Lessons from the query trenches: subjectivity

Thumbs up and thumbs down. I’ve learned a lot from querying and applying for Pitch Wars, but the one thing I keep hearing from everyone, over and over, is that publishing is an extremely subjective business. Finding an agent — and eventually landing a book deal — is all about finding someone who falls in love with you book.

I’ve had multiple Pitch Wars mentors and agents express enthusiasm for my book, only to ultimately turn me down. My most recent rejection, while frustratingly vague, only helped to remind me of how much rejection is part of the business. The agent said she thought I had a good story but “it didn’t feel like quite enough.” She told me she couldn’t be more specific, but was responding to a gut feeling about my manuscript.

Yes, her response was disappointing. But it’s also just one person’s opinion. I’m experiencing a similar gut feeling with a book I’m reading now. It got multiple starred reviews and great buzz from a number of sources I trust, and had been on my to-read list for months. I finally picked it up the other day and … I just can’t get into it. I can’t even explain why. I love the voice — I’ve laughed out loud at several points. The characters are compelling, and the plot is unique and interesting. But for some reason I’m still not engaged. I’m half-way through the book and just have a gut feeling that it isn’t for me.

And that’s okay.

The flip side of this subjectivity, gut feeling lesson is that you never know who will fall in love with your book. The same day I got a gut feeling rejection from an agent, I had a patron at the library who I would’ve pegged for a Louis L’Amour fan (older gentleman whose wardrobe and demeanor just seemed to scream “western”) ask about the fifty shades trilogy. Without missing a beat, I put him on the waiting list for the books and directed him to a similar book we had checked in at the time. (He may have been a Louis L’Amour fan, too; I didn’t ask, and he didn’t volunteer that information.)

My point is, you could think your book is a perfect fit for an agent, and she just won’t connect with it. You could also think a certain agent would never consider your book, only to have him fall in love with it. So keep querying. Every agent who represents your genre. Because you just never know.

And it does only take one “yes.”

Have you had a similar experience while querying?


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