It’s officially 2020, and I’m back to blogging! Today’s topic was entirely unexpected. After cutting over 16,000 words from THE FIRE BREATHES and doing an absurd amount of line edits, I was finally ready to start querying—armed with existential dread, encouraging critique partners, and a querying group chat of constructive feedback and support along the way.
About a week ago, I tweeted an open call for advice from fellow hopeful storytellers, agented/published authors, and former agents alike.
To my surprise, there was an outpouring of replies. Over 100 favorites might be far from viral, but in my little corner of the #WritingCommunity, that’s a lot! So I’ve compiled my top 9 pieces of advice here for anyone else who’s gearing up to enter the query trenches. You’re not alone, and these useful suggestions are proof of that.
One: Research literary agents (and be polite/professional when interacting with them!)
There is no excuse for not following a literary agent’s listed guidelines, attempting to pitch your story cold on Twitter, or sending a nasty message if you’re met with rejection. Do your research and conduct yourself like someone you’d want to represent!
Two: Listen to advice, but know when you’ve finished editing.
Both sides of this are excellent advice. So far, I’ve received one rejection, but the agent in question took the time to offer specific, actionable advice: my opening pages failed to hook the reader. Many agents only want your first 5 pages alongside a query, and at the time, my prologue was sitting at nearly 10, which meant that the first 5 pages lacked momentum. I’d already been told as much by my critique partners, but I stubbornly clung to my overlong, literary prologue like Jack to the floating wreckage in Titanic.
Eventually, after taking a day to nurse my rejection wounds, I went back to the prologue and cut it down to a clean 5 pages. I’ve since restrained myself from editing anything else in the book because otherwise, I’d be making little tune-ups forever. But that simple change has made me much more confident in my initial query pitch.
Three: Main Character + Objective + Conflict + Stakes = Pitch
If your query (and story) has all of these things, you might just be ready to enter the trenches.
Most of querying is waiting. It can be difficult to ease into the waiting game after having forced yourself to make steady writing progress for so long—I know I’ve been restless ever since sending off my first query batch—but you will wait. A lot. It’s not a reflection on you or the quality of your writing; it’s simply the nature of the publishing business.
Five: Query in waves.
I’ve already set myself a policy: If I get a rejection (or it’s been too long since I sent a query,) I have 24 hours to send a new query to a different agent. I refuse to let disappointment or second-guessing prevent me from making progress. And that’s what rejections are—progress towards the right agent.
QueryTracker is also a borderline necessary resource, well worth the $15 annual fee for the expanded features (but also fantastic in the free version.) Use it.
Did I mention waiting?
Seven: Publishing is subjective.
I won’t lie—I’ve put an immense amount of myself and my personal journey into THE FIRE BREATHES, and rejection hurts. But that doesn’t make rejection personal. Deep down, beyond my persistent undercurrent of querying panic, I don’t think anyone could convince me that my book is less than something to be proud of, even with the harshest of rejections. Believe in yourself enough to query; do not go into the trenches in search of validation. Publishing is a business, and it isn’t here to make you feel good about yourself. It’s here to make money, and if an agent doesn’t think your manuscript can do that, that’s a reflection of market forces, not your personal worth.
Eight: Stop checking your email.
Oh, how I wish I could take this advice. I have notifications on for my query-specific email address. Why am I still checking it, manually, constantly? No one knows.
Nine: Create a new email address.
I’ll add to this: Don’t set your critique partners’ Google docs’ notifications to the same email address. You will get an email notification when they correct that missing comma you noted, and you will, subsequently, feel your soul yeet clean out of your body before returning, despondent, to its flesh prison.
Those are my top 9 pieces of querying advice from Twitter’s #writingcommunity! Which one was your favorite? Is there anything you would add? Let me know in the comments, or @ me on Twitter—where you can also enter my current giveaway, KING OF SCARS by Leigh Bardugo!