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 Full Rejection

As much as you convince yourself you are okay with rejection–actually expecting rejection–it still hurts when it comes.

I’ve had a full out with a dream agent for a month now. I have steeled myself for the worst, but, as is human nature, I fantasized about that agent requesting The Call. At the very least, I thought I would get some feedback so I could gain insight into how to improve.

And then, this morning, I got the email. Great premise, not enthusiastic enough, please think of us next time. Of course I’m grateful that I got the request in the first place and that someone took the time to read my manuscript, but I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t hurt like hell. You never realize how high you’ve gotten your hopes up until it all comes crashing down.

I’m trying to keep it in perspective. I still have two fulls out right now, one with another dream agent. All it takes is one yes, and I know that. All of my requests have come from having sample pages with my query, which definitely gives me confidence about the writing, but I’m still worried that it will all fall through. I can rationalize all of this pretty well, but it’s pretty much impossible to be emotionally unattached to your work, you know? I want it to succeed. A rejection to a full request is not the end of the world, but it still sucks. I can rationalize that, too.

My hope for the other two fulls out is that I’ll receive feedback, although if it’s just not a right fit, what else can they say? Of course, my overarching hope is that I’ll be scheduling a call to talk to an agent and will take that next step, but that’s everyone’s hope. That’s the dream.

I won’t stop dreaming.

Keep on Keepin’ On

I’ve been MIA mostly because there hasn’t been much to report. I have three full manuscripts out with agents and have received quite a few query rejections. The fulls are thrilling, addicting occasions. The rejections? Usually I can handle them, but when a whole slew of them comes one after another, I find myself depressed. I know I shouldn’t; this is my first book, and I’m 22. I have a whole career ahead of me, so I shouldn’t sweat this first learning experience. However, this book means so much to me, and I want to give it a chance to be heard.

I revamped my query letter based on some sample ones I’ve found. I’m a huge fan of querytracker.net, which has been an indispensable tool during this crazy process. They have success stories posted. Someone sends the same interview questions to anyone on QT who has signed with an agent, and one of the questions is if the user would be comfortable sharing their query letter. Most do. I realized that mine was a little off the mark–I had more information about the market of the book and its themes rather than a back-of-the-cover blurb like most other letters I saw. Interestingly enough, though, my original query has generated more positive responses than this new one. Such a confusing game.

I’ve been trying to query in batches, waiting to see how my query letter is doing now that I’ve made some changes to it, but it’s so hard to keep any semblance of patience. I’d really love to hold off querying until I have at least one response on a full, but we’re entering into the holiday season, which means that soon enough I won’t be able to query. To keep my mind off of the endless conundrums, I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, which I’ve never done before because I’ve never really had an idea worth fleshing out. I’m happy to say that I’ve already got a bit over 3,000 words on paper, and I don’t hate them. Success! It would be delightful to have a second project to labor over, but sticking with things hasn’t always been my forte. I’m working on it.

Luckily, I’m the master of distraction, so when I’m not writing, I’m binge-watching American Horror Story or playing vintage video games on an emulator I downloaded last week. (Pokemon Blue, anyone?) The waiting has definitely gotten easier, but I still jump every time my phone chimes with a new email. Still, it’s progress.

Baby’s First Rejection

This morning I awoke to my first rejection, and you know what? It felt great. It’s hard to navigate through this process when most agencies adopt a “no reply means no” policy. That open-ended crap just serves to torment the writer. Did they get the query? Did they even read it? Should I send it again? Am I so terrible that they won’t even bother to respond?

I understand that it’s sometimes necessary for the agencies to conserve their resources and only reach out to potential clients whose projects sounds like a good fit, but it’s definitely not easy for the writer. I haven’t been waiting long on my queries, but I can imagine how I’ll feel in a month or two when the only emails I’ve gotten are automated confirmations of “yes, we got your query.” Being in the dark is difficult, especially when it’s something so personal and important to you.

I use QueryTracker to stay on top of the queries I’ve made (only seven thus far), and I find myself more drawn to agencies whose response times are quick, even if they reject almost all of the submissions. I’d rather be rejected and know it than sit and twiddle my thumbs for a few months. My impatience will be the death of me–I’m sure of it.

In other news, I’m hoping to start with a freelance editor sometime in the near future, so I will try to hold off querying until I’ve addressed editing the manuscript. That’s probably what I should have done in the first place, but OH WELL. Live and learn and then get Loves, right? (No one will get that reference because my brain is a circus.)

For the rest of the day I suppose I’ll organize potential agents into categories so it’s easier to make queries down the line. I am the least organized person, but when it comes to this, I just want to feel like I constantly have forward motion. I don’t want to waste time and get behind, or worse, become unmotivated. I assign myself busy work so I stay in check. Then I reward myself by playing Skyrim. Hey, it’s a good system, okay?

So, moral of the tangential story? Rejections are good because they mean you can cross one more dead end off of your list. Live to love that silver lining, baby.

Crazy About Queries

The title is misleading. I don’t think anyone is crazy about queries. I think, to some extent, they literally drive me crazy, but I don’t enjoy them…

…yet there’s this certain rush associated with submitting one. I know, that truly is insane, but think about it: you’ve slaved away on a manuscript, and then you reach out to a person who has the power to turn that manuscript into a book. A real book, with a dust jacket and an author blurb. It’s intoxicating. Even though there’s a good chance the agent isn’t going to give a shit about what you’re writing, there’s also that very alluring chance they will. Hold onto that.

That being said, though, it’s a really foreign idea to me to metaphorically knock on someone’s door and be like, “Hey, I’m awesome. Here’s why I’m awesome. This is my awesome book. You should represent my awesomeness.”

Who does that? Yet you’re supposed to market yourself in a way that is both honest and intriguing, both humble and self-important. For someone who doesn’t know anything about the business and is intimidated by its nuances, this can be a difficult balance to strike. I try to read every agent’s blurb on their agency’s website to get a sense of their personality, and then gauge my pitch accordingly. I mean, I’m not going to write to a very by-the-books person and say, “Hello, sir. I’ve been drooling over your client list for the past fifteen minutes, and I want to be a part of it.”

I will, however, say something conversational if the agent seems like a person who would be receptive to that. The way I figure it, these people see dozens and dozens, sometimes hundreds, of query letters every day. If you don’t do at least something to establish yourself as an individual among the slush, you’re way more likely to slip through those very large cracks right into the reject pile.

Of course, I’ve only heard back on one query, so I’m hardly the person to give any type of advice. So… take it with a grain of salt, preferably around the rim of a delicious margarita.

Anyone out there have any query advice that has worked for them?