During the #askagent session on Twitter last night, I mentioned my Prada & Prejudice story-- rewriting it after 20+ editor rejections, and getting two offers.
Someone asked me how to know when you should give up on a project. How many rejections is enough? When should you throw in the towel and just trunk it?
And here's my twitter-sized answer: When you have something better to shop. When your skill has grown beyond what you're shopping. Then you give up.
And that's what it boils down to, right? You shop the best damn book you're capable of.
There are cases where we grow and learn quickly, and come to the sad realization that the book we wrote is terrible and unfixable. That's not what I'm talking about-- becuase in that case, you *KNOW* that you need to move on.
I'm talking about books we love and want agents/editors to love and can't figure out why they don't.
As long as there are agents left to query-- why would you quit? Worst case scenario is a pile of form rejections. Best cased scenario is you get an agent.
But there's something in the middle, too. It's called feedback. Anything personalized from an agent can help you understand your weaknesses.
Because you're working on another book, right? If an agent passes on project 1 becuase "the voice is too passive" or "the characterzation is weak," you've just learned something. You can dig into the first project and figure out if its somethign fixable. And after that, you can apply it to your next project.
And eventually you'll have another project ready to shop. Which is stronger than the first one. And that's when you know it's time to throw in the towel on book #1. But did you waste your time? No. Do you have regrets? No. You gave Book #1 the best possible chance-- and you learned from it.
And you should now be that much closer to a yes. Because instead of giving up at 20 rejections, you kept going and you used every opportunity to learn.
Do I remember the names and projects of every query I've rejected? Nope. Do I remember most of the fulls I've read? Yes. When someone queries me and says, "You read X proejct of mine and had great feedback, and now I have Y project" does it help sway me to say yes?
Absolutely. If I liked something in Project 1 enough to spend time reading it, it means I thought they had talent. And the fact that they now have a second project means they're serious about writing and, hopefully, their writing has matured between 1 and 2.
I think people get hung up on the idea that being rejected by agents somehow ruins a first impression, like they shouldn't have queried. But when your email is 1 of 50 queries I look at that day, I'm paying closer attention to the project and the writing than your name. If I reject you at the query stage, you can query me later on a different project and chances are I won't connect the two.
But If I request it, you've moved up. Even if I reject it, the experience is a positive one.
So I guess I am not sure where I"m going with this other than to say-- why waste the chance to jump in the deep end just becuase of a few rejections? Every query you send is an opportunity. Every novel that is trunked too early is a lost opportunity.