When authors submit to agents, I always say there’s an evolution that the authors and their works go through. Now of course there’s always the possibility that some of you might skip a step or two, but for the most part all of you will go through this evolution in some form or another.
1. Form Rejections: You send out query letters or proposals and you get nothing back but form rejections. Some are nice, personal-sounding notes, while others are badly photocopied or just a red rubber-stamped “NO” across the top of the page. These aren’t easy to swallow, but it’s all part of the game.
2. Requests for More: Whoo-hoo! The agent read your letter and it must have been a dang good letter because she asked to see a partial. She wanted more . . . and then she sent you a form rejection. Hey! Don’t get upset. You’re at step two. You’ve written a query letter that’s strong enough to grab an agent’s attention. Now you need to focus on improving those chapters.
3. Requests for a Full: Holy crap! You got it! The letter was good, the first few chapters were strong, and she wanted to see the full . . . and then she sent a form rejection. Okay, okay. You’re writing is strong, your idea is good, but you’ve worked so hard on those first three chapters that you neglected the rest of the book. Back to the drawing board, but hey, you’re at step three!
4. Personal Rejections: Whether the agent read the full or just a partial she felt drawn to it enough to take time out of her hectic schedule and to give you concrete feedback. It’s still a rejection, sure, you don’t understand what she’s saying, sure, but look at it this way. She actually liked your work and your writing enough, or felt that you had enough talent, to try to tell you exactly what was wrong with it, or why it didn’t work for her. Either you’re almost there or she was just having a nice day. Either way, pat yourself on the back, you’re getting closer.
5. Asks to See More: This is huge, huge, huge and don’t you forget it. No agent needs more work and no agent asks an author to keep her in mind for future works unless she really means it. Clearly she liked your style, your writing, and even your idea. If she wants to see more of your work then you dang well better keep her in mind.
6. The wait is over! This is it. You are there! You got an offer of representation, and if you don’t know what to do about that, next week I’ll post on how we recommend you handle that offer.
That’s the evolution as I see it, but let me know if there are any steps I missed.