Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Fickle Market

Or “Whatever Happened to That Other Manuscript I Was Querying?”

You may have noticed that I took Bob’s pitch and query down several weeks ago and replaced them with Steve’s. (Or maybe you haven’t noticed, since you probably don’t scour my sidebar as thoroughly as I do every time I stop by the blog.) I officially stopped querying Bob and started querying Steve in the middle of this month.

I’ve thought about doing a big statistics post like the one I did when I finished querying Bob’s predecessor, but my heart hasn’t been in it. Quite frankly, it takes some doing to crunch the numbers and make the graphs look as pretty and uniform as I want them to look, and I just haven’t wanted to invest the time. (Besides, a lot of those numbers are nearly a year old now, so I’m not sure how useful they would be.)

Instead, I decided to blog about something that really sums up my whole Bob-querying experience, and that’s the fickle market. But first, a little--okay, a lot of--background. (For those of you who’ve been around the blog for a while, a lot of this will be old news, but bear with me.)

I started querying Bob last fall, in late October. He was the third manuscript I’d queried, so I felt like I knew what I was doing. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the response that Bob received. My first three query replies were all partial requests, and one of those partial requests turned into a full request literally overnight. I was ecstatic. I was impatient. I was certain I would have an agent within a week or two.

But then that full request came back as an invitation to revise and resubmit. I told myself this was a victory--not quite the victory I’d been hoping for, but a victory, nonetheless--and buckled down. The agent had some good ideas, and I knew the manuscript would be stronger if I incorporated them. Besides, I could work on the changes through the holidays, when it probably wasn’t wisest to send out fresh queries, anyway, and not lose a lot of time. I didn’t want to lose momentum, after all.

I finished the revision in mid-January and e-mailed it to the agent. A week and a half later, I received her reply. It was kind and complimentary, but she still wasn’t in love enough with the manuscript to take it on. At the time, I was devastated. Now, I look back and realize that agent’s tastes and mine probably wouldn’t have been very compatible over the long haul, anyway.

After drowning my sorrows in a good cup of hot chocolate, I took my stronger manuscript and sent out a fresh batch of queries. I also sent it to the agents who’d requested more material during the weeks I’d spent revising it. Once again, the response was pretty positive. My request rate was over fifty percent, and I pulled in several more partial-turned-full requests.

Then more R&Rs appeared. I picked up my second one in mid-February; by the first week in March, I had three more. I looked at everything they said and decided to undertake a massive revision: flip-flop the narrative responsibilities for my two POV characters and make Adair, the female lead, the more prominent one. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I felt good about it, really good. So good, in fact, that I believe I said something like, “I think this is the story I’ve been trying to tell all along,” in one of my query updates during that time.

This revision--although, in all fairness, it was really more of a rewrite--took me three months. And when I finished, I knew it was the best thing I’d ever written. It really was the story I’d been trying to tell all along.

By this time, I had something like eight agents waiting to read the revision, so I sent it to them straightaway. I tried not to get my hopes up, but deep down, I let my imagination get away from me. Surely at least one of these agents would love the manuscript enough to offer. Surely this was a done deal. And as the days stretched into weeks, then months, and the rejections piled up, I realized it was--but not the kind of “done” I’d hoped for.

The rejections were all eerily similar. They started out by praising various aspects of the manuscript, then finished with some variation of one of these two lines: “But I just didn’t fall in love,” or “Unfortunately, though, the market has really softened up in the last couple of months.” Whereas six or even three months earlier, every agent and her pet Labrador had been trying to sign the next THE HUNGER GAMES, no one wanted a YA dystopian anymore. Editors were no longer biting. The market was saturated.

Did this market saturation account for all of Bob’s rejection? Of course not. If an agent had really loved the manuscript, the market probably wouldn’t have prevented her from offering representation, and I can think of a few YA dystopians, including Mindy McGinnis’s, that recently sold for good money. But the fact remains that during those months when I was working on the revision, something changed. The market shifted. What had been a hot commodity was now barely a lukewarm one. I sent out a few new queries, but my request rate was nowhere near what it had been before.

Moral of the story: The market is a living, breathing thing, and none of us will ever be able to control it. So instead of worrying about the things we can’t change, we’d do better to worry about the things we can. And sometimes, we just have to know when to let go of a manuscript, especially a trendy one, and get to work on the next project.

34 comments:

Michelle Mason said...

I did notice the change on your sidebar and wondered about it. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is so hard to know when to give up on something. Maybe Bob will get new life when you find an agent, hopefully for Steve! Good luck!

Michael G-G said...

I tried not to get my hopes up, but deep down, I let my imagination get away from me. Surely at least one of these agents would love the manuscript enough to offer.

Been there, thought that. It sounds as if it has been a hard journey for both of us, Krista. You have handled it with grace throughout.

I love the sound of "Steve," and am keeping my fingers crossed that this is the book which will open the door to publication for you.

Holly L'Oiseau said...

Coudn't have said it better! By the time you finish writing the next trendy thing, the market will be so over it! When I think about my novels, I think more about how compelling and well written it is than what genre it's in, etc.

T. Drecker said...

I've decided that -except for needing a great manuscript- a lot of this market is luck, hitting the right agent at the right time. I think some of it might even have to do with their day to day mood. After all, they're as human as we. But you're right, we just need to keep up with the next manuscript. I think the best thing is to write what we love and someone might love it someday, too.
Good luck to you!

L.C. Frost said...

Hi Krista! I've been lurking your blog for a while and always love the honesty of your posts (like this one; the market is indeed a fickle beast). Keeping my fingers crossed for you and Steve--he sounds like a lovely, unique novel.

Kelley said...

Wow, you have perseverance girl! Steve will be the one! I know it!

Krista V. said...

Well, Michelle, I'm glad I wasn't the only person who noticed the change:) And yeah, I think Bob will make an excellent shelf novel - he'll just sit up there and wait until the time is right (again).

Michael, it's funny how often I hear people say that my experience mirrors theirs. Sometimes, it seems as if all we ever hear are the success stories, but there are a lot of us down here still struggling, still pushing, still waiting for our time to shine. We've done our time in the query trenches, but we're not quite finished yet. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

Holly, I can honestly say that Steve is the first manuscript I've written that hasn't been in any way influenced by the trendy books I've been reading at the time. A few years ago, I was querying a YA urban fantasy, and Bob, as you can see, was a YA dystopian. But this MG historical with a dash of science fiction is unique, dang it! :)

Exactly, T. Drecker. So much of this industry is about being in the right place at the right time. Once your writing reaches a certain level of technical proficiency, it's all about finding that little niche that fits you perfectly. And I appreciated what you said about writing what you love.

L.C., hello! I always like dragging the lurkers out of their hiding places:) And thank you for your kind words about Steve. I'm keeping my fingers crossed as well.

Krista V. said...

Kelley, thank you for calling it perseverance and not plain, old stubbornness:)

Tasha Seegmiller said...

Thank you for sharing this. I love how you didn't get all bitter, turn red faced and pull your hair out. I also love that you shared a very real experience, including the emotional impact it had.

Thank you.

Cassie Mae said...

Wow. I mean, just Wow! This is not something to be upset over, though I know that it's hard, especially since you've worked so diligently on it. But seriously? All those requests? All those people saying your writing is really great? All of them wanting more more more, and giving you the time of day?

I repeat...wow.

In the end, yes they were rejections, but how strong did this experience make you? We suffer through trial and error, but what can never be taken away from us is the knowledge we gain from our experiences. I've seen your posts on QT for Steve, and I know from your posts here that you write beautifully. And agents think so too. That in itself is a major accomplishment that not many of us get to say we have.

You have strength and courage and TALENT, and an agent's going to sign you so fast, you'll wonder what the heck happened. :)

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

*Sigh* You're right, Krista. And we have to write what we love, too, and not worry about the market. I know you weren't thinking about the market when you wrote Bob. He was a labor of love and that's why it's so hard to let him rest. A friend of mine recently told me that horror and suspense are the new hot sellers right now. Made me glad I'm not trying to run after trends!

It won't be long, my friend. It won't be long.

Krista V. said...

Tasha, who says I didn't get all bitter and pull my hair out? :) I try to focus on the positive, but I have to admit that there are days when I just feel like giving up and walking away from this whole thing. Thankfully, the feeling passes, but Kristas in blog posts are not always as cheerful as they appear:)

Thank you for your lovely comment, Cassie Mae. You don't know what your encouragement and enthusiasm mean to me.

Amy, I don't think I could write horror if my life depended on it - or if I did, it wouldn't be too horrific. My mind is pretty PG-rated, and I prefer it that way:)

Dana E said...

Thanks sharing your experience, which btw, may be the norm. I keep thinking about Kathryn Stockett who got 65 rejections and #66 got her the agent who sold The Help to a publisher in something like 3 weeks. (My numbers may be a little off, but not by much!)

I'd be curious to know how many MSs got published after a time of shelf sitting.

All the best to you and Steve!

lyle and julia said...

Thanks for sharing your story! I think so many of us expect the ride to be easier than it is in so many ways. But there must be some type of lesson in all of this that Someone intended for us to learn :)

Jeff Chen said...

What a healthy attitude! Sometimes it's better to move on to the next project. I'm sure your experience with prior manuscripts will only make your future ones stronger.

Jeff

Adam Heine said...

Praising various aspects, then finish with "I just didn't fall in love."

That's every rejection I've gotten.

My book isn't really a trending topic (the closest thing I've seen is Leviathan, but that comparison is stretching a little), so I haven't seen the market influence you have. Then again, I also didn't see a 50% request rate :-)

And this is why I don't ever want to write to what's trending. Yes, if you hit it right you can get requests like crazy, but if you miss it by just a little bit, you'll get less requests than if you just wrote something nobody's ever heard of.

Callie Kingston said...

What a ride! But I have a different take on the experience. It breaks my heart that you shelved a novel after pouring so much life into it. If it's truly the story you wanted to tell, why not publish independently? That's the decision I'm making with my novel UNDERTOW, which went through a similar path as your BOB did.

Market forces for traditional publishers will always dictate a very narrow selection. But there are still readers who would enjoy your non-trendy novel. Look at it this way: if you want a bright orange lamp, but the stores are full of this year's trend (moss green), wouldn't you be delighted to find an orange lamp on the internet?

Laura Pauling said...

Oh how frustrating the fickle market can be. It's so true. I've heard that from other writers. They knew it was time to move on b/c their manuscript that just months ago got full request now didn't. So hard to come close.

Recently, I've seen all the agents tack thrillers onto their wish lists. Who knows for how long though.

Chin up! :)

Krista V. said...

Dana, it would be interesting to research the percentage of published novels that spend some time on the shelf. Someone should study that... :)

Lyle and/or Julia, you just hit the nail on the head. I think God's tried to teach me patience before by giving me some major life setback to deal with. Maybe if I were a faster learner, I would have published a book by now:)

Such a good point, Jeff. Shelved manuscripts still taught us something, so in that way, they'll always be successes.

Adam, another good reason not to chase the market is that you often fall into this "Now, now, now!" mentality. You're so afraid of missing the boat that you don't take the time to really develop your story and characters, and you shoot yourself in the foot right out of the starting gate (if I may mix about a thousand metaphors).

Callie, it's an interesting idea. A year ago, I would have said that I'd never, ever consider self-publishing, but I must admit, the decision doesn't seem so cut-and-dried to me anymore. I'm still not ready to embark on that journey (partly because the sheer amount of work involved overwhelms me, and partly because I still dream of someday signing a traditional publishing contract and I'm not sure self-publishing is the best way to get there), but I'm definitely not as opposed to it as I once was.

Laura, I've noticed this burgeoning thriller trend, too. I think I'd actually enjoy writing one, but I'm definitely not jumping on that bandwagon now:)

Jessica Silva said...

I'm totally in awe of your decision, in essence, to let go and move on and be excited for the fourth time in this process. I haven't even queried once and I'm scared--but to imagine doing it twice, thrice, I don't know if I'd have it in me. perhaps if I was very sure of my WIP, and I bet you are. so not only am I in awe of your strength as a writer, but also in the strength of your belief in your writing :) keep going. someone will fall in love with your stories. don't let those other books go to waste, either, because when an agent does pick you up, those could be your second or third book in your career :)

Ben Spendlove said...

Best of luck querying Steve. Keep me posted on how it goes.

Krista V. said...

Jessica, I guess I'm just good at pounding my head against a brick wall:) (I hope the fourth time's the charm, though, because all this head-pounding has been giving me a headache...)

Right back at you, Ben.

Jodi R. said...

Extreme grace, Krista. What wonderful responses you've had though - it will happen!

And Jeff Chen - that picture is hilarious! Is that yours or from a website?

Jodi

Maggie Hall said...

What a story!

I had actually noticed some time ago that the MC in your sidebar description had changed to Adair, and wondered about that--and now I know why. Well, WHEN you get an agent for Steve, maybe they'll want to resurrect Bob too. :) It seemed pretty darn good already when I read a little of it on the Bransford forums forever ago, and with all the editing since then, it must be awesome!

And Steve sounds amazing--best of luck!!

Krista V. said...

I hope so, Jodi!

Yeah, Maggie, I changed the description in my sidebar after I revised Bob. (Or maybe I just never put one up until after I revised, but you remembered the Seth-centric query and first page I posted on Nathan Bransford's forums. I forget.) I wouldn't go straight to awesome, but I still like how Bob turned out:)

Liesl Shurtliff said...

One day Krista... One day... and there are so many things I could put after those words, so I don't feel like I can't adequately finish the phrase.

So today I'm just glad we're friends.

findingbooks said...

You're so wonderful for telling the "tale" of what's happening now. It gives me the hope to keep going too. Thank you for your honesty.

Krista V. said...

Liesl, what a wonderful comment. Thank you for your encouragement and your faith in my writing. I'm glad we're friends, too:)

You're so welcome, findingbooks. May this crazy road take us both to the place we were meant to be.

Carol Riggs said...

Fascinating. Thanks for the honest post and detailing your journey all in one place. Be sure to hang onto the novel!--because in a few years, the market may swing around again. Best wishes for Steve!!

Krista V. said...

Carol, I'm definitely hanging on to Steve. Even though he didn't make the cut this time, he's definitely a keeper:)

Christina Farley said...

Great post. And you are so right about that fickle market. BUT the market goes in cycles and if you're patient enough, it will come around again. Keep writing. Keep believing in who you are as a writer. I keep telling myself to write what I love. Even if it won't sell, because someday an editor be looking for a XYZ and you can say "Oh! Look at this! I wrote that." Luck= preparation and opportunity.

Krista V. said...

Christina, thank you for your encouraging comment. And I think you're right - the market will come around again if I'm patient enough to wait it out.

Kelly Bryson said...

Krista- I agree that the market is fickle. Bob is a really good story, and if you decide to e pub, I'll be in your corner:)

Krista V. said...

Thanks for your support, Kelly. I really appreciate it. If you ever get this whole e-publishing thing figured out, maybe you'll have to educate me:)