As I wade through the waters of Trying to Get Published, I find there are a lot of things the general public doesn't know about the process. Since most of us start out in the general public before moving into Wannabe-Writer-Ville, we come into the process as clueless newbies.
The first thing we learn about is the query letter. That's a tricky beast all in itself and deserves weeks of study. But with the magic of the internet (and cool sites like AgentQuery Connect), we get up to speed on how and why, and work out a query letter that's considered ready to go.
We carefully read submission guidelines, send out a batch or two of queries, and we wait.
As a newbie, we may not know how many possible responses there are. Let's break it down.
First, has it only been ten minutes? If so, chill out. (If the agent promises an auto-response to confirm receipt, check your spam folder, wait a little longer, then try again.) If it's been a few weeks/months, there are questions to answer. Does the agent have a stated "no response means no" policy? If yes, move on. If no, and there was no auto-response, do a little digging to determine whether the agent typically responds and how long it usually takes. (QueryTracker is a great resource for this.) If it's been unreasonably long, and the agent always responds to queries, might be worth resending.
This can vary from a super-brief "Not for me, but thanks," to a very politely worded paragraph that means the same thing. Don't agonize over every syllable. Just move on.
PERSONALIZED REJECTION (on query)
This is pretty rare, but occasionally happens. Sometimes it'll look personalized, but a little research shows it's a form. If you really do get a personalized reply, glean what you can from it, but again—don't agonize. Move on.
Yay, they want to read some of your manuscript! First, a partial typically means three chapters or the first fifty pages. In my experience, agents are pretty clear with what they want and how they want it. Follow their instructions. Once you send it off—don't agonize. Your query seems to work, so send off a few more to celebrate.
Yay, they want to (potentially) read the whole thing! Some agents go straight from the query to this point, skipping the partial in-between. Same advice goes—send as instructed, don't agonize, and send off some more queries.
SILENCE (on requested material)
Ugh. Hold on! Has it only been two weeks? Chill out again.
Many agents state that they respond to full manuscripts within X amount of time. Wait that length plus a few weeks (or an extra month), then try a politely worded nudge. Sometimes you get an apologetic note that things got crazy and you're next on the list, or there's been a technical problem and could you please resend ... and sometimes you get more silence.
FORM REJECTION (on requested material)
Ouch. This sucks, because you often can't even tell how far they read. This is where I most often see the "I just didn't love it enough" wording. Frustrating, because it doesn't really give you something to act on, other than trying to find the agent who is going to love it enough. Check with beta-readers and critique partners to see if they have ideas about making it more "loveable" but ... don't agonize. Send more queries and get back to work on your WIP (you do have one, don't you?).
BRIEF REJECTION (on requested material)
A little better than the form, and may give you a touch of direction on revisions. If the feedback resonates, act on it. But don't agonize. Get back to work.
This can hurt the most but be the most valuable ... maybe. The agent cared enough to type up 3-5 paragraphs on what they liked and didn't like, but ultimately, they don't want this story. Often this type of rejection includes a statement like, "Please keep me in mind for any future projects." Make a note of that. If this story doesn't pan out and your WIP gets to querying stage, I highly recommend starting your new query letter to these agents with: "In (month and year), you were kind enough to read the full manuscript for (insert title)."
A rejection like this warrants a little agonizing. You need to look over their feedback carefully. Let it sit for a day or two until the sting is gone, then read it again. What resonates? What could make the story better? This may be the time to dive into some big revisions. But if the feedback doesn't resonate at all, or contradicts what other agents have said they liked, it may be yet another occasion to move on.
REVISE AND RESUBMIT
There's nothing relaxing about this type of R&R. This often looks a lot like the Detailed Rejection, but it's actually a hefty step above. It generally includes the same types of feedback, but includes a clear statement from the agent that if you're willing to revise, they'd be happy to look at it again.
Agonize. By all means, agonize.
Again, make sure the feedback resonates on some level. Come up with a game plan for addressing the agent's "problem areas." Take your time (but not forever) working through your manuscript. Run it through your most trusted critique partner(s) again. Polish the now-rough edges where things got cut and scraped.
Send the new version. Then stop agonizing. Send a query, write on the WIP, do something.
And finally ...
CAN WE TALK?
I've experienced all of the above levels thus far, except this one. This is where the agent wants to talk to you in real-time, usually meaning on the phone. It may or may not end in an offer of representation. Depends on how you and the agent click, how they feel about other projects you have (old or ideas for new ones), if you both have the same vision for a working relationship and your career, etc.
If/when I get to that point, this thread (and the links within it) will be my guide, definitely.
And as I wait for that phone to ring, nothing will stop me from agonizing. I'll keep some chocolate handy.
Did I miss any? Do you have any advice on handling the various levels of response?