The life of a querying writer is–if I’m totally honest–one of the hardest part of my writer life to date. Part of that comes from the inevitable roller-coaster ride that is querying. A writer friend compared querying to going through the stages of grief–and while it does have its fair share of rage and denial, it’s not all downhill. (See what I did there?)
Actually (and please don’t stone me), there’s a lot to querying that I like. I like the sense of anticipation, that clean-slate moment where anything is possible. It’s a lot like dating, actually. Though I’m happily married and I don’t *want* to be single again, there is a little part of me that will always be sad that I don’t get to experience the magical anticipation before a first date. And while I’m happily agented now, I have to admit that I do miss (a very little!) that same sense of anticipation before sending out query letters.
If you’re just getting started on the query roller-coaster, here’s what the trajectory looks like:
1. Researching agents
I started researching agents long before I was done revising my manuscript. I keep my query-related stuff in an excel file, so anytime I saw a new agent alert on Writer’s Digest that looked promising or a great agent interview on Literary Rambles, I’d make a note of the agent and a link to their submission guidelines. Query Tracker.com, Agentquery.com, searching #mswl (Manuscript wish list) on twitter or the blog compiled by Jessica Sinsheimer at http://manuscriptwishlist.com/ are all good places to look for agents who might rep the genre you write.
2. Writing the query letter (and synopsis)
Let it be said–I do not love writing query letters. Condensing a 100k novel into 100 words or so is incredibly painful, for nearly anyone. Luckily, there are some great resources online to help with this, including these:
Shallee McArthur’s helpful 4 Cs of Query Letters
Susan Dennard’s tips on writing great queries
Susan Dennard’s tips on writing a synopsis (hands-down the best synopsis tips I’ve seen. It made writing a synopsis not exactly pleasurable, but do-able)
Also, query letters are things that should not be attempted alone–get feedback on it before you hit send! Once I had a decent query letter, I sent it to some trusted CPs who tore it apart. I rewrote it multiple times before I hit on a version I liked.
3. Hit send
For many querying writers, this is one of the hardest parts. We stare at our computer screen. We scrutinize the font (it can be helpful to send a sample email to yourself before sending it to an agent!), we check for mistakes. We take a deep breath, hit send . . . and then see the typo we missed. Try not to freak out about this too much–it happens to the best of us.
I don’t think I realized quite how much hope feels like terror until I started querying. After hitting send, there’s this glorious space where anything is possible. Sometimes that hope lasted all of an hour, in the case of notoriously quick agent responses (Query Tracker can give you some idea of general response times). Other times, it might last months, especially if you have a partial or full manuscript out.
5. Obsessively checking my email and/or twitter
This was my second time querying, so I was smarter and wiser and set up a separate gmail account for writing-related stuff. That way, I didn’t freak out every I got a new advertisement in my regular account.
I still spent a lot of time looking like this:
I actually made checking my email a reward to keep from refreshing all the time–i.e., if I finished a round of grading I could check. After I fed my kids dinner, I could check. It kept the need to constantly refresh from taking over my life.
And then there’s social media. Twitter makes it easy to follow a majority of agents–and it can be hard to resist the temptation to read into every tweet an agent sends. “She says she wants cake! Maybe she just read that scene in my MS where they *eat* cake.” This kind of thinking can make you crazy pretty fast. Try not to do it (I well know it’s easier said than done!) And don’t read anything into agents following you on twitter either. Sometimes it means something (i.e., an offer is pending). Sometimes it doesn’t. Trying to guess the difference won’t do anything but make you more anxious.
For all that we spend hours as writers imagining how our characters will react to things, I think we (or maybe it’s just me) do a pretty poor job imagining how we’ll react to something as high-stakes and stressful as querying. For most writers, even successful ones whose querying lands an agent, we go through lots of rejections. Some I was able to shrug off (basic forms), but every single full-rejection I got hurt. A lot. Though ironically, the most painful rejection was off a partial from an agent I really admired that I queried really early in the process.
I think it’s important to remember that there’s no right way to react–let yourself feel disappointed, sad, angry, whatever. One writer friend wrote some lovely rejection haiku to assuage her feelings–if this helps, do it! Just don’t actually *send* it:
Sending me a poem criticising me in response to a rejection isn’t the best way to attract an agent #querytip
— David H Headley (@DavidHHeadley) February 11, 2013
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js And then, of course, there’s the bounding-off-the-walls celebratory high from a request–especially a full request from an agent you’ve dreamed of working with. I found, though, that the highs didn’t last long, and weren’t enough to sustain me over the long haul.
Make sure you have a good support network in place–writer friends, family–people who love you and support your writing. Query fatigue is a real thing. It’s easy to get tired and downright despairing, and you’ll need people to help lift you.
Remember, too, that rejections don’t mean that you are worthless or your writing terrible (though it can often feel like that). Usually they just mean, “not this agent, not right now.” Think of how you feel when you enter a book store and can only afford to buy one or two books–there might be lots of books that were interesting, some that frankly weren’t your type, but only one or two that really tugged at your heart. Agents can’t represent everything–that doesn’t mean its personal.
7. Shake it off–and move on (aka, rinse, lather, repeat)
Some writers, myself included, adopted a strategy of “revenge querying”–that is, for every rejection you get, send out another query. Or two. Grieve if you need to, but keep moving forward. Do more research, get new eyes on your query letter and pages if you’re getting lots of rejections, revise, and hit send again. Then breathe. Let yourself hope some more.
8. Write something new
Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do when I was obsessing over my book baby and agent responses (or non-responses) was to write more. But brainstorming a shiny new idea–even writing a few pages in a new WIP–are great ways to combat querying fatigue.
And there’s nothing like a shiny new idea to remind you why you started writing in the first place. I’m currently on submission, and writing not only helps distract me, but it keeps me from putting all my eggs in one basket. I will write other good things–I’m already starting to.
9. Hitting “the End”
For a querying writer, querying ends one of two ways. Either you get THE CALL, or you decide to shelve the book.
The first, of course, is exciting and what every author hopes for at the end of their round of queries.
But the other is okay too. Some books aren’t quite ready. Sometimes the market isn’t ready. I got an agent on my second round of queries (third if you count the cold query I sent to Tor when I was 20); I have a writer friend who got an agent on her 10th book. But I’m still glad I queried that first book. I learned a lot about the query process and about agents I admired (and agents who weren’t for me). I learned more about revising and my own writing strengths and weaknesses from the feedback I got from agents.
More importantly, I learned that setting a book aside wasn’t the end of the world. It’s not a failure unless you let it become one. For me, it’s just one more milestone on the road.
And besides, everyone needs a good query rejection story. It’s part of being a writer.
If you’ve queried before, what was querying like for you? If you’re about to query, what questions do you have?
Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.
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