Querying is hard right now. And while I’m over the moon, it wasn’t long ago that I was ready to give up on the idea of ever getting anywhere with my writing. I’ve gone back and read a thread on discord and it’s painfully clear how broken I am about this idea. And I know that when you’ve written five books that have gone nowhere, seeing a “how I got my agent” post that says “Hey, it took me four books so don’t worry you can do it too” feels less reassuring than intended.
So I don’t want to use this space for that, but to try and give something that might be more practical, or at least that recognises that it is a quagmire out there right now.
Sometimes, it’s you:
While querying is a nightmare, it’s still important to check that your work is as good as you can make it. I think I struggled with the idea that it does only take one agent, because the person espousing it the loudest was convinced that this meant they didn’t have to push through dev edits, or commit to swapping manuscripts with CPs, or address the issues that kept coming up time and again. It was all subjective and then next query would be a yes, and if not that one, the next one, and so on. But if you ask any agent, the quality of work is only getting higher, and you need to make sure that you’re not presenting an easy rejection.
Most of the time, it’s really not:
There are fewer agents, fewer editors in imprints. More people writing, and more people writing well. It is hard to stand out. Books that might have got a request three, four years ago, are passed over by agents who might be swamped, burned out, or both. The request rates of the past are no longer such a strong guideline. And yet it can be very hard to accept this on social media, with people announcing their full requests, or surveys showing that most people who got agents have at least a ten if not twenty percent response. But the issue with social media is it presents a biased approach. People don’t post every rejection like they do every full. Surveys aren’t conducted with rigour and control. Many people keep this kind of information off social medial altogether.
All you can do is write the best book you can. Break that book down with critique. Build it back up with revision after revision. And then do it over, and over again.
So what might help?
Have a support group. It really helps not to do this alone. And it really helps to have people who understand you’re in pain, can watch over you, and let you cry on their shoulders, physically or metaphorically. I poured my pain all over a couple of discord groups. I’d have given up entirely if it wasn’t for them, (and even then it was close).
Decide how open you want to be about querying. When I wrote my #pitchwars book, I announced every rejection in my support groups. It felt good to have it acknowledged, like digging into a big bowl of icecream, except the icecream was gifs or pics. With Logan and Pie, I kept the rejections to myself. It was easier this time around to not list them out, see them one by one. Go with what works for you, and don’t be afraid to change it.
Write what you love. You’re going to be reading it again and again, so you might as well make it something you enjoy. When Becca mentioned a particular speech in her email, I immediately went into the manuscript to read it myself, and got caught up in the whole scene. (I’m weak to hurt / comfort moments, even in my own work). With everything being as it is, writing to the market, or trends, or whims of twitter purity demands isn’t necessarily going to give you a book that satisfies you, and isn’t going to necessarily have any more change of getting you an agent or a publisher. So write what you want to write. Write messy. Write diverse. Write to spite. Write for you.
I want to tell you to keep believing, but that wouldn’t have worked for me. So instead, I’ll tell you to seek the joy in your work. I wrote Til Death do us Bard for me, shamelessly. It’s everything I love in a book, and it makes me happy. Grumpy / Sunshine dynamics, necromancy, badass grandmothers, indulgent descriptions of unicorns. I don’t know if any of this this shining through was a factor in what attracted her to the book. But I know it didn’t hurt.