Fearing the Unopened Email

As of last night, I have an email sitting in my inbox that I’m afraid to open. I fear it will be disappointing news, so it’s easier to skip past it for now. I’ll have to open it eventually, and there’s a small chance it could be positive news, but my mind doesn’t work like that. You know that old adage, “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst?” My personal take on it goes more like this: “Daydream about the best, hope for the least damaging, and prepare for heartbreak.”

What’s the email about, you might ask? I’ve been querying my second novel—a middle grade superhero adventure—with literary agents since March, and it’s not going as I’d hoped, let alone daydreamed. Thus far, I’ve sent personalized queries and sample pages to thirty-six agents. Of those thirty-six, I’ve had two requests for the full manuscript. The rest have been a mix of polite form rejections and non-responses. (In the publishing industry, because of the sheer volume of queries agencies receive, they often note on their websites that they can only respond to projects that interest them.)

But, two FULL requests—that’s a positive sign, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, because the fact that two agents wanted to read the entire story means the content of my query, synopsis and sample pages is at least compelling and well-written enough to draw some interest. But then again, if you believe the numbers given on some sites, I should be getting a lot more requests. One writer insists that if you’ve written a solid query, you should get a seventy-five percent request rate for either fulls or partials.

Let me put that in actual numbers for emphasis: 75%.

Yes. He is saying that a solid query should result in an overwhelming positive response from agents you send it to. This is only one opinion, but even if that is a gross overestimation, my percentage is hovering at a paltry 5.6% requests with one of those already returned as a rejection. Does this mean my query and sample pages are weak? Boring? Turning to dust as soon as they hit agent inboxes?

I’m honestly not sure. I’ve had the query and first five to ten pages critiqued by other writers and industry professionals, including a junior agent/freelance editor and a new traditionally-published author. I’m fairly confident the structure and content are good, so maybe it’s just the story itself. Perhaps the market on superhero stories is saturated. Or agent slush piles are so overloaded, they are looking for the absolute best of the best, those manuscripts without a single verb out of place. Or, maybe my plot and hook are too formulaic. I personally don’t think so, but don’t all writers believe their ugly babies are perfect?

It doesn’t help that tales abound on the internet of writers who found their agents on the sixth or seventh query they’ve sent of their first manuscript. But then, for every one of those testimonials, you can find dozens of others who report that they didn’t find representation until their 100th query on their fifth or sixth manuscript. There are many great and encouraging words from agents and writers alike to be found in the responses to this young writer’s tweet:


Given the beautiful words of encouragement in the above, I shouldn’t be afraid to open that agent response to my full manuscript. Even if it’s a rejection, it doesn’t mean I should give up on my brave little superhero and her story, let alone on my writing career. I haven’t even queried half the agents available who represent middle grade novels. The agent who falls in love with Cora/Colossa and is willing to don their own superhero cape to champion my story could still be out there, dying to see a story like mine in their inbox. That’s the optimistic approach to take, right?

Unfortunately, I’m not what you’d call an optimist, though I try not to be a negative Nancy, either. Rather, I shoot for eternal pragmatist. I don’t expect that email to contain the much-desired “let’s set up a conference call” message. Nor do I think it will tell me to torch my manuscript, pull the plug on my writing career and never, ever contact any literary agent again.

In all likelihood, given the competitiveness and wildly subjective nature of the publishing industry, I expect it will be a very kind, maybe even detailed rejection. That’s okay. It will be disappointing, and I might seek out a pint or two of ice cream to soothe the wounds, but I’m nothing if not resilient. I’ll dust off the hurt, seek more feedback on my work, and send out another batch of queries.

Still, I fear the unknown, the potential of rejection, so I’ll leave that email unopened, if only for another hour or two. For now, I need a bit more time in which to daydream. To hope. And most importantly, to prepare for the expected and move on like the determined and resilient pragmatist I am.

  5 comments for “Fearing the Unopened Email

  1. August 5, 2019 at 8:31 PM

    querying is soul-sucking, isn’t it? and i don’t believe for a second that 75% bullshit figure. i think it’s awesome you got two requests for FMs. at this point in my rejection/echoing silence cycle i’d consider that alone a triumph.


    • August 6, 2019 at 8:16 PM

      It is a downer, for sure, but I’m willing to take the punches if it gets me where I want to be. And yeah, I agree that the 75% is only valid in a perfect scenario, i.e., the market is starving for your genre, all the agents you query have open spots on their lists for your type of book, you slip the agents $50 each, Saturn is in retrograde, etc. etc. etc. Oh, and it was, indeed, a two pints of ice cream type email. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. August 6, 2019 at 8:18 PM

    yup. i believe the adage that a bad agent is better than no agent- but still agent for me. sorry the news wasn’t happy this time around. good thing we’re resilient, ballsy, indomitable and relentless!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. August 25, 2019 at 9:27 PM

    I so feel for you! I’m starting after Labor Day. Solidarity! Hang in there! Chin up if you can, take care of yourself, and remember that out of all the people who say “I’m going to write a book one day,” YOU ACTUALLY DID IT and that is awesome.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: