The Meaning of Persistence
Is it still possible to get a book deal these days if you have a great story but you aren’t a celebrity and it’s not a story that’s on the front pages or on CNN? As a former journalist and as a writer with more than 25 years of experience, I know a good story, I know how to write, I meet deadlines, and I get really nice letters back from literary agents – but still no agent. But if I was a celebrity or someone who knows someone, I’d have one. Super frustrating!
Well, Lisa, the answer is simple: yes.
There are debut authors getting published in all genres. If that wasn’t the case, why in the world would any agent accept queries from anyone, ever? Queries are mostly from unpublished writers. If it were impossible for non-celebrities to get published, then agents wouldn’t even accept queries. They’d just put big “Closed” signs on their websites and never look at incoming submissions. We don’t do that, because we’re always looking for new books from new authors.
The reason it’s so hard is that the number of “slots” available for debut authors in traditional publishing is shrinking, while the number of writers pitching books is growing. You’ve chosen to enter a field with a ridiculous amount of competition. Like I said in my post The Real Reason You’re Getting Rejections, sometimes it’s just a numbers game. The marketplace is crowded.
If traditional publishing is your goal, then there’s no substitute for persistence. I’ve found that a lot of people think they know what persistence means until they’ve gotten numerous rejections. Trying to get published feels like an uphill battle, they get super frustrated, and they forget that this is exactly the moment when persistence is supposed to kick in. Persistence isn’t a factor when you’ve just started. Persistence is what’s needed after the 20th and the 50th and the 200th rejection.
And persistence doesn’t mean just keep trying the same thing over and over. It means persisting to find what will work. Continuing to become a better writer. Seeking out the agents who might like your work. Improving your pitch. Doing everything you can until you find the right agent and the right publisher.
And guess what? If we allowed ourselves to, agents could be just as frustrated as you are about the whole “celebrity” thing. We could sit around and bemoan Snooki’s book deal and be frustrated that the agents who rep famous people have it easy. (Actually, sometimes we do sit around and complain about that.) But then we get back to work.
Just like you. Get back to work.