I touched on this topic once before, as part of a post on timing, and I want to emphasize the distinction between stopping and finishing. I think these are two different things. You can just stop because you’re discouraged or you can finish, leaving no stone unturned.
Here are some things to consider if you’re reaching the end of querying a particular project.
Have you queried all of the agents on your list?
If you’ve gone through every agent you think is even a possible fit for your manuscript, then you’re finished. When I say possible fit, I mean any agent who represents the category and genre of your manuscript. Agents put their wish lists out there, but they’re the first to admit they can be surprised by something they didn’t expect to like.
Here’s how I approach querying. I have a master agent list that includes all of the agents who represent my category and genre. When I’m ready to query a new project, I rank them in the order I plan to query them. I would love to work with any of the agents on my list, but I start with the agents I think are most likely to request my manuscript. I determine that by browsing their web sites, blogs and Publishers Marketplace pages; reading interviews online; searching QueryTracker for what they’ve requested recently, etc. In general, my research is usually right, and as a result I get more requests in the beginning and more rejections as I go down my list.
BUT the internet doesn’t know everything or account for the fact that tastes change. So even though I understand it can get discouraging as you get to the later agents on your list, don’t stop querying because you think an agent is a long shot. The worst that can happen is a rejection, and at least then you won’t have any regrets about leaving off that one agent. I know from experience that sometimes the long shots can surprise you with a request, and it’s worth it to stick it out to get that nice surprise!
Do you still believe in the manuscript?
Querying can be quite a demoralizing prospect. You put your work out there, and you get rejected. A lot. Probably more than you’ve ever been rejected for anything in your life.
Ok, I’ll stop now. But the rejections can beat you down if you’re not getting positive feedback and/or requests. You can get to a point where you feel like stopping just because you’re tired of getting rejected. If you’re at that point, ask yourself: Do I still believe in this manuscript?
If not, maybe it’s time to shelve the manuscript. If you don’t believe in it anymore, you definitely shouldn’t send more queries. I did that with my very first manuscript, the one I don’t claim on this blog. The others are all listed under the Writing tab, and the two I’m no longer querying weren’t shelved until I received the last rejection. (Note: the Writing tab with my old projects no longer exists on my new website.)
If you do still believe in it, the next question is: Do I need to revise before sending more queries? I answered that one here. If you do still believe in the manuscript and you don’t think it’s time to revise, then you just have to remind yourself why you felt you were ready to query in the first place. Push through until you’ve exhausted every possibility.
Do you have something else almost ready to query?
The general consensus among agents is that you shouldn’t query two projects at the same time. Now, I think the agents who say that tend to be the ones who answer fairly quickly. You probably wouldn’t hear that statement from an agent who takes a year or more to respond. But the gist of it is, if you plan to start querying something new, you should wrap up sending queries for the outstanding project. Personally, I don’t think it’s an issue to have outstanding submissions on one project when you start querying a new one. I do think you should notify the agents with outstanding submissions that you have something new and ask if they’d like to see it, too. Knowing what else you have available could definitely sway the agent. If they are intrigued by the new one, too, hey, you might get an agent who already likes two of your projects! If they aren’t, then they wouldn’t be the best fit for you anyway. Either way, if you think you’re close to querying a new project, you should finish out your agent list for the current one.
Are there any other questions you’ve asked yourself when determining whether to finish querying a project? What has helped you decide?
My first serious writing project began three years ago and it took me until last year to realize it wasn’t what I wanted. True, my critique groups loved the premise and the writing, but they were being too nice. I realized my first manuscript was for practice. I queried too early and I queried a lot. Got a few nibbles, but basically it was rejection city for six months. By this time I had revised and revised again, but I answered one of your questions…Did I still believe in the manuscript? Yes and no. I loved the characters but not the story. In the last year and a half I put my new found knowledge into two more MG manuscripts. One is complete and I’m still in love with it, the other is in revisions but it too is feeling still worthy of my time. I just started querying the first, so your post helped me reflect both the past and the future. It hit home many times.
I think most first manuscripts are a learning experience. Sure, there are exceptions, but they’re in the minority. I’m glad my post resonated with you. Good luck with your querying and revisions!