On Rejections while looking for an Agent

I’m a woman of my word, and am therefore following through on a request from one of my WordPress friends to share a little something about the rejections I received, on the path that ultimately aligned me with my literary agent, concerning my third novel. I’m going to leave specific names out here, and know you’ll understand why.

The rejections I received were by and large voiceless, in that these days, most literary agents leave a qualifier on their submission page that simply says, “If I am interested in your query and want to request more, I will be in touch.” From this, one can safely assume if they don’t hear back from an agent, then the agent is not interested, for what could be many reasons ranging from the genre of the book, to its subject matter, to the possibility that the agency’s guidelines were not followed, or it could be the simple fact that the agent’s hands are full. And because my third novel is a Southern Family Saga set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, the task, for me, became all about ferreting out exactly who is representing authors with books set in the South. But one has to cast wide, when looking for an agent. They have to get creative on where their book will fit. In the case of my third novel, I wrote to literary agents that represent Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, and commercial fiction, yet my focus was on those interested in or connected to the South. In reading the bio of each agent I queried, I read the fine print to ascertain which authors they represent, what their reading preference is, and paid close attention to those who revealed where they are from. Every time I discovered an agent either from the South or currently living in the South I took a chance; followed the submission guidelines to the letter; and e-mailed my query. If one keeps in mind that a query letter is basically a letter of introduction; that you are writing to say who you are, what your book is about, and where you have been published, then it is less daunting. Remember you, as the author, are also looking for a good fit!

And speaking of daunting, I’ll digress here to say that when I made the rounds with one of my first two books, I received a response from one agent, who wrote only this above my submission: “Show, don’t tell.” Ouch. At least that’s what I thought at the time. You should understand that I write in the first person, and am big on establishing the narrator’s voice, so after I got over the sting, I went to my bookshelf and revisited Anne Rivers Siddons “Peachtree Road,” which is roughly seventy-five percent of the most flawless narration ever written. I pressed on, and the book was published in 2015 as “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” This goes to show to each, their own, and again, you as the author are looking for a good fit.

And speaking of “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” all 59 of its reviews on Amazon are good ones, and I will always be proud of the book. It didn’t make an earth-shattering splash, but I am satisfied that it represents who I am as a writer, and remember, “A writer’s career is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m mentioning this here because it ties in with another rejection I received for my third book, which is to report that an agent actually took the time to write me to say “You should have hired a publicist; your sales are anemic!” Ouch, again, but I pressed on, and I’ll tell you why: I think writers have a sense of the simple fact that they should be writing. I think this is the salient truth that spurs us on. And whatever one’s belief system is, regarding faith and luck and timing, to possess something of this, in whatever amount, is enough to foster the spirit of pressing on.

All told, I had three literary agents interested in the manuscript of my third book. Two of these agents were in the process of reading it, when joy of all joys, the agent, Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, called me and offered me representation. Julie felt so right to me for many reasons. I’d done my homework on her, was awed by her background, learned that she lives in the South, and I happen to have a friend who is currently her happy client. The last agent called me after I signed with Julie Gwinn, and I am thrilled to report that I strongly believe the stars aligned with Julie, in the manner they should have all along.

In summation, if you embark upon the road to finding a literary agent, it helps to keep in mind that you are seeking a good fit. What you want to find is an agent who wants to work with you just as much as you want to work with them, for finding the right publisher is essentially a team effort.

To answer my WordPress friend’s request that I write about rejection, I will say it isn’t always easy to weather, but if you press on and keep the faith that the stars will align when and as they should, then one day you’ll come to see rejection as part of the process.


8 thoughts on “On Rejections while looking for an Agent

  1. Claire, this is excellent advice about a difficult process. I get flustered by rejection and tend not to try again. Your point about diligently researching an agent before submitting is well taken. I appreciate that you were willing to share your experience, especially in light of the agents with the unpleasant attitudes. Of course, you wouldn’t want to sign with them either.

    I’m excited for you as you work toward publication of your newest book. You know, you’re my role model.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so right there right now. It took a VERY long time for me to finish my debut novel (also set in Ireland, inspired by our time there, but its historical and set in Donegal), and the agent-finding process is definitely not been an easy road. Not all the doors are closed, but of course, nothing is happening at a pace which I would prefer. LOL

    This post was encouraging to me, if nothing else, as a reminder that I’m not alone and, yes, this is how the process tends to go for everyone else as well.

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. You’re so welcome, my new friend. I think it’s important that we share our experiences with those who love to write and may be doing so with an eye to forging a career. There is no one way to get there, if we can even say that there IS a there to get to! I think if we decide what kind of a relationship we’d like to have with the fact that we write, then the rest is simply persistence. Slainte to you!


  3. Loved this Claire, and huge congrats. Rejection bites, and I remember learning about the hundreds of rejections Stephen King openly shared in his book. Even the best of them had them Claire, now so glad you’re on your way to where you want to be going. 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m laughing over the apt use of “rejection bites,” DG. Love it! I can always count on you for the great turn of a phrase. Not everyone chooses to go the way the way I did, but the fact that my novel is Southern Fiction made me press on, as there seems to be devoted readership to the genre. I think the more specific an author can be about exactly where their book will fit, the better because agents have to be salespeople to publishers. And what was eye-opening, when I began a dialogue with Julie Gwinn, is that she wanted to know what plans I had for my next 5 books. This tells me it’s important to query an agent about your book then briefly outline your long range plan. Always fun to hear from fabulous you, DG! Thanks for keeping in touch.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol Claire, so glad you ‘get me’. I do have a sort of raw way of exclaiming my thoughts. 🙂 I’m so thrilled for you. Your persistence has paid off, while learning about the lumps along the way – that’s what keeps us humble. 🙂 You are rockin’ it girl! Wishing you tons of book sales! 🙂 xx

        Liked by 1 person

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