When I was in the query trenches, I’d done a lot of research. I was familiar with the dos and don’ts of writing a query letter, how the process works, and many best querying practices. But I still wasn’t prepared for every aspect of the process. There are some elements of querying that are impossible to know without having experienced it . . . unless, of course, someone who’s done it already shares their experiences. So, I thought it might be helpful to share what I wish I’d known before I started querying, and perhaps it will be helpful to those of you who are about to query for the first time.
- Write something else
This is advice that I see a lot, but I’m going to repeat it because I think it’s important: if you possibly can, try to focus on writing something else. If you have something else to devote your attention to, you’ll spend less time obsessing over possible rejections. Plus, there’s a very real possibility that you could be querying for years, and that time could be best utilized writing your next book.
In hindsight, I realize that I wasted a lot of valuable writing time in those early years. It’s easy to forget that the work doesn’t end once you get an agent—you’ll be revising the manuscript for submission and then, once you have books under contract, you’ll have to focus on revising those books, not to mention promoting them…. In other words, there’s very little time for writing the next project. If I’d known how long querying would take and how little time I’d have for writing in the future, I would’ve dedicated much more time to writing new books back when I was querying.
- Don’t obsess
Similarly, it’s important not to get too obsessed with the querying process. It’s very, very easy to spend countless hours researching agents and tweaking your query and checking QueryTracker and pulling up a calendar to see exactly how soon you can nudge an agent… While I’m a big advocate of research, I know firsthand how easy it is to spend too much time obsessing over the process and not enough time doing things that are actually productive (such as writing your next book, as I said above).
Also, obsessing over querying just makes the process that much harder. Querying is difficult enough without adding unneeded stress. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Follow guidelines, be professional, and relax.
- Appreciate the good moments
Believe it or not, querying isn’t all bad—and neither are rejections. It’s easy to see an agent’s rejection as nothing but a failure, but it doesn’t have to be. Did an agent write you a personalized rejection? Did they ask to see more of your work? Did they request a partial or full? If any of those things happen, that’s a huge accomplishment by itself, regardless of whether or not that agent ultimately passes on the manuscript.
My very first rejection on a full came from a well-established agent who noted that the book wasn’t right for her, but who offered to look at more of my work in the future. At the time, I was so devastated by the rejection that I didn’t think about how much progress I’d made. A fantastic agent read my manuscript! And wanted to read more of my work! Now that I know how rare it is to receive that kind of feedback, I realize that I shouldn’t have been so devastated by the rejection and taken the time to appreciate how far I’d come.
- Don’t get discouraged
Similarly, it’s important to realize that not every book is right for every agent all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your work isn’t good. Not only that, but there will undoubtedly be some agents who don’t like your work, and that’s okay! Just because one agent—or multiple agents—doesn’t like it doesn’t mean that the book will never find an agent or never sell.
I remember one rejection where an agent gave me some feedback—which, again, is a rare enough occasion that I should have been thrilled—on one element of the book that didn’t work for her. And she wasn’t wrong—it was a weaker element of my book. But I took this comment too seriously—I became convinced that every single agent was going to hate it too, and I might as well just give up querying right then.
Of course, I’m now very glad I didn’t stop querying, because that same book was the one that got me my agent and a book deal. The element the agent had disliked did need some revision, but that was something that could be fixed. If I’d let myself become too discouraged and given up on the book completely after that rejection, I might not have an agent today.
Are you about to start querying, or have you queried before? What was your experience like? What did you wish you knew? Let me know in the comments!
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This post is part of my Submission Tips series. For information about submitting to literary agents, publishing houses, and more, check out other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts.