Confusion While Querying

Lost and Confused Signpost

I’ve said this before, I’m saying it now, and I’ll probably say this at least a hundred times again: when people tell you how hard querying a novel is believe them.

I didn’t at all. And this time my assumption only made an ass out of me.

How can writing a one-page letter be as hard or harder than writing a two hundred and something page novel? Why can’t people just commit to sending out one letter a day (or at least one a week)?

These are the questions I asked myself while reading the posts other writers have written about the querying process. These posts – the ones I used to judge – are now my life jackets in the sea of query confusion.

You can say writing is writing until you are blue in the face, but querying takes a completely different set of skills than writing a novel. It also takes a very different mindset, and the effects of this shift from a creative perspective to a commercial one can be jarring.

While I was writing Dreamers I filled myself with unending optimism about the story to get through writing the many drafts it took to feel finished. I was thinking about an audience and gathering feedback from friends and writing partners, but I didn’t let myself doubt that the story was worth my time to write. It was an idea that sustained me for almost three years. Some of my happiest moments in life were alone writing these characters and coming up with the plot.

I’ve lost a lot of that optimism sending out query letters. Long term I think this will be great for my writing, but short term it is playing havoc on my self-esteem.

Because when I get a rejection, I have no idea what I should be changing as I send out more letters. It could be my letter, my synopsis, my writing, or the whole idea of the novel. I wonder if there is a better way to research agents. I wonder if I should try to do another full fledged revision or abandon the project to work on something new. I start to doubt my story, and sometimes doubt myself as a writer.

- David Foster Wallace
– David Foster Wallace

The Internet is full of people saying to push through query fatigue. Keep writing letters they say. Keep sending them out. Waiting until you get 100 rejections until you feel discouraged.

But the Internet is equally full of people talking about how they held on too tightly to their first novel. They kept sending out query letters for too long. People seem to say this even more when their first novel is fantasy and they move on to writing contemporary.

I’m not ending the posts with any answers. And I’m not looking for answers from you.

I’ve got two new beta readers for my manuscript. Meanwhile, I’ll keep researching agents and keep writing new things. I’m hoping that moving to New York (less than one month now!) and starting classes for my MFA will give me the perspective shift I need. I’m also hoping that no matter what happens with Dreamers, I can feel like writing the novel was a success. It gave me the confidence and desire to start taking myself seriously as a writer. Which on its own is a pretty big accomplishment.

15 thoughts on “Confusion While Querying

  1. As someone who isn’t even at the querying phase of the book writing process but who has started to think about it, I refuse to let this discourage me. And while I know it’s discouraging for you – I’m confident it will work out. Why? Because you believe in Dreamers. And at the end of the day, if self-publishing is the route (after you’ve hit the 100 rejection letters) that’s not the end of the world either. I just had a great chat with a published author/comedian/actor that I was introduced to by one of my company’s co-founders. She is trying to push me to work on my book and attempt publishing and thought it would be good for me and him to chat. He told me that despite having Beyonce’s publicist and several television shows under his belt, he couldn’t get his book picked up by an agent. So he self-published and now his book is doing SO well and he’s on to the sequel.

    All of this to say, when I get my moments of doubt where I’m like “What if my book NEVER sees the light of day beyond my macbook files.” I remind myself that there’s always self-publishing and THAT can take on a world and journey of it’s own.

    So IF the querying doesn’t work out (which, I’m confident it’s going to eventually) know that’s not the end of the journey! It could be only the beginning.

    1. Crystal, thank you so much for your confidence and support. You have no idea how much I appreciate it!

      It was definitely not my intention to discourage your or anyone else and you are 100% right that self publishing has really opened up a lot of doors for authors who want to get their books published without dealing with a lot of the hassles of the industry.

      I think the point I was trying to make is that underestimating this step of the process was a mistake for me. Whether you go the traditional route or self publish at some point you will have to focus on selling your novel, which takes a different mindset than writing it. Even though I’m feeling a confused and discouraged, I also think that as long as I keep working hard whatever is supposed to happen with my book will happen.

      Good luck with your writing and thank you again for your comment!

      1. Oh gosh I totally didn’t mean to say it was discouraging post either :p I’m only twenty four hours post 50 Shades trailer – sentences are clearly still hard.

        Just that it could have been a scary post but your determination and spirit kept it from going there 🙂 Which is why I’m confident you’ll make this happen one way or another!


  2. Oh Alison, I get it! 100%!!! Querying was an emotional rollercoaster for me. With my first novel, I had only one request from an agent. I started working on a new project (Truest) right as I started querying. It helped.

    Querying for Truest was IMMEDIATELY different. I got a request for a full just a couple hours after I sent out my first round of query letters. It showed me just how much I had grown as a writer since writing my first novel.

    If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up. Write something else or keep querying for Dreamers. If it’s more important to you to show Dreamers to the world, you can go for the self-publishing avenue, but keep in mind that if it doesn’t sell well, it will be harder to get an agent and a tradition book deal later.

    I have a big ol’ post coming up next month about my querying experience, how I researched agents, etc.

    Keep the faith, Alison. Surround yourself with encouragers. You can do this.

      1. You’re so sweet! I’m glad it’s been helpful … sometimes I think either every other writer has things together or else they fake it better than I do. 🙂 But I’m glad to be transparent.

  3. Hi Alison,

    What a terrifically honest post. I feel your pain about writing query letters. You are SO right about it being a completely different type of writing. Don’t be hard on yourself (no, you don’t come across as whiny, rather legitimately confused and frustrated). You’re learning a difficult task and facing the first reality in the love affair with our books~not everyone gets how brilliant they (we) are, just because. Bottom line, this is your first marketing exercise in what we hope will be Dreamers’, and your, long, published life.

    For a number of reasons, I went the indie-publishing route. Birthing my debut novel taught me a ton about the book publishing and book seller biz, and marketing. Wrapping part of your head around these aspects of the writing life is a big bonus in today’s book world, regardless how you publish.

    When I was still considering traditional publishing, a website that helped me tremendously was Want to know how to write the best query letter? Spend time there. She analyzes submitted queries (and she’s tough!), showing what stops her and what worked. The selected letters can be revised and resubmitted and she critiques each one again so you can watch the query progress. I spent a concentrated few days on the site, reading everything. A lot crystallized for me about what agents are looking for and how to deliver. Afterward, I was much more confident I could deliver. Agents are people with individual likes and dislikes in books, and they’re looking for different things. They also have a lot in common.

    My answers to:

    “I have no idea what I should be changing as I send out more letters. It could be my letter, my synopsis, my writing, or the whole idea of the novel. I wonder if there is a better way to research agents. I wonder if I should try to do another full fledged revision or abandon the project to work on something new.”

    1) IF you can afford it, hire a professional to critique your manuscript if you have doubts it’s the best it can be. An agent will have his/her own ideas and suggestions, an editor plenty more, so don’t go into a full rewrite without professional (paid or not) advice.
    2) I still haven’t written a decent synopsis, mainly because I haven’t put my butt in the chair and forced myself to refine it. Here’s a short piece by a former agent that might help.
    3) Best way, IMO, to research agents is to find ones who represent books you love that have similar traits to yours, or give you the feel the agent would also like yours. Always check their agency bio and query those who say they want the type of story you have to offer. Do you know about Query Tracker?
    4) Only you can decide when it’s time to move on or start something new. Much of what I read says always have something in the works. Are you planning/started a sequel to Dreamers? An agent will love hearing that in a query.

    I hope this all has been more helpful than too long. I agree with others here that you’re doing great, hang in there, and continue to believe in your story. Add all this other stuff to your MFA program (whether the school teaches it or not) and you’ll stand out in the crowd.

    I wish you the very best with your degree program and getting Dreamers in our hands.


  4. You’re doing great, keep up the hard work! I’m about at that phase as well – I have a project called Gravscend that I’d really like to have published (probably because I’ve been working on it since high school…) so I completely understand! But keep believing in yourself – someone will pick up Dreamers and your dream will come true! 😉

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