I wrote the first draft of this post about a year ago, but never posted it in case it felt too frustrated. Now I think is the right time to share my thoughts.
A while back, I explained to my non-writer friend (who has way more experience in modern dating than I do) why querying agents was just as nerve-wracking as swiping through Tinder/Bumble/Hinge/dating app du jour. A transcript with comments in bold:
… you’re out there, searching for the perfect person to fall in love with your book as much as you love it, someone who will cherish it and find the best home for it, and it seems really scary but then you make a move with all your soul. First comes the waiting (because yes, agents can ghost you, too, but this isn’t a comment on you) and you just kinda have to deal with the grueling silence and repeat NO RESPONSE MEANS NO to yourself and dry your tears and pick up the pieces and go home (I live for Stevie Nicks references). But even when you DO get a response, most will (probably) be sad form rejections with consolations like “this isn’t right for me at this time”, “I wish you the best”. You know, just like “it’s not you, it’s me” and “Sorry I was busy”. It’s always nice when they do get a little more personal, because they wouldn’t if you were totally off. And even if they ASK YOU TO SEND MORE CHAPTERS (which is the equivalent of getting a second date), they can reject you for absolutely any subjective reason at all.
This is not an anti-agent rant, this is just a surprisingly apt metaphor. You’re only looking for one yes. You only need one person to love you and your book.
I’ve had agents who I thought would love my book based on their bios or websites not respond to my initial query. I’ve had agents request partial or full manuscripts and respond with something like, “I just couldn’t connect with the voice.” That’s frustrating feedback, because you don’t know how to fix it. You don’t know how much of the manuscript to change based on one person’s reaction, just like you don’t know how to change how you come off to potential dates based on the fact that one person didn’t want to see you again. In each case, you desperately want to know what made them turn you down.
But sometimes they can’t articulate it. The spark just wasn’t there.
No matter what happens, please do not be the person who sends angry vitriol to an agent/date in response to a rejection. You just reinforced their decision to block you and not want to work with you.
Putting yourself out there pays off. These days, I’m trying to trust the process.