I understand rejection. As a business developer, I’ve experienced it for more than fifteen years. As a thespian, I experienced it for nearly a decade before that. Timing, chemistry, and serendipity all factor into precious, eventual wins. Knowing how much subjectivity is involved makes rejection easier to take.
Winning also takes strategy, eloquence, unfailing self-confidence, and persistence bordering on impertinence. Good thing I have all of that coursing through my veins and pouring out of my ears. Most days, anyway.
I’m conditioned to hearing No. I know when to challenge No, when to accept No, and how to recover from No. Most of the time, all it takes to recover is some time with my family, a few chapters in whatever book I’m reading at the moment, or a Netflix bender. Admittedly, ice cream and/or a solid glass of whiskey may also be involved.
No is punishing, but at least No is definitive. So what’s harder than No? Silence. In the pursuit of finding a literary agent, however, Silence is the norm.
Almost every agency website says the same thing:
“Due to the volume of queries we receive…”
“Please allow six to eight weeks…”
“…can only respond if there is interest.”
Can you imagine what it’d be like if other endeavors worked this way? Every audition and try-out I’ve ever been a part of has culminated in a cast list or team roster. Every project I’ve ever helped a company pursue was either awarded, or at least some kind of notice was issued announcing an outcome. On job hunts in the past, I didn’t get a response on every resume sent, but I bet I heard back on at least half – maybe 75-85%.
I don’t fault the system. Agents receive anywhere between 20 to 100 queries from aspiring authors each day. Let’s pretend that queries are only sent on business days, which just plain isn’t true but makes the math easier. An average 50 letters X 20 business days = 1000 letters per month. According to my research, agents extend offers of representation no more often than once per month. That means that, conservatively, aspiring authors have a thousand-to-one shot at scoring an agent per letter sent. This scenario doesn’t account for poorly written submissions, authors who query agents who don’t represent the type of book they’ve written, or any other mitigating factors, but the overall equation holds true.
Authors search for months, even years for their big breaks. When I finally find my agent, I will do a dance no mother of four should do without risking urinary incontinence (probably something resembling a mash-up of every one of the Bluth’s chicken dances) . However, this notable milestone won’t even constitute “the break.” Revisions and submissions will follow, and the book’s still gotta resonate with a publisher, too. That’s the break.
Until then, I’ll continue to listening to the Sounds of Silence. To do otherwise would be to make a huge mistake.
In case you aren’t getting the Arrested Development connection: