100 is a magic number for authors.
There’s an old saying – let’s call it the “Rule of 100” – that you’ll get 100 rejections before you make your first sale. I had maybe twenty, so it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule. But it does give aspiring authors a reason to keep going – what if that golden ticket is just around the corner, and you gave up at 99?
They say something similar about trying to get an agent. Agents are the gatekeepers of the mainstream publishing industry – it’s nearly impossible to get noticed by the big NYC publishers without one. Some publishers occasionally run open submission periods, but even so, you’re much more likely to end up in the slush pile than on an editor’s desk.
I finished “Dropnauts” a year ago this month. It’s a spin-off book from the Liminal Sky: Ariadne Cycle series, one that I was really excited to get out there. After a lengthy edit, I started my query quest with Pitch Wars, a mentoring contest that opens in late September. I felt really good about it, sure I would at least get a few calls for my whole manuscript.
A day went by, then a week with nothing. I frantically scanned the Pitch Wars hints hashtag to see if one of my desired mentors mentioned something that sounded vaguely like my novel.
Weeks passed, and I began to worry, and by the time the announcements rolled out in early November, I had moved on to full-blown despair. I hadn’t made the cut. No one wanted what I was selling. I basically stopped writing for four months.
It helped, a little, to know that each mentor had received 130+ submissions on average. It’s hard to stand out in that kind of crowd.
So I pushed ahead with the querying, even as my heart was breaking, and started to submit to agents directly.
Ten months, five Twitter pitch events and 129 queries later, and I still have nothing to show for it but a handful of positive notes and a mountain of form letters full of phrases like:
- “I didn’t feel passionately enough about it to take the novel further.”
- “I wasn’t able to connect with the material.”
- “Your project is not right for my list at this time.”
- “The story didn’t grab me as I had hoped it would.”
- “I didn’t quite feel connected to the characters as I had hoped.”
I’m fairly used to rejection by now, after six years of being a published author. But there’s something about the drip, drip, drip of this that has worn me down. You can only hear so many variations of “it just didn’t grab me” before you start to question your very skill as a writer.
And then there was this one:
“I am very selective about taking on new clients. Projects from my clients must have stellar world building, characters that leap off the page, pacing that is relentless, and a story that entices the reader to take its journey with the characters. I know that’s a tall order, but if your writing is lacking in any of those areas, I’ll pass on it.”
I’m not sure why that one in particular hit me like a gut punch. But it was so comprehensive – an entire litany of things I might (and probably did, says my Imposter syndrome) have gotten wrong.
Agent querying is not for the weak.
When an actor has a new TV show or film out, they often go on a press junket – a month-long whirlwind series of interviews with radio, TV and print reporters, where day after day after day they have to extol the virtues of their latest thing, dredge up some new personal nugget to share, and try to sound excited about it for the tenth, fiftieth or hundredth time. By the end of these marathons, I’ve heard many actors express how utterly sick they are of that thing that brought them so much joy in the first place.
The agent query circuit puts the press junket to shame. Thirty days? I’ll see your thirty days and up you a year.
Which brings me back to that magical number – 100. As of this moment, I’ve had 90 author rejections, and have 39 queries outstanding. if the Rule of 100 stands, I am *this close* to finally getting agent representation.
Now I’m no fool. I know the chances of snagging an agent are the same at 90 rejections as they likely will be at 120. But it gives me something to hope for.
And if I fail?
Turns out I’m a literary masochist, a glutton for punishment. Next week I will try Pitch Wars again with my latest novel. I’m going in this time with my eyes wide open.
I’m not saying I’m primed for failure. Why even bother if I didn’t think I had a chance to win?
But I am being much more pragmatic about it this year, and already planning a round of agent submissions for the new book.
So cheer me on, and cross your fingers for the Rule of 100. But even if I fail this time (and let’s be real, I probably will), I have a plan.
I’m not going to let despair sidetrack me again.
To my writer friends, how many rejections did you receive before you were first published? If you have an agent, how many rejections did that take? And how did you keep going?