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The story in this post will inspire
or depress you—maybe both.

You decide.

I’m sure you’ve heard the colloquialism, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” This popular expression is frequently used as encouragement to remain hopeful, even when it seems like there’s little reason left to do so.

In other words…

It ain’t over until it’s over.

I’ve come up with many creative ways to say this to help authors (including my coaching clients) hold on to hope. I do my best to keep authors from giving in to fears they’re not good enough, so they won’t give up.

It ain’t easy.

But…

If this story doesn’t
inspire you, nothing will.

It’s about a writer I worked with who took more than TWO YEARS to get an agent. She sent out more than 600 queries to do it. And, she got a TOP agent. I’ll tell you more about what happened in a moment, so you can benefit from her experience.

Now, you might think it’s stupid for me to admit that one of my coaching clients had to send out more than 600 queries to get an agent. That’s okay. At least she got an agent and I didn’t give up on her, even though it took her more than two years.

Besides, I often share stories
about authors who got agents fast.

And, some authors (including some of my coaching clients) get upset when I share stories about authors who got agents quickly. For example, one of my clients sent me the following message (abridged for length and anonymity):

Hi Mark,

After sending out hundreds of queries for my second book and failing, honestly, the very last thing I need is getting a newsletter telling me about a guy who found an agent after ONE HOUR. I know this is meant to be encouraging, but it isn’t at all.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be offensive, but this is a nightmare.

I’m now going to send out more queries,

[Author Signature]

Of course, I immediately emailed the author to explain that my intent with those stories is always, indeed, to encourage. And I explained that I was going to write a new article (this one) that the author might like better—at least I hope so.

By the way, every time I share a success story about an author who got an agent quickly, I always explain that it doesn’t usually happen that way. I don’t want authors to expectto get an agent quickly. Or, at all. It’s reallyhard to get an agent.

Not everyone makes it. Those who do make it often take many months (sometimes a year or more). They also sometimes edit their manuscripts along the way, based on feedback from agents (with or without the help of a developmental editor, which I’m not).

If you can accept it might be hard to get an agent…scratch that…I should say…if you can accept that it will probablybe hard to get an agent, you’ll have a much better chance of making it and you’ll likely work much harder to get there (if needed).

So, I definitely want you to be inspired.

But I also want you to be realistic.

And, pace yourself.

To that end…

Read this very short story excerpted
from a book by Napoleon Hill.

Then I’ll tell you more about
the “600 queries lady.”

* * *

Three Feet from Gold

One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat. Every person is guilty of this mistake at one time or another.

An uncle of R.U. Darby was caught by the “gold fever” in the gold-rush days and went west to DIG AND GROW RICH. He had never heard that more gold has been mined from the brains of men [and women] than has ever been taken from the earth. He staked a claim and went to work with pick and shovel. The going was hard, but his lust for gold was definite.

After weeks of labor, he was rewarded by the discovery of the shining ore. He needed machinery to bring the ore to the surface. Quietly, he covered up the mine, retraced his footsteps to his home in Williamsburg, Maryland, told his relatives and a few neighbors of the “strike.” They got together money for the needed machinery, had it shipped. The uncle and Darby went back to work the mine.

The first car of ore was mined and shipped to a smelter. The returns proved they had one of the richest mines in Colorado! A few more cars of that ore would clear the debts. Then would come the big killing in profits.

Down went the drills! Up went the hopes of Darby and Uncle! Then something happened! The vein of gold ore disappeared! They had come to the end of the rainbow, and the pot of gold was no longer there! They drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again—all to no avail.

Finally, they decided to QUIT.

They sold the machinery to a junk man for a few hundred dollars and took the train back home. Some “junk” men are dumb, but not this one! He called in a mining engineer to look at the mine and do a little calculating.

The engineer advised that the project had failed, because the owners were not familiar with “fault lines.” His calculations showed that the vein would be found JUST THREE FEET FROM WHERE THE DARBYS HAD STOPPED DRILLING! That is exactly where it was found!

The “Junk” man took millions of dollars in ore from the mine…

* * *

If This Doesn’t Inspire You, Nothing Will

Now let me tell you what happened with the author I mentioned earlier who got a TOP agent after sending out more than 600 queries over a period of more than two years. I’m not going to reveal her name, to protect her identity.

I’ll call her JW for “Brave Warrior.”

JW is a wonderful woman, but, after all, no one wants to publicly proclaim they had that hard a time getting an agent. And, we wouldn’t want the author’s agent to know, because that could cause the agent to be less confident in the author’s writing.

Here’s what happened (abridged and simplified for easier reading, dates changed as well to protect the identity of the author):

* * *

Dec 20, 2015

After JW had an Introductory CoachingCall with me, since I believed she had a good chance of getting an agent, I asked if she wanted to do more coaching with me, she said yes, and we started working more together.

* * *

Feb 21, 2016

JW completed doing a couple things to improve her platform and I completed my work on her query letter, synopsis, and the first fifty pages of her manuscript. We also completed our agent research and selection for the first few rounds of submissions.

* * *

Mar 21, 2016

JW finished making changes to her manuscript and started sending out queries.

* * *

Mar 21, 2016 (1-1/2 hours later)

JW got the following email:

From: Famous Agent #1 

Thank you for sending this, JW. Can you send the full ms as a Word attachment?

* * *

Mar 23, 2016

Two days later, JW sent me the following:

I just received the devastating email below from the agent who requested the manuscript. Should I give up? I know you want to see the good news, but I really do need your experience and advice about how I should react to the critique below. 

Thanks so much for responding. 

JW

From: Famous Agent #1

Thank you for sending this.  

While I absolutely loved the idea and was so eager to dive into the history, I found that the pages had a bit too much telling and not enough showing, especially in dialogue. It felt a little strange to have the characters explaining the history and situation to each other. I also found it a bit too episodic. I would have like more connection to the events. I also found that the writing was more an adult level, but the voice was so young and felt a bit too modern.

I am sorry this isn’t better news and wish you the best of luck in placing your work. 

Famous Agent #1

* * *

March 25, 2016

A couple days after I gave JW a brief pep talk via mail, she sent me this:

Thanks Mark. And don’t worry; after the sting wore off, I decided that no way in hell was I giving up! 

JW

* * *

Mar 29, 2016

Email from JW:

Hi Mark,

Here’s one more request for the full manuscript! 

JW

From: Famous Agent #2

Hi JW, 

TITLE OF BOOK sounds fabulous! FAMOUS AGENT sent this our way, and I’d love to request the full manuscript. Can you please send the full my way? We’re dying to read more! 

Best, 

Famous Agent #2

* * *

Mar 31, 2016

Email from JW:

Hi Mark, 

Another request for the full manuscript.  

Have a great weekend! 

JW

From: Famous Agent #3 

Dear JW,  

Thank you for your query. If your novel is still available, could you please send the entire manuscript to name@emailaddress.com attached as a Word document titled with the book title and date? Please also include the original query letter in the body of your e-mail and CC: submissions@agencywebsite.com for tracking purposes.   

I don’t ask for exclusive submissions because I feel they are unfair to authors, but I do ask that you check in with me if you get an offer of representation while I am still considering, and that you give me a chance to read and respond (I would only need a few days) before making a final decision.  Can you please confirm that this is acceptable to you?   

Thanks so much!  I very much look forward to reading your manuscript. 

Best, 

Famous Agent #3

* * *

May 9, 2016 

JW sent me the following:

Good afternoon, Mark.  

I received a letter from one of the agents who requested the full manuscript. She was very complimentary about the manuscript, commenting that story was compelling and that she admired the depth of my research I put into it. But she turned me down because she thought the story’s pace prevented her from ‘connecting with the characters during the many emotional events in the plot’. 

I do agree that the story is compelling and want to give it my best shot. Do you think I should revisit the manuscript and slow it down with more emotional depth before I send the next wave of queries out? I reflected on the other rejection letter I received, which said the work was “episodic”, and wondered if this was what she meant.

Your opinion is much appreciated.

JW

I called JW to discuss her situation with her and encourage her. Because of the specific feedback from agents, that was actionable, I suggested JW think about making changes to the manuscript based on the agent feedback.

* * *

Wed, May 24, 2016

Email from JW:

Hi Mark,

Here’s the response from one of the agents. Also, how should I respond – I’d like to ask if I can re-send it to her. Thanks so much for your assistance. 

JW

From: Famous Agent #3

Hi JW, 

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to read part of BOOK TITLE. You are writing about a piece of history that I think does not appear that much in fiction.  The problem I have is that you are letting the characters build the narrative through their dialogue, so it doesn’t sound natural.  It sounds like they are lecturing each other—rather than having a normal conversation in the morning. You have to figure out a way to build the world they are living in, and also develop the characters simultaneously. It’s tricky, but I am sure that you can figure out how to do it. At that point, I believe you will have a much stronger story. 

I do appreciate your thinking of me. 

Best, 

Famous Agent #3

* * *

July 31, 2016 

JW sent me the following:

Hi Mark, 

Because I want so much to get this right, I did another deep dive into the ms, identified the areas the agents critiqued, and made the edits. I don’t want this to happen as we move forward, and I’m determined to get this right. I will never give up!

Thanks for all that you do for me, my favorite coach! 

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, and I look forward to talking with you on Tuesday afternoon. 

The determined JW (:)

I told JW I was thrilled, and she should ask the agents who’d requested more material but subsequently passed on her book to take another look, but to wait until September, since July and August are bad times to contact agents. Too many of them are taking vacations and closed to submissions during part or all of that period.

* * *

Sep 2016 

JW got permission to resubmit the ms to two of the three agents who’d requested it but then passed on it. I called JW to encourage her.

* * *

Oct 2016

The agents who allowed JW to resubmit the revised ms said things like this:

From: Famous Agent

Dear JW, 

Thank you so much for thinking of me with the revised manuscript of BOOK TITLE. I continued to admire the writing and depth of research behind your story, but I must respectfully pass. While I more easily connected with the characters, I struggled with the story’s pacing. I would have liked a stronger build-up to the climax, and I felt that the important scenes did not have enough foreshadowing beforehand. I’m nevertheless grateful for the second look at your manuscript, and I am confident that you will find success with your writing.  

All best,

Famous Agent 

* * * 

Early Nov 2016

JW started sending more queries and got more requests that led to more rejections and feedback. She told me, again, she was losing hope. I encouraged her. She committed to keep going.

* * *

Nov 15 – Dec 31, 2016

I told JW to pause querying due to the holidays.

* * * 

Jan 2017

JW started sending out more queries and got more requests that led to more rejections and more feedback.

* * *

Mar 2017

JW sent me the following:

Most agents who rejected said they were ‘anxious’ or ‘excited’ to read the manuscript, and that this was an important piece of history that no one had written before in fictional format. So, I know there is strong interest. I was hoping for at least 1 agent willing to invest the time to help me get the manuscript to where they want it. This has not happened yet. I’m going to do another deep edit. The query and manuscript have generated much agent interest, but spending more time reading rejections is having a negative effect on my psyche. 

JW

I called JW to discuss her situation with her and encourage her.

* * *

May 2017

JW sent me this:

I got feedback from people whose opinion I trust re: the ms and did some deep edits. I think the manuscript is very solid right now. The people who looked at my ms poked a lot of holes in it. I filled all the ‘holes’ and then they poked a few more holes in it, which I worked really hard to fill. I then sent out a lot more queries to agents who hadn’t yet seen the book, though I’m running out of good ones. I will continue to query until I get an agent or run out of agents. 

Best, 

JW

* * *

July – August 2017

No queries due to summer break.

* * *

Sept – First Half of Nov 2017

Many queries sent, some requests for more material, all rejections.

* * *

Nov 15 – Dec 31, 2017

No queries due to the holiday season.

* * *

Jan 21, 2018

JW sent me this:

Hi Mark, 

Happy New Year to you!

I took your advice and dug into the agent list you sent me one last time. Started sending queries out today and got a response from FAMOUS AGENT requesting the MS. I just sent her the MS, and she called me to say she plans to read it by Monday and get back to me. Hopefully, my luck is changing. Thanks so much for encouraging me!

I’ll keep sending queries out through the weekend. Trying not to spend another year without results. Would like to get moving on my next book.

Blessings,

JW 

* * *

Feb 1, 2018

JW sent me this:

Hi Mark,

The agent who read the manuscript wants to talk with me Monday.

JW

I called JW immediately, ecstatic but conflicted. I always encourage authors to remain cautiously optimistic when agents express interest. In this case, since I knew JW had sent out more than 600 queries and gotten tons of rejections, so I was especially cautious.

60% of the time, if agents set up a call like this, it means they’re going to offer to rep you. 30% of the time, they don’t offer representation but suggest a few (or many) changes and invite you to resubmit if/when/after you make the changes. And, 10% of the time, agents get on the phone with authors to simply explain why they believe the book won’t sell.

Strange, but true.

You’d think they have
better things to do. 🙂

* * *

Feb 4, 2018

Email from JW:

Hi Mark,

FAMOUS AGENT has offered me representation and is getting ready to send the Agent Agreement over. Please contact me so we can review next steps, etc.

Thanks so much!

JW

* * *

Feb 4, 2018

I called JW completely out-of-my-mind-excited to celebrate with her and thank her profusely for trusting her writing and my process and gutting it out. I also told her what she already knew, that not everyone makes it.

In addition, I told JW the agency agreement she’d sent me looked good. And I said I couldn’t wait to share her story, because I knew it would help inspire countless other authors to keep believing and keep going.

So, I hope this story helps you keep believing.

And I hope it helps you…

Keep going.

You might be just
“three feet from gold.”

– Mark

P.S. – Editing a manuscript while querying isn’t always necessary. That just happened to be what seems to have helped this particular author get to her happy ending. That, and persistence. Sometimes, it’s just about continuing to query until you find the right agent. To that end, look at the related posts below for different types of advice to help you overcome the unique obstacles you might be facing as an author.

* * *

Author Coaching

Click here if YOU want to get a successful literary agent. Register for an Introductory Coaching Call to get 1-on-1 feedback to improve your pitch material and/or writing.

* * *

Question or Comment?

Click here (no charge) to see The 50 Questions Authors Ask Most (along with answers to the questions) and/or post your question or comment. Click here to see our Guide to Literary Agents. And, click here to see some of our best tips to help you Find a Literary Agent and/or Get a Literary Agent.

* * *

Related Coaxing and A**-Kicking Posts to Inspire and Motivate Authors

* * *

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