Query Hell, Part 2: Doubt

Before you go looking for it, there is no part one. I’m just a huge liar.

First of all, I feel bad that I’m using this blog for two purposes. I try to make each reading response for my senior seminar class as accessible as possible, but unless you’ve read what I’m responding to, it’s just going to be a lot of noise. However, you get to see me as a student, so that’s cool, right? (Insert sound of crickets, pins dropping, etc.)

Anyway, so I’ve been querying again, and when I say that, I really mean that I’ve rewritten my query letter obsessively and have reached out to less than a dozen agents. (Self-doubt, you old, evil bastard.) I signed up for a webinar on writing query letters, which is telling because I regard most webinars as scams. The damn thing cost $89 and, because I’m an overworked college student (see previous entries), I slept through it.

Yeah. That’s a thing that actually happened.

Not all is lost; the webinar is on-demand for anyone who paid for it, and payment entitles you to a written critique of your query by an actual agent. I mean, I guess that’s worth $89, but I’m also broke and wracked with unshakable doubt–not about my novel but about my query letter and querying in general. Who thought it was a good idea to use a glorified elevator speech as a way to get a literary agent? It’s like, I dunno… literary hazing.

(Realistically, I totally understand why it’s done this way, but I’m insolent right now.)

The twisted beauty of the situation is that I’m now so distracted that I don’t have time to torture myself about querying. For instance, it took eleven days for any agent from my last batch of queries to even get back to me. I hadn’t realized it had been that long because I had been so busy. (I did, however, realize it was a rejection, but I was too exhausted to dissect the letter a thirtieth time.) It’s lovely not to check email obsessively, waiting for those responses, but at the same time, my classes are already picking up and it’s week three. At this rate, querying will be an even slower process.

So, tl;dr version is that query letters scare me and I nap at inappropriate times.

For any of you writers out there, how have your query letters evolved over time? Do you find it ever gets easier?

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The Fear

This really has nothing to do with the querying process or any of that. In fact, I just got another full request a few days ago, so I’m feeling pretty good on that front. This fear has more to do with my abilities as a writer, and that’s not something I doubt often.

Well, I guess I should rephrase that. I know that I’m a good writer when I have something to write about, and there’s the rub–I feel like I don’t have anything to write about right now. My last book just kind of sprang to life after many years of trying and failing to write stories that I thought had direction but ended up dying three or four pages in (if that). Under the Surface took hold of me and, after about 15 pages in, demanded to be told. It was that magical moment all writers talk about, when the story takes on a life of its own and you just have to let it happen. I loved it, but part of me is afraid it’ll never happen again.

While I’m waiting for replies from queries and submissions, I want to start a new project, partially because I want to distract myself from the waiting and partially because, if I do land an agent, I want him or her to know that I’m serious about having a career. I’ve started two novels, both of which I have vague ideas for, but they don’t seem substantial enough to warrant a full book. Great concepts, but not enough potential for follow through. I’m panicking.

How do you deal with that? I’ve been trying to work on the one novel in particular, and I love the main character’s voice and the situation he’s in, but I have no idea how to bridge the gap between where he is now and where I want him to be. It’s really, really hard, and it’s something I struggled with at the beginning of Under the Surface. I’m having trouble getting over the hump, and that’s scary.

I guess the main thing is to keep writing because you can’t fix or edit something that doesn’t exist. If I at least have something on paper, that means I’m working and trying to break through the obstacles, and if what I write doesn’t work, I can re-write after I have a better idea of what the story is. Man, I wish I were one of those writers who could effectively outline. I feel like my life would be easier if I were.

But what’s life without a challenge, right? Right?! Sigh.