Sunday, January 23, 2011

Take a Chance

“You do not write a novel for praise, or thinking of your audience. You write for yourself; you work out between you and your pen the things that intrigue you.”

- Bret Easton Ellis

I’ve sent out several queries for The Mist Chasers since the summer. Because I’ve been working for much of that time, I haven’t sent many queries. In fact, I have a list of agents that have accumulated.

I’m in a quandary. I’ve received a few form rejections. But mostly I get something to the effect of, “There’s nothing wrong with the writing.” Then I get, “We don’t know how to properly market it.” The query must be okay if agents are reading pages. And the pages they’re reading aren’t terrible. But they don’t want to take a chance it.

I’ve suspected the premise this manuscript would be tricky ever since I got about ten pages into it. When I realized why the mist was destroying Walmarts (environmental impact) and the source behind the destruction (Mother Nature – a godlike figure. Maybe even God.), I knew it was an odd premise.

So odd that I ignored the rough draft for over a year.

But then I began to have faith in the story. I revised it, sent it to critique buddies and revised it some more. When I began to query, I felt it was my strongest manuscript to date.

Last week, I received this letter from a very respected agent:

“I enjoyed taking a look at your first pages. Your story reminded me of THE MIST by Stephen King. Which is commendable, while adding elements that make it yours. I like that you have strong romantic elements here while incorporating important themes about humanity’s impact on the Earth. One suggestion I have is your main themes seem to be overpowering the central action of your novel. I generally find that while the theme of a story is central to it, it’s often better to reveal it through more subtle means, ie hint dropping, references etc. instead of being so dominant (your main theme seems to be about protecting the planet at humanity’s impact on it; it’s very clear as the mist is destroying Walmarts and hummers etc.) I hope this makes sense.

Unfortunately, I do not feel that I am the right agent to represent this project in today’s competitive market. I just didn’t fall in love with it in a meaningful enough way that I feel I’m the right guy here. With that being said I hope someone will fall in love with your story and give it the time and attention it deserves.”

I’m not trying to hit readers over the head with this message. Damage caused by the environment is all over dystopian YA right now. But usually it’s after-the-fact, hundreds of years later. We’re given a dysfunction society that sprouts from the destruction. In those cases it’s easier to drop references.

With The Mist Chasers, my characters and the media are reacting in real time; it’s harder to be subtle. There’s over-the-top debate between the protagonist’s two brothers to lighten it up. And there’s also the friendship between the two main characters turning into something else, which often takes over the other plot.

The question is, WHAT TO DO.

I don’t want to shelve it.

I’m not sure how to revise it.

I don’t know if I should keep querying and see where it goes.

Next month, I’ll register for the NESCBWI conference in May. I’ll sign up for a query and ten-page critique. I hope to have Naked Eye completed by then. I think I’m going to bring The Mist Chasers for the ten pages and Naked Eye for the query. Maybe these critiques will help give me direction for both projects.

I’m trying to keep my head up, but right now I feel like in limbo. I hate to be a writer, but not have enough time to clear my head to figure out what to do, let alone make time for writing. It doesn’t feel good to be producing nothing, submitting nothing.

I believe in my story. I need someone else to believe in it too.


When do rejections force you to revise?

When do you decide to shelve a project?

How long do you query a manuscript you believe in?

Don’t forget to enter my Four Hundred Follower Fiesta.


  1. For the agent to write such a detailed response, it sounds like you're "almost there." I haven't submitted anything yet -- I'm still in revision hell -- so I can't answer your other questions ;)

  2. Query every applicable competent literary agent that reads your genre. Stop when you run out of literary agents. If it still hasn't peaked any interest, revise again.

  3. The market has never been as hard as it is now. I parted ways with my agent last year because he dropped all his clients who hadn't sold. I've been querying with two new books since and have had a few great bites but no takers yet. Chances are it may not be your book at all, but the tumultuous market. Don't give up!

    Query until you've queried every possible good agent out there. If you get five or more requests for pages and they all pass then it may be time to revise. But, if they are passing just off a query letter then it's not your writing.

  4. I agree with Heather, keep querying. One of my first queries got a request for a full, which was subsequently rejected. The agent did offer a reason, and while I understood what she was saying, I thought it should be corroborated by others before I rewrote anything. Two other full reads have not echoed the original agent's complaint. It really is just one person's opinion.

    I had a recent rejection that sounded much like yours in that the agent had clearly thought about it enough to personalize the rejection. Rather than finding that depressing, I counted it amongst my "successes." Try to keep things in perspective and keep querying.

  5. Theresa Milstein!! I have no idea or proper answer to give you but all I know is that I am so so so excited that your Mist Chasers is garnering such a buzz!!!! I don't know really - do you keep going with querying or try and perhaps incorporate this agent's suggestions?!! I don't know!! I just know that your Mist Chasers is so very nearly there - it's special and oh so close!! Whatever you decide - GOOD LUCK and stay with this novel please!!!! All the best with it - it's on its way to finding a good home!! Yay!!!!

    Take care

  6. @ Elena, I'm sorry you're in revision hell. Two detailed rejections I received were for different reasons, so I guess I'll have to see if my rejections garner a trend.

    @ Brad, I want to keep going, but if I send to everyone without revising, I'll have no place to send my revisions to. That's my worry. Maybe my problem has always been giving up too soon.

    @ Heather, that's a good point. The market is horrible now so it could be a good story, well-written, but agents are taking fewer chances.

    Most of the time I'm sending the query + at least 5 pages, so it's hard to know if it's a form rejection.

    I'm sorry you lost an agent. Getting an agent is no guarantee of publication is it.

    @ Judy, you're right. I shouldn't rush to revise without more feedback. I do feel like the detailed rejection is in some ways a success. At least it gives me a reason.

    @ Old Kitty, I guess in the back of every writer's mind they want to query and get a bunch of representation offers right away. When it doesn't happen, it's hard not to jump to the conclusion that something is wrong. I hope it's on the way to finding a good home. Thanks!

  7. Don't give up, Theresa. As I read your post it made me think of an interview, I saw with J.K. Rowling. She said that she sent her manuscripts to 13 agents, She got rejected by 12, and the 13th published Harry Potter. What stuck me is you said that, "You believed in your story", you know what she said the same thing. So, keep trying you just never know.
    Good Luck!

  8. I think if all the agents were saying the same thing, then it would be time to revise. But if some of them are giving out form rejections than it'd be harder to make that decision of whether to revise or not. I think that getting a critique is a good idea, because at least then you'll get more specific feedback that will help you figure out what to do. I've thought about getting critiques myself, but I'm a little reluctant to since I know that they'll want to change things that I love. But on the other hand critiques can be good for the work.

  9. Well I'm not sure what to say about how you could revise it either (except perhaps that this agent would like to see the interpersonal relationships take front stage with the environmental action in the background to that) but to get a personal response like that is definitely a good sign! Have you tried targeting agents who have already represented some ecological stuff... those are the ones who might have the most passion for the theme and feel up for selling your work.

    Btw your summary actually reminded me a little bit of Indigo Springs by AM Dellamonica (although the damage there comes from a different source), and what she does there is to set up the extent of the destruction first of all, then go into flashback to really build up the characters before returning to the 'damage' plot. I'm not saying do the same thing necessarily, but altering the timeline might be one way to change the balance between theme and characters if you feel like you want to do that...

  10. I agree with the others who said to see what others think before revising. That feedback is one person's opinion. The next opinion could be completely contradictory. If you get more feedback that says the same thing, then I'd consider revising.

    And woo-hoo. Feedback. Not a form rejection. That's serious progress.

  11. @ Choices, it's nice to know JK Rowling didn't make it on her first try but I'm waaaay past 13 queries. While I'm not so many more on this manuscript, if I counted all of my manuscripts it would be much, much higher.

    I'll keep trying. Thanks!

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, I'm going to take your advice, along with everyone else, and not have a knee-jerk reaction and revise too soon. Now I'll have to make sure I sign up for the query and 10 pages as soon as the on-line registration begins so I don't get shut out.

    @ Hampshireflyer, I'll have to look up that book. Agents seems to like where my manuscript begins. It's the rest of it I may need to figure out!

    I haven't targeted ecological agents. I'll see how hard they are too find. Thanks for the tip.

    @ Liz, not a form rejection is good. Now I want someone to request the whole thing! I'll see if I get more feedback to guide me. I need to send out more queries.

  12. To have had such a lengthy reply, can mean only one thing - you're definitely on the right track, Theresa.

    Think of each rejection as 'badges of determination'.

    Keep at it :)

  13. I say don't give up, but while you're waiting keep writing. If this project doesn't make it, the next one may, and you can always take this one off the back burner once you get representation.

  14. I stick to my guns. Rejection letters happened because I did not have my editor go over my query letter. Now it looks so much better.Much more professional. I'm confident to start the query search again. My advice to anyone: Have your query letter edited.

  15. That was a very helpful rejection. Reading between the lines, I'm seeing two major points-- "the market sucks and I can only take something that I absolutely know I can sell, and this isn't it because the theme is stronger than the plot. But it is nearly it just not yet."

    So this tells me perhaps you should strengthen the plot, the romance, the thrills-- whatever makes your story stronger. Readers don't mind a subtle theme/lesson but don't want it to be too obvious. Stephen King and Dan Brown have all kinds of themes they practically beat their readers with, but the readers are so into the exciting story they aren't noticing.

  16. Hi Theresa, it sounds like you're so close with a personalized rejection!!!

    You've got some great advice here, I'd think seriously about revising based on the comments received. If that's not true to your story and intentions though, keep on querying. If you're being rejected on the basis of the query + 5 pages, I'd have another look at your query letter, and then send out some more queries. Once you've reached the last agent, revise and query again (changing the query letter perhaps, but letting the agent know you've queried before). I've seen a number of agents say that it's perfectly all right to query again in these circumstances :)

    Don't give up, whatever you do. You've only just begun!



  17. @ Wendy, I appreciated the lengthy reply. In fact, I recall any lengthy reply because it's kept me going and made me learn from my mistakes.

    @ Medeia, that's sound advice. I'm halfway through my next WIP.

    @ Stephen, it's hard to invest the money in an editor. I think my query is fine. The manuscript may or may not need fixing. When submitting query + pages it's hard to know.

    @ KarenG, thanks for your insight. I think romance is a big part of the plot, but if someone sees only the first three chapters it may not be as apparent. I see your point. May need to rework. I'll see what your editor says now that I've reentered your contest.

    @ Rachael, thanks. That probably makes the most sense. If I get another rejection in the same vein, I'll revise and resubmit. Hopefully I've figured it out before I've exhausted all the agents out there, so I don't have to requery them!

  18. Medeia said what I was going to say. Good luck with the queries and with whatever project you are working on now!! :-)

  19. Theresa, that is very positive that they gave you such a detailed response. I would keep persevering and incorporate some of the feedback. Good luck with it all!

  20. I understand believing in a story so much you don't even want to consider shelving it. That's how I felt about my first ms, which I finally had to abandon to write something new.

    It kind of rips your heart out to do it, but I find that I'm getting just as attached to what I'm working on now.

  21. ugh! That hurts so bad. I'd say keep trying. Feedback like that is rare, and although this agent says he's not the one, the fact that he took the time to write back like this means someone will be... I'd say keep going. Someone's going to pick this up. And try doin some light revisions while you wait! Best of luck~ :o) <3

  22. Late, I know and I wish I had some aged, sage advise for you but I do not :(

    In my book anything that kills Wal-Mart and those awful people in the pictures... well, is a good thing! :)

    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  23. Don't give up! If you believe in your story, then it's worth it. Maybe take a step back for a few weeks, work on another project, and come back with fresh eyes?

  24. hi miss theresa! for sure not everyones gonna like your book but what that agent said could give lot of hope for it so you just gotta keep on trying. and for sure you could need to get more of what people say before redoing stuff. just give it some more time and see whats gonna happen.
    ...hugs from lenny

  25. I am no expert in any of this, but the response from that agent seemed so promising that I would keep going. If you want a fresh point of view on your manuscript, I would to be happy to read it.

  26. No, don't give up! I think just the fact that you received such a positive comment from an agent is reason enough to keep trying.

    Keep querying and take some time away from the MS for a while. You can come back to it and read it with fresh eyes - just like you would have during the editing stage... sometimes that "ahah" moment happens a little later, and you might find something you can tweak without changing the foundation of your novel.

    I, for one, think it sounds amazing, and I can't wait to read it. I know you'll find a home for it soon :)

    Sending you lots of virtual hugs.

  27. Oh Theresa, well done for getting this far. The response you received sounded very positive. Don't give up on the Mist Chasers.

  28. Congrats on the agent response. Fabulous!

    Remember this is only one individual's opinion. Have two or three readers you trust will give honest feedback read your manuscript. Ask them to read with that one question in mind: is the book's theme overwhelming the action? If your readers agree, revise. If not, continue to query until you've exhausted every viable agent out there. Don't give up. Most important of all: keep writing.

  29. I can't give you any advice, other than to say don't give up. Believe in your work and someone else will too. Maybe look to indie publishing?

  30. I wish I could give you advice on how to take your book and make it better. The problem is it sounds like it's so close, people are loving it, you're just missing the final connection.

    I don't believe that is on your part.

    I feel that you shouldn't give up. It sounds like someone is going to love that book (possibly even m ore than you). I'd continue to send out queries if you still feel the book is where you want it. It only takes one.

  31. @ Paul, thank you. I appreciate it.

    @ Brigid, my wheels are turning to think of possible changes while I wait for more feedback. Thanks!

    @ Angela, it's not anywhere near needing to be shelved. I've shelved other manuscripts before. I used to have issues with pacing and show/not tell. While I'm shopping this one, I'm writing another manuscript. So I hope something garners interest... eventually.

    @ LTM, thanks for the advice.

    @ Jules, a lot of people like the Walmarts disappearing. But I have to walk a line not to hit people over the head with the message. I thought I'd succeeded. Maybe not.

  32. @ Meredith, maybe it's time to revisit the manuscript.

    @ Lenny, thanks for the encouragement and the hugs.

    @ Missed Periods, thank you for the offer. I've sent you an e-mail.

    @ Writing Nut, good idea. I've been thinking about it since I received the rejection but so far nothing has come to me. Let's hope something does soon!

    The funny thing is, the other detailed response I received said it was too wordy. I should cut the beginning by half. The person actually said it could really be something after that. No mention of the message from that feedback.

    @ Ann, i won't give up!

    @ VR Barkowski, I've had a few readers already, but I think it's time to have one more. You're right - reading it with the one question in mind could make a difference.

    @ L'Aussie, looking into indie publishing is a good idea. Thanks!

    @ Jen, I'm not giving up, but I feel like I'm at a crossroads. All of you have been great giving me advice.

  33. You said you have an accumulated list of agents to query. I'd target some of those before you revise. It seems to me that you're bringing a really fresh idea and spin to the genre, and combined with that one agent's positive feedback, I'd stay with what you've got for now and feel out more responses. But definitely do not stop or shelve the project! Keep going, tweeking, adjusting, querying, finetuning, and getting those requests!

  34. Hmmmm. Difficult questions. I do know I have given up too soon on many a MS without putting in the necessary time to make it right. If you believe it is a viable concept (and that the idea's not the problem), then keep querying! If you get to say, 75 rejections, I'd say it's time to re-examine it.

  35. First of all, congrats on the personalized rejection and on almost 400 followers!

    I agree that your situation is a tricky one, but I think many of the other commenters hit the nail on the head. It's only one agent's opinion, and unless you start to receive several similar letters, I'd keep sending. I certainly don't think you need to shelve it. If anything, this may lead you to revise, but the fact that you're getting a personalized rejection means you are so close.

    Don't give up! And please keep us posted on how querying goes!

    Hope your job is going well, too. :)

  36. I think it's extraordinary that you got such a detailed & thoughtful response from an agent! You feel good about your work, so trust your gut and do more querying/submit it to more agents. I think it's an amazing book and am so proud of you.

  37. I vote with don't give up! Why not try some publishers? Go to a bookstore and look at books that you think are similar in genre to your ms and research the publisher and editors and then query them directly. Find them on them....

    You can do this, Theresa!

  38. My two cents is this: if you get a response for suggested revisions that really speak to you, then go with it. But if the revisions don't suit your vision of the story, you are in control of which advice you take! If you believe in it, then keep trying! THe fact that you're getting personal responses like this is awesome! and a sign that you are close.
    On that note, have you tried weaving in another thread of a subplot to divert attention away from the not-so-subtle message? Just going on this agent's response and what you've said about the project.

  39. I landed an agent with my series about young ghost hunters...and after marketing it around, she found the market was just oversaturated with that storyline right now. (I swore it was original when I thought it up four or five years ago!) So we moved on to something else, but I don't mind...because I know a day will come when I can bring it out of hiding again. If not, I learned from the experience and grew as a writer. That's just one example...but I know that feeling. It's never easy setting something aside and moving on. Those words came from your heart and you really believe in it. When I was querying, I had a list...I sent it to everyone on the list and once it was done, it was done.

  40. It's frustrating when success is dependent on the opinions of others. Since I've never tried to publish anything, I can't give any good advice. You should pat yourself on the back, however, for putting yourself and your work out there.

    I notice that a bunch of Harry Potter books are in your book montage. As you probably know, there were plenty of agents and publishers who did not fall in love with her work either. (I had never read them before, but I am currently on book five. My nine-year-old is in the lead, as she just started the Half-Blood Prince.)

    Hang in there.

  41. @ Joanne, that's good advice. Today is a snow day so I should take advantage and get some queries out. I need more direction than I've received. Without repeated rejection advice, I don't know whether or not to believe it.

    @ Talli, 75?! I've never sent that many on one manuscript. Maybe that's part of my problem.

    @ Shelley, I will keep you posted.

    Work is going pretty well. I don't know if I'm nearing the end of this gig or not. The absent teacher won't tell.

    @ Kathleen, trusting my gut is a good idea. Until I hear the same thing from another agent, I can't quite be sure right now.

    @ Sharon that's a great idea. I'll go to Porter Square books and picks the booksellers' brains. They know what's out there. It's impressive.

    @ Terry, I appreciate your advice. Right now, the advice doesn't speak to me so I'll wait to see if it's repeated by another agent.

    I have a few plots. The friend liking her but she doesn't know if she likes him so she begins dating someone who she thinks is her dream guy is a big part of the story. But I think it doesn't become big until chapter 5. This agent may not have given the manuscript a chance.

  42. @ Stephanie, thanks for sharing your story. It's easy to forget that having an agent isn't the holy grail. The book still has to sell to a publisher. Good luck with your next manuscript!

    @ Paul, I hope you enjoy the rest of the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling only had 17 rejections, so I'm not crying for her. But it's nice to know 16 people didn't see a brilliant idea.

  43. First, congrats on getting the responses you've gotten. That's great!

    Have you received the same feedback from anyone else? If not, it might just be that particular agent's viewpoint.

    Maybe, like you said, getting another point of view would help? If you're interested, I'd be happy to read over the whole thing and give you some feedback. Not that I'm on par with an agent or anything, but just as a reader...

    Of course, if you stick with it, you might get lucky and have someone fall in love with it as is (or else have specific ideas about changing it that you could work with).

  44. @ Lisa, I haven't received this feedback from anyone else. Two said they weren't sure how to market the story in today's competitive climate. And one another one told me to cut words from the beginning. I may need to wait and see what others say.

    That's kind of you to offer to read it. I may take you up on it! I'm going to look at it this weekend... I hope.

  45. Good luck with your querying, that agents letter is proof that your MS is great and one to stick with. I would keep revising, I think the query and critique are a sound plan to help look at it with fresh eyes.

  46. @ Talei, I appreciate the advice. I'm definitely going to have other people's eyes on this. Thanks!