A Realistic Expectation For A Query
edited: Friday, October 04, 2002
By Terry W Burns
Posted: Thursday, June 06, 2002
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Being successful at publishing can depend on having realistic expectations for how long the process will take and what is involved.
Rejection slips, the nemesis of all writers. I have an article posted here at Authors Den that makes the bold statement that "I've only had one rejection in 20 years of writing." I hope you've read it or will read it, because the premise of that paper is true . However, dealing with the task of trying to get published is easier if we have realistic expectations when we begin to query.
Publishing is a numbers game. It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right product. The writing can be superb, but if it comes to a place that doesn't feel they have a market for it, just published something like it, or a host of other reasons, it's at the wrong place or wrong time. There are a lot of variables involved, and they are not going to all line up very often.
We have to remember that experienced writers are going to skim the cream off the top as they no longer have to swim upstream with the rest of us salmon. We also have to factor in the reality that over 75% of the submissions are not formatted correctly, or fail in some of the writing basics so they get tossed without any fanfare or consideration. Editors that I talk with tell me a MAJORITY of their negative decisions are made in the first paragraph or two of the query letter or on the first page of a manuscript sample. Pretty long odds at best.
Being published is not a selection process, it's a survival process. There are, depending on the editor or agent, a dozen or more points where a negaive decision can be made and the manuscript tossed aside. It doesn't matter if the writing is wonderful if the manuscript is formatted badly and fails one of the very first tests. It can be tossed in the bin for the form letter to be attached to the top without the reader even knowing what the story is about. No, we have to survive each and every one of these decision points to get down to the point where someone is considering the merit of the offering for potential publication. If we fail to survive to this point we are out of the race, and it really doesn't matter why.
So how long should it take? In a survey of over 200 multi-published writers I discovered the average time to publish their first book was 6 years. If we give up before then we haven't paid our dues, haven't knocked on enough doors, and our lack of persistance has kept us from gaining the final prize.
I'd rather get an agent and let them sell it for me. Sure, wouldn't we all? I asked the same 200+ writers whether they published first or got an agent first and almost all sold a book themselves before they were able to attract an agent. Yet a majority of writers trying to publish that first book are spending their time trying to get an agent rather than trying to sell that first manuscript. These experienced writers are saying the odds are better the other way around, yet many of us insist on bucking the odds.
So what's a realistic expectation? To realize that it takes time, that we have to knock on a LOT of wrong doors in order to find the right one. That we can improve our odds with correct writing and formatting and with good networking and market research so that we are querying where we have a decent chance of success. But the bottom line is, most successful authors are those who simply refuse to give up.