When I completed the latest please-let-this-be-the-final-draft-on-this-side-of-the-process manuscript revision to the best of my ability and with the incredible feedback of my writing group and other fool souls, I drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of cupcakes and administered many high fives. If glitter weren’t so messy, I would have flung it on myself.
Now, it’s time to query agents.
Not everyone needs or wants an agent. Some people decide to go the self-publishing route, others the independent publishing route. This post is not about that, and I’m definitely a “more power to you” kind of gal. For my own reasons*, I’ve chosen to throw my hat in the ring of traditional publishing.
There are a lot of lovely people in my life who don’t understand what querying means. And why would they? It’s an esoteric term. If they want books, they either go to the library, a bookstore or buy them online. They want to read it now! God bless ’em. I appreciate their enthusiasm. But there are others who ask: What does that mean?
Querying: An Exhausting, but Not Exhaustive Overview
When you begin to query agents, you can control these things:
- The quality of your query letter
- The quality of your manuscript
- The quality of your agent research
- The number of agents you contact at one time and overall
Hahahaha. Who am I kidding? You can’t really know if you’ve met the quality standards of the first three items. And if you can, feel free to step out of this conversation because it’s strictly amateur hour over here. It’s one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” scenarios. Once you’re out in the query quagmire, you’ll learn. Here’s what I learned my first time querying: I don’t know shit about shit. And this was after several classes in fiction, armfuls of reputable writing guides and shelves of fiction that had received praise for their structure, voice, dialogue, tone and character arc. All you can do is learn from the process, revise and try again when you have a better understanding of what “ready to submit” means.
Ah, how I long for the days when all I had to do was meet a deadline! Whereas everything before the query was about The Writing, now everything after the query is about The Waiting.
It’s kind of like the literary, protracted version of The Voice. You tell your story to Carson Daly: I’ve been working on this novel for years/if this doesn’t work out, I’ll have to go back to working at the chicken plant/my parents will be really disappointed that I wasted all that money on my education if I fail/I don’t have a Plan B. You walk onto stage and hope and pray that a coach will see something fantastic in you and will beg you to please, please pick them.
Scenarios dance in your head: Adam will jump on his chair and talk about how awesome you are by comparing you to him and that means you’re supposed to pick him. If it’s a Christina season, she probably won’t pick you because she only picks the screamers. Gwen will try to buy you off with freebies from her four clothing lines. If it’s an Usher season, he’ll bite his bottom lip and entice you with his leg-up-on-the-chair-I’m-open-to-you-girl stance. Shakira will shake her hips and tell a joke. Pharrell will stand when he speaks and tell you that your prose is melodically intricate. And Blake will say, “Gosh dang it. Those are just about the best words I ever read.”
It’s time. You put yourself out there …
No one turns around. So you consider that maybe your nerves are a bit on edge that day and/or you’re experiencing disruptive digestive problems and you search for the problem … Oh God, did you forget a word, is the tone not quite right, are you accidentally attempting to write something classic but sound like someone competing at a state fair? You resolve that the chairs must be broken.
And Then You Start to Panic
You fidget and snowball into simile abuse because what else are you gonna do?
- Querying is like dodgeball for the less popular kids. Pain is imminent.
- Querying is like a junior high dance where you’re alternately terrified and hopeful that someone will ask you to dance.
- Querying is like being the new kid in school and waiting for someone to say something to you besides, “Move.”
- Querying is like that junior high solo voice competition, where the judges were hidden behind a bedsheet that was hung from the ceiling and they giggled after your last note and one guy asked if you’d just come from a baseball game.**
After all that waiting, you remember what day it is and realize that you’ve only got, what, two months before December 1st? December 1st! The worst day of all, the day that everyone starts to legit zone out for the holidays if they’re not already in a carbohydrate coma from Thanksgiving and the day that all those NANOWRIMO novels are complete.
WHY AREN’T THE CHAIRS TURNING AROUND? JUST TELL ME YOU HATE ME. SAY IT.
You walk off the stage, the chairs still turned away from you, the audience absent, the band long since gone home. At some point, you forget the waiting and remember more important things like eating, bathing, paying the bills.
The Waiting part of querying sucks, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that. But there are some things you can do to make it more palatable and less omnipresent until some chairs turn, whether with good news or because it’s the end of the show. The only way to it is through it. So try on some patience. Eat cupcakes. Drink wine. Write something new — say, another novel in case the first one doesn’t work out?
And be helpful to those people who are still trying to finish their novels by sharing what you’ve learned.
* I want to win.
** What the hell does that even mean?