If at First You Don't Succeed...by Darlene Beck Jacobson

When I first set out to find a home for my middle grade historical WHEELS OF CHANGE, I decided to bypass editors and pitch the project to agents.  I studied agent lists and requirements and began submitting query letters - a couple at a time - and waited.  And waited.  Many of them never wrote back.  Some sent the "Dear Author" response we all got in our early days of writing.  A few were kind enough to personalize the rejection with a statement as to why they were not interested. 

After a year or so, I was up to 36 and counting. I had serious doubts as to whether I should continue to punish myself.  But I remembered reading somewhere along the line to BE PERSISTENT. That old addage "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" has often served me well whenever I've stepped into unfamiliar territory.

With that in mind, I attended the NJSCBWI conference back in 2011 and vowed to "be bold" and put myself "out there".  I worked the Meet n Greet cocktail party, walking up to agents and introducing myself.  I pitched a picture book idea and the historical fiction project to two agents.  One was interested in the latter and asked me to send 30 pages after the conference.

Okay, maybe I was finally getting somewhere.  I excitedly sent the requested pages the next day.  I waited.  And waited.  For three months.  Like all pre-published writers, I wondered why I hadn't heard anything on the REQUESTED material.  I contacted the RA from the conference and asked her what the proper etiquette was for a follow up e-mail about the status of the piece.  She was kind enough to contact the agent and asked what was up. 

Wait for it...the agent had never received the 30 page submission!  She contacted me immediately and asked me to resubmit.  Within a day, she asked for the rest of the manuscript and less than a week later offered representation.

The moral of this story?  BE PERSISTENT. AT EVERY STAGE.  If you do your work and write the best you know how, keep at it and eventually you will succeed. Don't be afraid to follow up  and check the status of submissions.  If I hadn't been an anxious, nervous Nellie, I might have dismissed my future agent as uninterested.  But agent number 37 was my lucky number.  What's yours?


  1. This is so true. I submitted my first novel to the same publishing house four times, to two different editors. I sold it on the fourth try. ;)

  2. This is the juice that keeps me going. You never know unless you try and nudge. Great post. TY.

  3. Yay for lucky #371 And you know, it hurts no one if you simply inquire politely. (But I know how BIG this feels!) Thank you for sharing.

  4. Ooh, I love this story! A similar thing happened during my teaching job at the university, when a favorite student applied to our graduate program and was rejected. I couldn't believe it - he was so wonderful! And sure enough, when I inquired into the matter, his application (this was in the early days of submitting online) had vanished into the ether and had never been reviewed. He was immediately admitted to our program and now has his Ph.D. and a teaching job at a prestigious university - all because I bothered to ask what had happened...

    1. So many people have a similar story Claudia. We have to be "brave enough" to venture into the abyss to achieve anything of importance. Thanks for sharing your story.

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