Ask Daphne! When to throw it away

July 31st, 2008 • Kate

Did you know that Van Gogh painted shoes? Apparently he did! So for Bill, who calls me the “Shoe Queen”, a classic pair. Bill asks:

How many unanswered or rejected queries should it take before a writer should assume the story ideal is not publishable?

First of all, on behalf of my profession, I’m sorry about the unanswered queries. I try to get to every email I can, though I know many agents you tell me about often don’t respond at all. As to how that relates to your question, I’m not sure you can take anything from an unanswered query, or a plethora thereof. Unless it’s that you should double check your spam folder or consider using a different email addresses.
As for when those rejections start pouring in, that’s a little tougher. If you’re only getting form letters in response, I think that says more about your query than your manuscript. Try rewriting your letter, paying attention to the hook, and really trying to grab your reader’s attention. Make sure you’re not doing any of the Don’ts. If, however, you’re getting more personalized rejections, you have to hope that the rejections contain something you can take away from it. Some note about story, or plot, or voice, or theme. And when you can look at a large number (yes, I know that this was the crux of your question, but there is no one number that’s a tipping point) of rejections that are all saying the same thing — the plot is trite or overdone or “familiar”, or the voice is unremarkable, flat, or inappropriate — that’s when you should take a good hard look at your material, see if you agree with the comments, and commit to either revising, or working on your next project.
Hope that helps, Bill!

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