Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
It's all very well to declare that getting published isn't a crap shoot--that smart and persistent writers with marketable manuscripts have a very reasonable chance of landing a publishing contract. But what if you've been submitting a manuscript you're convinced is marketable--a manuscript that has gotten compliments and encouragement not just from your friends and beta readers, but from agents and/or editors--and you still can't find representation or publication?
One of the ways writers can sabotage themselves is to pin all their hopes on a single work. I hear surprisingly often from writers who are in this position--who've been doggedly submitting the same novel for years, and simply cannot abandon it, despite being unable to attract interest from a reputable agent or publisher. They continually research new agents and publishers; they regularly rework their query letters; they even rework the manuscript itself. They do everything they can think of to maximize their chances--except give up on a non-selling book. Some even stop writing, convinced that until they can sell this manuscript it's pointless to produce another.
This is when persistence, otherwise the writer's friend, becomes a vice. There are many reasons why your manuscript may not be selling--perhaps it's good, but not quite good enough. Perhaps it's out of step with current publishing trends. Perhaps it's one of those quirky cross-genre efforts that publishers can't figure out how to market. At some point, though, continuing to query a non-selling work ceases to be a submission strategy, and becomes stagnation--especially if you allow it to sidetrack your writing.
Putting your writing on hold while submitting is absolutely one of the worst things you can do. Writers are like sharks; they can only survive by moving forward. The only way to increase your chance of publication is to progress as a writer, and the only way to progress as a writer is to write. Each manuscript you produce is likely to be better than the last. Remember, also, that many writers don't break in with their first book, or even their second or third. I know of one New York Times best selling author who produced three unsuccessful novels before she finally wrote the one that landed the agent who found the publisher that launched her career.
Another danger of getting stuck on one manuscript: winding up with a questionable agent or publisher. The more rejections you've racked up, the more frustration you've endured, the more vulnerable you may be to the false praise of a scammer, or the false hope of an amateur.
Abandoning a book is extremely painful. I know--I've been there. Unfortunately, there's no formula to tell you when enough is enough, or how many rejections you must endure before you decide to stop (although if you've been querying for five years--and I've heard from people who've been trying for even longer--you've probably gone past the limit). Try to retain perspective--if your goal was a Tier 1 agent and you now find yourself considering obscure agents with dubious track records, it may be time to re-assess. Or consider changing strategies--instead of querying agents, try approaching reputable smaller publishers that will accept submissions direct from authors; instead of submitting to print-first publishers, consider reputable epublishers. At some point, though, you will need to confront the possibility that it may not be worth continuing to submit a work that's consistently getting rejected.
And whatever you do, don't give up on your writing. Even if you can't bring yourself to give up on your cherished manuscript, don't allow the hope and frustration of the submission process to immobilize you. Keep moving forward.