Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Magic Number Theory

This theory, which I first wrote about in October 2009, is for writers who are submitting, either to agents or small presses. I stole this from someone and can no longer remember who, but if someone wants to take credit, I'll gladly give it. Any if someone else can state it better, that would be good, too. This is a little long winded.

First, I'm assuming your project is as good as you can make it. It's as good or better than what's on the market and it's ready to be published. You're sending out queries and collecting rejections and wondering if you'll EVER reach your goal.

As a querying writer you have your own, individual magic number. You don't know what it is, but it is written in stone somewhere. It's the number of queries you must send out before you land that elusive agent, the one who "falls in love" with your work and then manages to get it sold for you, or the publisher who eagerly accepts you into the fold. (An agent who can't sell your work, necessitating getting another agent, is a pre-agent, and doesn't count. Only your "real" agent, the one who sells for you.) When you send out the query with the magic number on it, you're set, done, reached your goal. (Until you go on to the rest of the stuff, which is just as hard, only different.)

The beauty of this theory is that you can regard each rejection as a step closer to your magic number. Another rejection? Okay, the magic number wasn't 17. A few more? Okay, it wasn't 28, or 52, or 77, or maybe not even 110. Each rejection is PROGRESS. You're getting closer to your magic number. If your number is 455, your 456th query will be The One that gets you published.

You may lose patience and try another route, self-publishing. Keep in mind that it may help to get the big agent and the big publishing house if you publish something with a good small press. That’s what worked for me.

Another writer, Lina Zeldovich, has a similar theory she calls Stairway to Heaven. Every rejection letter builds her stairway and gets her closer.

Either way, don't view rejection letters as marks of failure, but rather as marks of success.

I hung on for 10 years getting closer to my magic number. It turned out to be 468.


  1. My favorite post-rejection mood enhancer (other than dark chocolate) is to remind myself that James Lee Burke's The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times before publication. Then it won the Pulitzer.

    Carol Baier

  2. There are, lucky for us, occasional statistics that pop up about wildly popular books and how many times they were rejected. I got about 100 per book until my 4th one got accepted for publication. The total number sounds worse though, so I like to use that.

  3. Now, if we only knew what that number was! Thanks for the smile!

  4. Ah, but that would take out all the suspense.

  5. Thank you for sharing your magic number with us! I've seen so many posts lately from their authors sharing their journeys, stories that have basically amounted to "I just thought I'd write this thing and then I got an agent within a month." Which usually makes me go "That's just. So. Awesome. Excuse me, I need to go write some murder now."

    I'd love to see more posts like yours from people who fought to get where they are, writers whose magic numbers have required holding onto hope through a nice pile of rejections. That's a thousand times more inspiring.