The top 10%

by Jim

I just discovered Adrienne Kress’s delightful blog this morning, and she has posted a list of four questions to ask yourself before you query that can assure you’re in the top 10% of submissions.

From an agent’s point of view, she’s totally right. You look at the numbers, and they can be incredibly discouraging. Yes, agents turn down 99% of what they see. But the chances are that since you’ve gotten this far—that you’re reading an agency blog, that you’re doing research—you’re already at the head of the pack. I say the same thing anytime I speak at writers’ conferences. You wouldn’t believe how much material we get that is so off-base or utterly baffling. Seeing writers show up for conferences or visit our websites and educate themselves on the business of publishing…it’s incredibly encouraging.

Of course, maybe I say this here, but you’ve already queried and gotten a form rejection letter. Does that mean we bundled you in with the people who have no idea what they’re doing? Well, no. The fact of the matter is that sometimes I see a perfectly adequate query letter for a project that sounds a lot like something else I represent. Or I see the right kind of novel for me, but it deals with some topic I can’t stand like parrots or something (note: I have no actual aversion to parrots. It’s just a bad example). Because we do get hundreds of queries a week (that’s really not an exaggeration), we can’t necessarily take the time to differentiate between the queries that were perfectly good but not quite right or the ones by people who seem unacquainted with ideas like sentences and commas.

So what does it mean? I’m such a broken record, but it means keep trying. I’ve always felt that books that deserve to get published do eventually make it through. It may not be an easy road, and it may not be a fast one. You may not even realize until you write your next book that THAT’S the one that is meant to be your debut. But if you keep going, eventually you’ll break through if you’re meant to.

7 Responses to The top 10%

  1. Yat-Yee says:

    It's true; a form rejection letter doesn't tell us how close we are. It's good to hear this every once in a while, especially when I get discouraged by the odds.

  2. K. M. Walton says:

    If the path to publication were an easy road, paved with effortlessness, then it wouldn't be nearly as sweet when success finally comes.

    I. Will. Never. Give. Up.


  3. Kristi says:

    Thanks for the link to Adrienne's blog — it was refreshing to read something optimistic for a change. The 4 questions were great and while it's nice to know I'm in the 10%, I think I'll wait until my ms is at the 1% point before I query. Happy Monday!

  4. Alli says:

    A great post and very timely as I am at the query stage right now. Thanks for the link and thank you for the words of encouragement for those of us in the trenches at the moment.

  5. Robert Kent, of Robertkent.net fame says:

    I got a lot of form rejection letters in college (I wrote stories in between essays). Last year, I had an editor reject me after doing a complete revision on my novel for me (shut me down for money reasons). I had an agent meet with me, but decide that same novel was not commercially viable for a first time writer (it was a middle-grade novel about dealing with death, not boy wizards). This year I’m polishing the final draft of an adult horror novel I will be sending out queries for in the next month. I always hate form rejections, but when I look back at my earliest efforts, form rejections really are what they deserved. I find this post encouraging. If I get form rejections for the new book, I’ll know it’s time for another revision.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Some heartening advice there, but the million-dollar question is how do I know if I'm 'meant to' break through? I done got myself an agent, does that mean I'm likely to get published? BTW I've met Adrienne and she'd great – as intelligent and charming as her blog suggests.


  7. Mary Witzl says:

    I'm pretty thrilled to be getting detailed, personal rejections now, but from time to time, I still get the odd form rejection and it's demoralizing. From now on, I'll tell myself they're parrot rejections.

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