After completing my latest novel this past summer and being lucky enough to get chosen as an alternate for PitchWars, I am finally ready to descend into query hell. For those of you unfamiliar with the publishing industry, querying is the process by which a writer boils down their full length novel into a three- or four-paragraph summary designed to make a literary agent do something along the lines of this:
As you might be picking up on at this point, querying is not the most enjoyable aspect of getting a book traditionally published. First of all, writing a query letter itself is extremely difficult–some writers feel it’s quite possibly more difficult than writing the book itself. Secondly, there’s a lot of waiting involved. Literary agents receive anywhere from tens to hundreds of queries per day, meaning it can take them weeks to even read your query, let alone respond to it. And finally, there is a ton of rejection involved. “No” is a word you have to get used to, because you’ll be hearing it a lot.
As I begin this grueling process for the third time, I thought I’d put together a list of ways to keep sane while mired in the query trenches!
Don’t take it personally. You will be rejected. Not just once. Probably more than twice. Actually, just face it–most of the responses to your query will be rejections. And that’s okay. The publishing industry is a deeply subjective business and what doesn’t work for one agent might work for another. Accept the rejections and move on–they don’t reflect on you as a human being, or even a writer.
Do your homework. Want to minimize that flood of rejection? Then do your due diligence. (Doo-doo, hur hur). Every agent represents a different genre and is looking for something specific in their inbox. In other words, don’t send your middle-grade superhero graphic novel-in-verse to an agent who only represents hardboiled detective novels. It’s not hard to find out what an agent is looking for–look up their Publisher’s Marketplace profile, find their interviews or blog posts, or simply follow them on Twitter.
Focus on the close calls. Not all rejections are created equal. A form rejection doesn’t do much in the way of helping you improve or revise your query and sample materials, but sometimes an agent will go out of their way to give you some feedback in a personalized rejection. This means you’re doing something right–the agent cared enough to let you know why they’re passing on your project. Take their advice and make your query letter and pages stronger, and you’ll be that much closer to getting a “yes” somewhere down the line.
Read a good book. Well, this is general advice for life, but it applies here too. Sometimes the best thing to do is take a break from your computer and stop staring at your empty inbox. Pick up that book all your friends have been raving about and bury your nose in it. It will take your mind off your query letters winging through the void. Plus, reading makes you a better writer!
Start a new project. I know you want to lie in bed all day in your pajamas. Trust me, I do too. But the only thing that will prevent you from really diving off the deep-end into Howard Hughes-level psychosis and paranoia is doing what got you into this mess in the first place: writing! Open your notebook to a blank page and let that ink flow. Kindling that visceral flame of creativity is the best way to avoid obsessing over things you can’t control and to keep moving forward. There will be another book, and, eventually, another query letter. After all, you’re a writer, aren’t you?
And finally, don’t give up! The only way to fail in your dreams is to abandon them. If you keep working and writing and putting yourself out there, someone someday will want to represent your work!
How do you survive the query trenches? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!