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I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again

I’ve been querying agents since 2009.

Without going into a long, drawn-out history of my writing/agenting experience, I can assure you that the agent solicitation process has been grueling. I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve been rejected. Sometimes the rejections are devastating like when the agent who represented four Pulitzer Prize winning authors and who gave me a second chance ultimately passed on the book. This was my first novel. It took me years and years to write it, which might have been part of the problem. And I was so convinced that I had made the right changes and she would love the revision. Clearly, I was wrong.

Regardless, from that experience, I learned that you have to inure yourself to the rejection. You have to pretend it doesn’t matter even though it matters more than most things.

Six years later, I received another such rejection on a different book—my second novel, which took much less time to write than the first one. This agent, who was from a very prestigious agency, had read the entire novel and given me extensive feedback, asking for a “Revise and Resubmit.” This means she was not currently going to take me on as a client; however, should the revisions be good, she would consider it again. Her suggestions made sense. The revision was extensive in that I cut 35 pages and added about 100 more—all this during the summer of 2020 while we were in the first stages of the pandemic. This time, I KNEW the book was better and that it finally had become what I intended it to be. But I wasn’t so confident about the agent, who took so long to get back to me with her rejection that I was surprised to hear from her at all. Everything she loved about the book the first time, she loved even more the second time. BUT…

She ultimately didn’t know how to sell it. Agenting is, after all, a business, you know.

I read somewhere a long time ago that 80% of queries to agents are ignored or rejected. 20% are asked to submit their work. A smaller percent are asked to then submit the entire project. 1% of all queries actually land the agent. 1% of how many, though? I honestly had never thought about it that much until I joined Twitter last year and landed in the “Writer Twitter” section of the site. It turns out there are thousands and thousands and thousands of writers trying to make it. They have different definitions of success, but it all ties to publication in some fashion.

So, we have all these writers trying to be seen and a finite number of agents. In addition, the querying process has changed since 2009. It was much slower back then because you had to print out your submission, create a SASE for their response, and send it through snail mail. Though slower, it was easier to be seen. Now, everything is electronic, which means I could, in theory, email every agent I find (not a good idea) with my query letter. I could, in theory, send out dozens of queries every day (again, not a good idea—but there are people who do this). Regardless, this change in process makes it harder and harder to stand out, to be considered worthy of a response, to be heard.

The pandemic has made it even harder in that regard.

I write all this because my primary reader signed off last Friday on the revisions that I have made for the short story collection that I completed last summer. Some of you have subscribed to this website specifically to hear news on that collection. I’m sorry that it has taken so long for me to post, but I didn’t have time to revise until the winter break.

That said, the collection is ready. The initial batch of agent queries has just been sent. As I put together my queries yesterday, “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba played on auto-loop in my mind. It’s a song about drinking, but it also applies to anything we want to achieve that is hard.

"I get knocked down, but I get up again

You are never gonna keep me down

I get knocked down, but I get up again

You are never gonna keep me down..."

So here we go.

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