Letters From The Query Trenches: January 2020

I sent my first query on January 6, 2020, and today is February 3, which means I’ve somehow survived these literary trenches for about a month. I think that was the longest month I’ve ever lived.

Of all the questions rattling around my brain for the past several weeks, the primary one has been, “Are the responses I’m receiving about what I should expect?”

If you’re querying, too – or you plan to do so in the near future – you probably have similar questions.

Given the variability of querying experiences, depending on market, genre, and good old-fashioned luck, it’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen during your first month in the trenches.

But I hope today’s long-overdue blog about my first month can help put you at ease.

So What Were January’s Stats?

In January, I submitted a grand total of 22 queries for my YA fantasy, THE FIRE BREATHES. My target number is between 10 & 15 queries at any given time, so those weren’t all sent at once.

Of those 22 queries, I received:

  • 5 form rejections
  • One closed/no response within the listed time frame
  • 1 partial request
  • 14 still unknown in the ether

If you’ve read that a decent request rate is 10-20%, those bloggers were not kidding.

The overwhelming majority of queries I’ve sent still haven’t received a response. Many agents’ windows of reply time are as long as 2-3 months, and given the volume of queries they receive, many don’t formally reject submitted work and will instead not respond.

The most major events of January varied between exciting and disappointing, often regarding the same event.

My First Partial Request

Receiving my first partial request – within days of querying one of my favorite agents, no less – was ecstatic. I ran around screaming and then fired off a reply almost immediately, certain that my big break was at hand.

Surprising no one, it was not.

After two weeks of radio silence, I received a form rejection on the partial, but with an added caveat: “I loved the premise.” I tucked the caveat into my pocket for the next time I needed encouragement. I washed my face, went out for sushi, and dove into reading a new book.

I didn’t quit. I think that’s what matters the most.

Twitter Pitch Events

I participated in #IWSGPit and #SFFPit on Twitter. If you’re unfamiliar with Twitter pitch events, you have to pitch your completed work in a single tweet, and if an agent favorites your pitch, they want you to query them!

I received 3 likes in #IWSGPit and 1 in #SFFPit, all of which were wildly validating of my concept. But these are the query trenches – not the query stroll in the sunshine.

I received a form rejection on one of the #IWSGPit queries. The #SFFPit query was form rejected in less than 24 hours, but again, with that hopeful, personalized addition: She liked the premise.

I wrote something marketable, I keep telling myself, trying to burn those words into my brain instead of the repetitious form letters. Not right for our list at this time. Will have to pass. Not interested…

One of the other #IWSGPit agents has had my first 3 chapters for several weeks now. It’s an agent that always replies (protect these agents AT ALL COSTS!), so within a month, I should know if it’s a further request or a rejection.

The only other #IWSGPit like was from the same agency as the agent who hasn’t replied yet. If the first agent passes, the query will move to the second.

Unexpected Encouragements

January also had its fair share of amazing moments.

First, my cashier at Barnes & Noble turned out to be 2020 debut author K.L. Walther, whose dual-POV contemporary romance IF WE WERE US drops in June.

For once, my willingness to talk about publishing with anyone who will listen, including my cashier, proved to be a good thing, as I made my first local writing friend, which was pretty awesome, especially given her querying insight from having survived this before.

Second, the inimitable Shannon Doleski, whose upper-MG novel MARY UNDERWATER also drops this year, followed me back on Twitter. When I asked for querying advice, she spontaneously offered to read my query letter & first 5 pages. Her feedback was largely positive, deeply encouraging, and desperately needed after the slew of form rejections. Thank you, Shannon!

Third and finally, a new Twitter friend of mine – a teenager herself, who both reads and writes YA – dove into my current manuscript of THE FIRE BREATHES. She proceeded to text me live updates while reading, including that she’d purchased a dragon plushie and named it after Kasai, my protagonist.

Did I cry? YES. OF COURSE I DID. Morgan is an angel who should be protected at all costs.

So What Are The Trenches Like?

This was the longest January I’ve ever endured.

One month of querying is compulsively checking your email, even though you already have notifications activated.

One month of querying is staring at the YA fantasy shelves in B&N, fighting the urge to cry, because you want to see your novel there so badly that it hurts.

One month of querying is like dating, if 85% of the dates ghosted you and the remaining 15% sent you a canned text that said, “You’re not right for my relationship interests at this time.”

One month of querying feels like being a human piñata.

One month of querying is texting the group chat, “Is this normal?” every few hours , while your querying friend slowly breaks altogether and begins assigning different genres of literature to different types of cake. (Yes, that actually happened.)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this January, it’s that I want this more than I’m afraid of it.

There simply isn’t a rejection I could receive that would convince me to abandon the trenches. There isn’t a wait so long that I’ll just close my email and never look again. This story is real to me, and more than anything, I want to share it.

Have I given myself pep talks in the shower? Yes. Have I compulsively purchased pretzels at Wawa to cope with my self-doubt? Yes. Does it feel like I’m running full-force into a wall? YES.

But I’m still here. I’m still trying. I outlined a sequel. And I’m not going anywhere. February, come get me.

So what can you expect after one month of querying? You can expect to learn that rejection hurts, but you’re made of something stronger. Don’t quit. Don’t quit. Don’t quit.

We have stories to tell.

Addendum: I’m doing my first dual giveaway on Twitter right now! Follow me there and retweet this tweet for a chance to win either WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power or SLAY by Brittney M. Morris. One is a gripping, original dose of dystopian F/F rife with truly disturbing body horror; the other is the female-led gaming novel of my dreams, with a heavy dose of vital #ownvoices social commentary on what it’s like to be Black in America (and in fandom spaces.)