Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Another Month

It’s the end of another month, and that means it’s time to fire off some more queries for Parallel Lives.
When I sent out my first batch of queries in April, I admit that I sent one to an agent who was:
  1. Notoriously fast
  2. Known to always responds
  3. Unlikely to represent me
It’s important to note that I was not wasting her time. She represents my genre, and I would have been happy to have her as an agent if things had broken that way. But she works with a small, exclusive list, primarily of previously-published authors. While she takes on new clients, she doesn’t take many. I figured it was a win-win: if she really liked it, great; if not, there’s my baptism by fire. I thought it was important to experience rejection early, start hardening the proverbial skin. Five hours later, I had my first rejection, and that was good. It didn’t really hurt, not at all.
Tougher was the rejection I got on Mother. Write. (Repeat.). Tougher, because it was public; tougher, because I got to see what the agent thought about it. Which is to say, not much. It hurt much more than a ‘Dear author, thanks for you submission, but I’m not going to represent you, good luck’, but it was also instructive, and got me on the query revision bandwagon.
Tougher than that, though, was what came in two weeks ago: my first rejection on a full. It came with a nice note, a very pleasant note, but it was obviously not what I wanted to see. This was one of the top agents on my list, someone I thought (and still think) I’d love to work with. The note was nice, but it wasn’t a ‘consider fixing this, this, and this, send it back, and we’ll see.’
My reaction wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought it would be a gut punch, like the time I got a call at work informing me that a close friend had been killed in a car accident. That was a gut punch moment, a ‘you’d better sit down’ moment, the sort of thing you read about in books but hopefully never have to experience. This rejection hurt, yes, it was a disappointment, but it was not a gut punch. I put a pretty good face on it, and moved on, but I think it may have worked its way into my brain and manifested itself in some of my negativity over the last two weeks of posting here.
So, there’s still a full out there, with a fantastic agent, which will hit the three-month mark on Wednesday. There are still seven unanswered queries hanging around agent inboxes, and in the next few days they will be joined by another batch. One of them will hit the right person at the right time. As Bob Dylan said, “the only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keeping on like a bird that flew”.
Enjoy the week. And thanks, Nancy, for the awards! I’ll really think about doing them, really!

11 Responses

  1. I know we hate to hear this when we're querying but really–a nice note that says you should consider fixing these things is a great rejection! It means you're on the right track. A "this is truly horrible" rejection would have been much worse. Keep plugging. When the time is right (cosmically, that is) an agent who is truly passionate about your book will offer you a contract. Believe me, your book is far too good to go unpublished. Plus it's a really tough market out there and you want an agent who is going to scratch and claw his or her way through the submissions process in a fight to the death to get your book published–not an agent who just thinks it's okay. It may not feel like it, but you're just waiting for that one agent who is really passionate about your work and he/she is out there somewhere!

  2. I know it doesn't help to hear this but…it will get easier. I hope it doesn't, because I hope you get an offer quickly, but know that you're experiencing what nearly every writer out there does.

    Sorry about the rejection on your full, but at least someone out there read it. And that IS progress. Since you're at the 3 month mark on the other full, you're entitled to write a quick email asking if the agent's made progress yet. I did with Mickey Choate and he said no, but that he'd read my submission over the weekend, and he did and got back to me. So a nudge can be helpful. BTW – did you query Mickey? You should.

    Anyway, just keep plugging along, fine-tuning as necessary. Your skin will get tougher and you'll barely feel anything after a while. And it's okay to feel the way you do and to post about it, too. I did the same and found a lot of support. It really helped me keep going. Like Lisa always said to me, there may be 1000 doors, but all it takes is for one to open. Good luck!

    (And no pressure about the awards thing. I'd been sitting on them for awhile myself and had to get them out of the way. But I don't expect anyone to follow through.)

  3. I made it up to rejection #79 before any of them felt gut-punchy. I'm now at 81, including one from an agent I've already worked with and who used to like my writing! She even read an early version of my book and seemed to feel it had promise a year ago. Go me, that's got to be some kind of FailRecord. She did refer me to a couple of agents who might like the book, but closing in on 100 rejections for this book alone (not counting all the short story rejections I've been racking up this year, nor all the rejections from agents and editors of my previous two books that never got published) I'm not sure why I even queried them.

    The craziness is that I still believe I'm a good writer and worthy of being published, in spite of the insane number of rejections. Maybe some day I'll learn my lesson.

    I'll probably just end up self-publishing everything instead. I don't think my work is ever going to be "commercial" enough for industry professinals, but readers seem to really like it.

  4. Hang in there, Jeff. I got countless rejections before signing with my agent. One day I will add them up, but right now I don't have 10 hours to spare!

  5. Thanks for all the kindness and support, everyone. It's funny how these things work. I might have been better off if the Full reject had sent me off in a rage or a breakdown or something, stomping up and down the house breaking things, because then it would be done. I'm surprised that it was (is) more of a 'lingering disappointment' that pops up in funny ways. Like maybe being a little more impatient with all the shenanigans going on out there, and maybe dwelling on that more than I should. Onward, ho!

  6. Whether a gut punch or not, I think they all affect you in some way. And really– handling them better than you thought you would is an amazing thing! You'll find that perfect agent. I know you will.

  7. Congrats on the awards, Jeff. I saw those on Nancy's blog.

    As for the disappointments, some of them hit me harder than others–and I can't always say why. As for your example of the death of a friend, hey, no comparison. That is, indeed, a gut punch.

    Good luck! Elana Johnson got something like 300 rejections before an agent took on her book.

  8. Congratulations on the full requests! That really is a great step to get them, though I'm sorry the first one didn't get a better answer. Good luck with the one still pending!

  9. It's awesome that you got full requests and although rejections are tough, it's good to experience them and especially when you actually get to hear what the agent thinks. Best of luck with the next round of queries! 🙂

  10. Rejections on fulls sting. I had a couple on my previous ms and I decided to back up and have a deep look at their advice. I ended up scrapping the ms. Keeping their advice in mind has helped me writing this one. I hope! We'll see…

    Good luck with the other full and those queries. I bet a yes is buried in there somewhere!

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