Saturday, 6 April 2013

Time To Reject the Rejections

For the past four years I have been playing the lottery. With two draws per week I have spent £416 within that time. The occasional small win of £10 amounts to much less than my expenditure on tickets, so this year I decided to give it up. £2 per week saving is not much, but it is still better than nothing. Similarly, it is roughly four years to the day that I began writing and three years since I completed my first novel: The Outback.
Completing the book turned out to be the easy part as it was the next challenge that I set, which proved to be the most difficult. I decided that I wanted an agent. After all, if I was ever to progress my writing to next level, I would surely need professional representation to guide me through the complex process of negotiating and landing a publishing deal. In order to get my work out to an audience, first acquiring an agent is essential. Or is it?

Currently, my pile of rejection letters stands at 30. A further 7 did not even return my work in the pre-paid envelope provided. And then there are the online submissions. Out of about twenty e-mails sent, I only got a 50% response rate – all rejections. Polite, but rejections nonetheless.
The question that I must ask myself is; why?
The obvious answer would be to think that my book was simply not good enough. That I do not have what it takes to make it as a published author. Many writers would have come to that conclusion and given up. But is that really the case?

The one common thread running through each and every rejection was that not one of the agents in question had actually read my book. In fact, I strongly believe that most of them did not read the sample chapters or even the synopsis. At best, they may have very briefly glanced over the cover letter. Put simply, I believe that the vast majority of submissions were returned unseen by an actual agent.
Why do I think this you may ask?
Is it bitterness? Is it to shield myself from facing up to the reality that maybe the quality of the writing was not good enough?

Again, the answer is a resounding no. The truth is much simpler. It is purely a case of mathematics. From the information in their websites, the agents who I approached were stated to be receiving between 50 and 300 queries per week. If three sample chapters comes in at an average of about 5,000 words (a low estimate), that would amount to between 250,000 and 1,500,000 words or the equivalent of between 4 and 24 full length novels!

Obviously, the agent must give priority to their current clients and then there is a case of reading the full manuscripts that they have been sent/referred. When then, do they have time to read all of the unsolicited submissions? The simple answer is that they don’t. Most employ a reader to sift through the submissions and even then the volume means that they will only glance over each cover letter before deciding if it is worth reading further. Add to that the fact that many agencies will only take on a handful of new clients each year and the outlook is far from promising.

One example from my own experience is Darley Anderson, which is possibly the biggest of all the agencies representing authors in the UK. I have submitted 3 times to this agency and each time I received a polite rejection letter stating they receive 300 queries per week and only take on 5 or 6 new clients per year. 300 submissions per week amounts to 15,600 per year. What this means is that the chances of signing with this agency are roughly 6/15,600 or 1 in 2,600. Not impossible, but very, very unlikely. No matter how good the writing is, the most important factor in acquiring an agent is pure old fashioned luck and even then, the prospective author would need a lot of it.

Therefore, I have decided that it is about time that I tried creating my own luck. Over the coming weeks and months I will be self publishing my novels (4 so far) online via Kindle Direct and Smashwords and chronicling my progress on this blog. The returns are likely to be small, but like I already said regarding the lottery: even £2 saved is better than nothing. Most importantly, the only person who now needs to read my work before deciding if it is fit for publishing is me. For the first time, I feel like the odds are finally in my favour.

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