The Stats

Another writing friend mentioned recently that for every 50 rejections he might then finally receive one acceptance. Now, this writer sends out both stories and manuscripts, so he’s juggling a lot of paper in all this. But it made me wonder what my own rejection/acceptance ratio might be.

I don’t write many short stories, my Sherlock Holmes stories notwithstanding. I self-publish those anyway, so I have no stats for rejections. Well, that’s not entirely true; early on I did send “Mystery of the Last Line” out to a few mystery magazines and the like. Maybe five? Then finally self-published it and never looked back.

That said, I did recently write a story called “Aptera.” It was written to spec for an anthology about Sirens, and though shortlisted did not make the final cut. (Tone too different from all the other stuff, which is a topic for another time.) Counting that rejection, “Aptera” was sent to 12 venues and rejected by 8 of them. I had not heard back from 3 others when Aurora Wolf accepted it. So, discarding the might-have-beens, my acceptance ratio for this story was 1/9.

Okay, what about novels? Which is more of what I do anyway. I queried The K-Pro just shy of 50 times before self-publishing it. So the ratio there is 0 for 50, more or less. The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller was my hardest sell. I queried that one exactly 100 times and had 2 acceptances. So my friend’s 1/50 estimate was spot on there. And Changers? I sent out 70 queries on that one. I received 2 acceptances and had not heard back from 4 at the time I accepted Evernight Teen’s offer. So if I subtract those 4, I get 2/66, or 1/33, which isn’t too bad.

And what about timing? I started sending out “Aptera” in January after receiving the boot from the anthology. It was accepted in May, so it took me 4 months to place it. I queried The K-Pro for a year before giving up and self-publishing. It took 15 months to place Peter, and 10 months to find a home for Changers. The reason for that is most likely there are more agents and publishers open to YA fantasy (Changers) than there are for adult upmarket espionage (Peter).

What all this adds up to is that querying and finding a home for your book or story is not, on average, a fast process. You’re going to hear “no thanks” a lot, and you should be prepared to stick things out for a year or more depending on your genre and how popular it is. There are more romance and fantasy publishers than, as I said, upmarket espionage publishers. So plan for a long-term siege. That way, if it happens sooner rather than later, you can be pleasantly surprised. But if it takes a while, you’ll be ready for that rather than disappointed and disheartened. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Time is a Sliding Scale

I keep a spreadsheet of submissions. I’m sure a lot of authors do, right? Mine logs who I sent something to, and when, and what the response was (or, often, wasn’t). It’s difficult sometimes to determine when to give up though. Some agents say on their sites: “If you haven’t heard back within X weeks, it’s a pass.” That’s cool because, much as it sucks, at least I know not to keep waiting. But a lot of queries—and even some submissions based on request for the manuscript—vanish into the void and are never seen or heard from again.

Right now I’m querying my YA fantasy. An editor at a major publisher asked to see the first three chapters! That was last July. I sent them but haven’t heard from her since.

A small publisher also asked for pages . . . Five months ago. They assure me they respond to everyone, but their site also says 10–12 weeks. A follow-up email informed me they’ve had “delays.” That’s fine, but I wish they could at least tell me where I am in the queue.

The July submission is the one that’s been out the longest, and the five-month one is runner up. My most recent submissions were a month ago. So I’m at between 8 and 1 months. Which to a querying writer feels like forever. (It’s worse when they ask to read your manuscript and then never respond to your follow-ups. You’d think that shouldn’t happen, but it does.)

I try to remind myself that I want them to take their time and really consider. That snap decisions seldom go in a writer’s favor. I tell myself that I took a long time writing and revising, and I shouldn’t rush now. A few more weeks (or months) won’t hurt. And of course I try to find new projects to distract me from checking my email every few minutes! Sometimes that works, sometimes not.

How about you, fellow writers? Any querying horror stories? Insanely long waits? Are you able to distract yourself somehow while waiting to hear back? Let me know in the comments!

DFW Writers Convention

Here in the Big D (that’s Dallas) for the writing convention and having a lovely time. It’s much smaller than the San Francisco conference, which has its pros and cons. On the pro side, I was able to actually talk to Kevin J. Anderson and Charlaine Harris.

With Kevin J. Anderson . . . And, no, I don't look at all like an insane stalker, right?
With Kevin J. Anderson . . . And, no, I don’t look at all like an insane stalker, right?

On the con side, much more limited class options and only one pitch session is included in the price of admission; there is the option to purchase more pitches, but I’ve done that with screenwriting to very limited results, so I’m not inclined to try it here.

Still, my pitch went well, and the editor requested three chapters. I’m going to polish them ’til they shine and then send them off to her.

Me Ra Koh did an informative talk on using social media. In particular, she showed us what to do on Facebook to reach more readers and gave suggestions for what should be on our Amazon author pages.

Kevin J. Anderson (see above) gave a great keynote on the “popcorn theory of success” in which he demonstrated how you never know which kernel might pop next or where it might land. In that way, keep as many kernels in the oil as possible. Don’t just put one kernel in and watch it and wait for it to pop.

There was a panel on asking agents questions, but I didn’t learn much that was new. I think agents get a lot of the same questions over many conferences. I did find it interesting, however, that most of the agents on this panel think “New Adult” is a passing fad that will probably be subsumed by the overall romance genre because most NA books are heavy on the romance angle.

The workshop on understanding rejection letters was really helpful, though. It was a workshop for people who’d queried and even had several requests by agents for their manuscripts only to be ultimately rejected. So where is the disconnect there? I learned that, based on the feedback I’ve received of how well written Peter is, and how much the agents like the story, character, setting, etc., it’s quite possible that they just don’t believe there’s a market for the book. It’s a moot point now, since Peter went to Tirgearr, but it’s nice to know that it [possibly] wasn’t me or my writing. The agents also said that, as a rule, the offer to submit something else to them is a genuine one, not just a courtesy. If an agent says, “Feel free to query me with your next project,” they usually see something in your writing and voice that they like. That makes me feel good, since I’ve had several such responses from agents.

Tonight is Charlaine Harris’ keynote and a reception. Should be fun. And tomorrow another day of workshops, though not as long. I fly home tomorrow evening, too, which means I’ll be wiped out. But so far it’s been a good conference.

Insecurities

I haven’t officially joined this whole Insecure Writers thing, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents anyway. I have seven agents reading Peter, which is nerve wracking in and of itself, but I’m mostly insecure about my ability to keep up with this site. I really, really want to finish “Hamlette” for all the readers who have been enjoying it, but my chief priority is to finish Changers before DFW Con . . . And I have production meetings for the scripts (via Skype and Google Hangouts, which means I have to put clothes on and brush my hair) . . . Ack! I’m approaching meltdown.

It doesn’t help that we’re in the last couple weeks of school. There are a ton of activities and things to get done, and then the kids will be home and my ability to write in peace will be stunted.

Yeah, I feel like I’m juggling and struggling to keep all the balls in the air.

I know I can do it, though. I know if I just breathe and focus, take each day as it comes, all will be well. It’s just so easy to get caught in the whirlwind—or make your own whirlwind as you turn circles.

Here’s to stopping and standing in the eye of the storm.

Little Update

I am still around, promise, and I hope to have another “Hamlette” at some point next week. Changers consumes all my writing time these days; I’ve just discovered I need to massively rewrite the last eight pages because it went in a direction that didn’t fit the world as I’ve built it. Shame, too, because it was a lovely piece. I tried to work it every which way to see if I could make the world fit the sudden turn that had cropped up, but no, too complicated. So the turn must be removed.

Meanwhile, I had a good week with Peter. It’s now out with seven agents, and I hope to hear something from someone soon. Of course, “soon” is relative; agents are busy, often have stacks of manuscripts to read (never mind their actual clients’ work). Three to six months is average, and I’ve heard some writers say it was more like nine months to a year before they ever heard back. I’ve been querying Peter for a little less than a year, and this revision only since February. I know I should be patient, but it’s hard! I had thought I would self-publish in June, but with new interest in the manuscript, unless all of them come back with a “no,” I’ll hold off until fall.

You Don’t Got Mail?

Convoluted story, but here goes:

On Monday the 11th, I mailed two envelopes. Now, I know I probably should have gone to the post office and gotten delivery confirmation and all that good stuff, but I already had to drop something at the local UPS store, so I asked them to mail the two envelopes. They gave me a flat rate for each (didn’t give me any other options) and I thought nothing more of it. Mail is mail, and Mercury wasn’t retrograde yet.

But here it is the 21st, and my friend who was supposed to receive one of the envelopes still hasn’t. Which makes me worry the second envelope—an application for a writing fellowship—might also not have arrived at its destination.

So what are my options? I could (a) hope/assume the application got there (they don’t acknowledge receipt, and you only hear back if you advance), or (b) resubmit (except I don’t know if I risk disqualification if they did get the first submission). I suppose I could send it again with a note that I wasn’t sure the first had arrived, but . . . Sigh.

ETA: My friend received her envelope! And considering she lives sort of out in the middle of nowhere, I can see why it might have taken an extra day or two. But now I have a lot less anxiety about Envelope #2. I’m letting it go.

Query Confusion

Okay, here’s a story about a query. I’d submitted to an agent (we’ll call her Agent A) and eventually been rejected. After looking at the agency’s Web site and seeing nothing about not querying other agents if one passes, I submitted my query to another agent (Agent B). Only to get a response from Agent A saying, “Sure, we’d love to take a look.”

Um, okay, but . . . You’ve already taken a look. Did the query not ring any bells for you at all? Where is Agent B?

Of course, I didn’t answer exactly that way, but I also didn’t resubmit my manuscript. Instead I gently reminded Agent A that she had read it, and told her I’d hate to waste her time if she didn’t want to give it another look. (Though I also pointed out the manuscript has been through a major rewrite since she saw it. It was a rewrite I had offered her before and never heard back on, so . . .)

So far there has been no response. I mean, my rule of thumb is: If the agency’s site doesn’t specifically say that a pass from one agent is a pass from all/the agency, then it’s fair to submit to another agent at that agency. But maybe I’m wrong? Or at least in this case I might be? It is a pretty small agency, so maybe it’s a matter of size. But I do wish agencies would make their processes more transparent. Not because I think they’re hiding something—some alchemical secret they use to determine whether to sign someone—but because it would make it easier for the writers to do things in a way that complements rather than complicates those processes.

Good News, Bad News

It’s been one of those weeks. I’m getting a lot of feedback regarding Peter, which has been mostly very encouraging: it’s well written, I’m told, and a unique story. But. (And there’s always a “but.”) The story should start in a different way and I should make Peter more sympathetic from the get go.

I’ll admit he’s a cypher. That’s kind of key to being a spy. But many agents and editors are telling me to maybe get in his head a bit more.

It feels like a daunting amount of work, but I’ll do it. I need to print out the whole damn thing and give it a thorough once over, identify where and how to add and tweak.

So now I’m caught: Do I focus on fixing Peter? Or do I try to finish Changers first? Changers will surely be an easier sell to agents and publishers. But I also have this need to see Peter settled and done with. And now I feel frozen, not sure where to turn, which means I’m not getting anything done.

Well, but there’s been good news this week on the screenwriting front. Superstition keeps me from going into detail, but it’s sufficient to say I’d have had a pretty awful week if not for this bright spot.

Onward, then.

As soon as I pick a direction.

About Peter

People keep asking me where things stand with it, so here are the facts:

I’m no longer sending out queries. Right now six literary agents have the full manuscript and four others have partials. I will wait to hear what these say, and in the meantime I’m fleshing out a few revisions per some of the feedback I’ve received.

I was feeling really down about it all last week, but then I received two more requests for the manuscript—and two requests for scripts that I’ve written—and that got me feeling better.

What I’ve come to recognize about myself is that I’m a product of the system that taught me to seek approval, those gold stars from teachers and such. I was so good at that in school, but when you’re a writer the gold stars are fewer and farther between. And when I go a long while with no feedback, no praise, I get into a slump. I lose my motivation. I mope and drag.

All well and good to know this about oneself, but is there anything I can do to change it? Not sure. I need to think about it. At least I can now acknowledge when this is happening. Then, hopefully, I can find something to perk me up when it does.

For now I’m feeling okay, though I’m not sure how long those requests from last week can or will sustain my mood. I’m like a junkie! Must have pettings and soothing words said to me on a regular basis. Hmm . . . Maybe I’m more like a cat. I like the pettings, but I also get tired of them and will bite you if you carry on too long. And I definitely don’t like it if you try to pick me up.

Walk this morning:

1. “Dead Or Alive on the 405” by Gin Blossoms
2. “Main Titles” from Sherlock
3. “Give Me the Meltdown” by Rob Thomas
4. “Feel Again” by OneRepublic
5. “Bent” by Matchbox Twenty
6. “Not Coming Home” by Maroon 5
7. “Nothing to Hide” by Richard Marx
8. “Don’t Change for Me” by Gin Blossoms
9. “Hands Are Tied” by Gin Blossoms

Sunday Stroll

The year is winding down, and this week has been quiet, which is more or less what I expected. So when a rejection came in early this morning I was a little taken off guard. It seems so many literary agents are waiting to send out bad news until after New Year’s. Not that I want to start 2015 with bad news, either. Maybe I would rather receive it now and close out the year with a clean slate.

I’ve been cleaning up my office in advance of the new year, too. Ready to start fresh with a tidy workspace. I’ve fallen behind on the actual writing, though I’ve edited the first half of Changers (on paper; need to go make the changes in the Word document). And I have a rough outline for the rest of the book. Or, if not an outline, a general idea of where things are going.

And today the weather was nice enough for a walk. So:

1. “Whenever We Wanted” by John Mellencamp
2. “Through With You” by Maroon 5
3. “Like Sugar” by Matchbox Twenty
4. “Why Should I Cry For You?” by Sting
5. “Getting Late” by Rob Thomas
6. “Chanson Pour les Petits Enfants” by Jimmy Buffett
7. “As Long as It Matters” by Gin Blossoms
8. “Sunday Morning New York Blue” by Rob Thomas
9. “Brighter Than the Sun” by Colbie Caillat
10. “It’s My Life” by No Doubt
11. “All Your Reasons” by Matchbox Twenty
12. “I Don’t Need Another Thrill” by Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers
13. “So What” by P!nk

Those first few songs tell quite the story. An edgy, defiant relationship that ends (1–2) . . . Except he can’t quite let go (3) . . . Until yes, he finally does (4). There’s the dip in energy, an inward focus (5–7), before the chrysalis bursts open again and hopefulness shines out (8–9). But the last four songs speak of a certain back and forth tension.

In short, it was a good walk filled with a really good musical story.

Now I’m off to rework a TV pitch and make those edits to Changers . . .