the writing but think it’s a tough sell to publishers, or any number of reasons in-between. And even if they take you on, constructive criticism won’t cease once you’ve landed an agent because the next step is to find you an editor so, really, it’s starting all over again.
If this is your dream, however, I think it’s important to remember that a number of published authors didn’t land an agent until their second or even third-written novel. Some writers like Mandy Hubbard, author of Prada and Prejudice, received 20+ rejections from editors even after she landed an agent. Others, even those who have reached great commercial success and are now household names like Nicholas Sparks, had only one agent interested in them. It only takes that one person to believe in your work, however. And while it can be a discouraging process, remember agents don’t get paid until they sell your work so if you do land one, you know they really are crazy about what you’ve produced and really want to work with you on your writing career.
Let me leave you with this quote by Anson Dorrance. Sure, he’s a soccer coach but just as it was my mantra for all those long days of physical training, it’s been revised as my mantra to keep perfecting my writing, keep editing my piece, keep doing my research so when I go out into the world and see if there are any takers, the odds are a little better in my favor.
“There are two types of pain: pain of discipline and pain of regret.” So keep writing; keep reading; and keep reaching for your goal. With a beautifully written piece targeted at the right agent and some luck on the side you’ll get there.