The route to being a published author definitely isn’t something easy. In 2015, I wrote a NaNoWriMo novel that I hope to someday see on a shelf in a bookstore. The traditional route is to submit queries to literary agents, eventually sign with an agent, have the agent sell your book to a publisher, and get published. Sounds easy, not so easy in practice.
Lots of writers, myself included, will spend years in the query trenches trying to land that agent that’s perfect for our work. For me, this has meant multiple revisions and over 50 rejections. And so after two years, I feel like I have enough experience in the trenches to share some ways I make it through, in no particular order.
This was a fatal mistake I made with my first manuscript, which I queried so badly that I don’t even like to think about it. The shame is real. Make sure you have everything you could possibly need, and make sure it’s the best that you can make it. The biggest mistake you can make is to query something that isn’t ready. Your query letter and manuscript should be the best version you have and should have gotten feedback from a few people. Plus, you should be ready with a bio and a synopsis just in case the agent wants it.
Research Your Agents
With my first novel, I made the horrible mistake of just submitting to agents who said they wanted my genre and leaving it at that. Big mistake. Why? Because sometimes agents say they accept fantasy, then you go on their blog and they state clearly that they HATE portal fantasy, or male POVs, or stories with zombies in them. So you get rejected and feel terrible, but it may be not that your book is bad, but that, that agent doesn’t want to read that sort of story. You’ll never know if you don’t look at multiple sources. Be a major stalker! They won’t know and it’ll help you. Just don’t send them weird messages and stuff… not that much of a stalker.
Double Check Your Shit
Nothing will leave you drowning in sorrow more than realizing you sent your materials off and accidentally sent a draft, or sent the wrong version, or have a bunch of typos, etc. Little things are okay, obviously. I’ve sent off queries with a single glaring typo and still gotten requests. But when you have a ton of typos that add up, things change. So do yourself a favour and double check everything. I like to send my query to myself as a test, check it, then send it for real.
Send Out In Small Batches
I admit that this is where I failed myself. Yes, it’s stated on many websites that you should send out in small batches of 5-10 queries at a time. But where I made the mistake was only waiting to hear back or have the waiting period elapse for about half before I sent more. Send out your small batch, and wait for them all to come back, either rejections or with six weeks having passed with no response which usually means no-go. There is never going to be a rush to send queries out. There’s no deadline so take your time.
Switch Things Up
If cold querying is starting to get you down then switch things up by applying to a mentor program or entering one of the many pitch contests. What I love about doing this is that often these help you get more feedback than you might get with traditional querying. And contests can also give you more of a push to revise. Plus, if you do well then you have the added bonus of feeling like you’re on the right track. I was literally about to give up on my current project when I got feedback from a contest that made me feel that maybe it isn’t as hopeless as I thought.
Find A Support System
Writing and querying can feel very solitary sometimes. It can feel like you’re the only one getting rejections one after the other. Or you may feel like you’re the only one not getting requests. Or you get a request but don’t have anyone to celebrate with. That’s why making writer friends in the community can be so important. Plus these are people you can also swap manuscripts with and help revise. And it’s also nice to chat with other writers who are as passionate as you are. Twitter is great for this, and also Facebook groups, and Agent Query Connect.
Believe in Yourself!
Okay, this is the hardest part of this. But it’s integral. We all have our moments of doubt and sadness but you need to be the one that believes in you. And believing that you can do it, even if it’s not with the project that you’re querying now, is what will push you to keep going. And personally, I’ve always felt that traditional publishing is a game of persistence.
How do you navigate the query trenches? Do you have any tips or tricks you use?