Last month I started the “query process” for the book I completed in January. “Querying” is when writers try to interest a literary agent to represent them when their manuscript is submitted to publishers. On the surface it’s quite simple: the author composes a one page cover letter that pitches the book and depending on the desired agent’s submission guidelines a number of sample pages and / or a synopsis may be necessary. This package is the “query” and it is usually emailed.
(“Gosh, I sure hope nothing happens to this package containing all my hopes, dreams, and fragments of sanity.”)
I’ve wanted to make a post about this for weeks, but I held off, partly because it’s a gut-wrenching experience and mostly because I knew that agents would find this blog after receiving my query and doing a search for my name; I didn’t want them to come here to see what I was up to and find out I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for their reply. In short, I didn’t want them seeing the cards I was holding.
But I’ve been submitting for over a month now, leaving me a fair amount of time to not only experience the process but reflect on it as well. My conclusion so far?
It sucks. Really. That’s the simplest way I can sum it up for writers who both have and have not queried as well as outsiders who will never go through this awful process.
(“Well, that’s not good.”)
I’ve been writing for almost a decade as of today’s post, and this is not the first manuscript I’ve submitted to agents for consideration. This isn’t my first rodeo. Going in I knew to brace myself for the inevitable rejections that would follow. This is because trying to get paid for a novel is less like applying for a job where you send out a storm of resumes to any and every employer hoping that the stars will align and you will get something (ANYTHING!) and more like a complex version of putting on the sorting hat from Harry Potter.
Except instead of being slotted into one of four choices by a third party that reads your mind, you have literally HUNDREDS of candidates with specific tastes that you yourself have to try and guesstimate after piecing together their profile on their website, their twitter, and interviews they’ve done on blogs. And the onus is completely on the writer to figure it out!
(“Not a pretentious hipster. NOT a pretentious hipster. PLEASE.”)
What makes it more frustrating is that, across the board, agents are the definition of the word “cagey” towards submitting writers. If they’re not interested in your project, they (or their assistant) will send you and the hundred other hopefuls a form rejection letter, leaving no clues as to what the problem is. There are two reasons this exists: to save time and also because, again, you’re not applying for a job; you’re seeking a partner who will not only sell the book but help grow the author’s career.
Furthermore it is not an agent’s job to teach you how to write. When a writer queries an agent, they expect them to have not only a polished manuscript under wraps but also massive writing experience and expertise. But more often than not, this isn’t the case, and many rookie writers submit to agents, hoping for pointers at best and mentorship at worst. This is not an agent’s job. Both before and after the book has been sold to a publisher the responsibility for an excellent novel ALWAYS falls on the author.
(“Be sure to sign AND initial the clause stating how you’ll do 95% of the work and we’ll get the majority of your royalties. We’re now required by law to mention that.”)
However, I’ve been lucky so far. I sent out 20 queries in February, spreading them out over the month, and even though I haven’t gotten any offers, I have gotten feedback. The type of feedback that communicates that not only have they read my materials with interest but the kind where I can tell that they’re passing not because of a lack of quality but because of a specific reason like the style of writing didn’t hook them or the story didn’t click with them personally.
Fine. But it still sucks. Even though I know, intellectually, that every single book in the bookstore belongs to an author who had to weather this sorting process, the polite “thanks but no thanks” still stings. In fact, just one of these emails will cause me to be preoccupied the whole day with thoughts of doom and gloom. Recently, I got two rejections in one day. Ouch.
(“NBD, guys! My balance always give out when a stranger tosses my work in the shredder. Don’t mind me!”)
I’ll end this post on a positive note. My editor, who’s very optimistic and excited about our completed work, gave me two great pieces of advice to prevent me from having a total breakdown over this harrowing process. First, he told me that this can be a long slog. Specifically that if I was to sign with an agent in August (aka 6 months) that would be considered FAST. So I should embrace that fact and, quote, “Take the action and let go of the result.”
To build on that, he added, “If it’s meant to happen, it will.” And while that might sound like a bunch of hippy-dippy mumbo-jumbo, I think there’s a deeper meaning behind it: never get too attached to an outcome. Pass or fail, you have to accept reality, and work with it to achieve your goals and find a solution to the situation.
Yeah. But rejection still sucks though.
That’s all for today. If you liked this post be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email and if you have any thoughts or experiences with this process feel free to share with a COMMENT below.
See you next time,
J. F. Seegitz
P.S. I know that my posting schedule has been infrequent, but rest assured, the blog is still alive. Just been busy. Thanks for the understanding.