There are things they don’t tell you about being an agented fiction writer. Some of this stuff, I learned the hard way when I briefly picked up the interest of an agent’s assistant on my first novel, way back in 2012. The interest proved to be short-lived. When you’re in the querying trenches, it seems so simple: one yes is all it takes, and then it’s smooth sailing, right?
Some of this stuff, I’m still actively discovering. One thing I will say is that the publishing and writing process once an agent is involved is so very different from when you’re a lone novelist chipping away at a manuscript. This year, I’ve managed to turn around a manuscript in about five months from conception to agent draft. Certainly being on furlough from work helped, even if the ongoing pandemic didn’t — but still, that’s a record for me.
Of course, some of that difference comes from simply being a more experienced writer. Your first novel might take several years to develop, as you learn exactly how your process works. But being signed (and debuted!) on the first novel you’ve ever written is a rarity, and more likely you’ll have a second or a third novel under your belt before an agent takes notice of your work.
The main thing that you end up learning, though, is that the rejection doesn’t stop once you’ve signed. There will be ideas you have that your agent may not fully get behind, and other books that die on sub or in edits. There will be editors who love your work but still pass. Once you get a deal and all goes to print, there will still be those readers who hate your words.
I guess what I’m trying to come to terms with is this: as writers, we face a career path paved with rejections. That never, ever stops. Everyone cites that She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named faced a whopping 21 rejections before HP was picked up by Bloomsbury. And yet for most of us, that’s a mere drop in the bucket. I hate it every time someone brings that stat up. 21 rejections? They make it sound so easy.
More encouraging is Pierce Brown, who ramped up more than 140 rejections on various projects before Red Rising was published. Indeed, I cling to the truth that, if you haven’t collected upward of at least 75 rejections or so over your writing career, you likely haven’t been doing enough of the work: not just writing, but writing, finishing, editing, submitting, editing and submitting again.
So for everyone in the querying trenches right now, and my fellows in the submissions bunkers: hang in there. All you can do is do the work.