What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying

Well, friends, here we are: six years of querying.

Three weeks ago I was in New York City with my husband. We went on a bike tour of Central Park, and I have asthma, so that’s already a bit of a challenge. But when you add in a cold, plus the fact that my bike was faulty and wouldn’t go into first gear and I was pedaling uphill, it nearly resulted in me giving up–which is how I sometimes feel about this publishing journey. But then one of my writing friends will step in with encouraging words about my latest manuscript and I’ll have hope again, just like when my husband switched bikes with me and I could finally make it up those tortuous hills. At least they paid off with some amazing views.

Full disclosure: I let him take this picture while I wiped out on the grass.

But back to the writing … I do have a few new lessons to impart from this sixth year of querying, but as usual, if you’d like to refer to what I’ve posted in the previous years, here they are: what I learned in one, two, three, four, and five years of querying. Because I do try to only include new points every year :).

It gets harder and harder to talk about your writing with non-writers. It wasn’t so bad when I was just starting out. I was so excited to be writing, and I still love that I have the opportunity to write every day. Not everyone is so blessed. But after seven years of doing it full-time, there’s this question I get that makes me crazy. I know other unpublished writers hear it too.

“Are you still writing?”

And I just want to shout “Yes! Stop asking!” I know that with every manuscript my writing improves and I get that much closer to my ultimate goal of publication, but these well-meaning friends don’t understand and assume that because they haven’t seen a physical book with my name on it I must be doing something else now.

I also struggle with questions from non-writers about how my writing is going. So often I see this look in their eyes that is very close to pity. Like I’m running in this hamster wheel of writing another manuscript, sending it out, and getting rejected again. I feel a bit judged, like they probably think I’m never going to get there. I do have a select few non-writer friends who have taken the time to understand the process and really do get it. I’m very grateful for them.

Let me also say that my husband is the most amazing, supportive partner I could ever ask for. He supports me fully, even if he does have the unrealistic expectation that someday I will write a series that results in a theme park like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I don’t write the kinds of books that merit theme parks, but I love how big you dream, honey!

It’s always worth trying a new writing/critiquing strategy. I’ve mentioned before how much I hate drafting, and I realize that for about half of you, that’s completely unfathomable because you love the drafting and hate the revising. I’m constantly searching for new ways to make drafting palatable, and I really like the one I landed on this past year. I attended a workshop on writing in reverse, and although it was really more about planning in reverse, I decided to take it to the next level and actually draft my whole novel in reverse, starting with the final chapter and writing the whole thing backwards. I loved it! Granted, I also applied strategies from K.M. Weiland’s STRUCTURING YOUR NOVEL and outlined the sucker in much more detail than ever before. Interestingly, I found that I was happier with my first chapter than usual, while my last chapters meandered a bit–sort of the opposite of the problem you usually have than when you write forward, yes? I chronicled my adventures writing in reverse, so feel free to read about them.

On the critiquing side, I’ve always sent full manuscripts to readers after revising the first draft pretty substantially. But as I knew I couldn’t query my work in progress for a while due to waiting to hear on another, I decided to try swapping sections weekly with another writer while I was still revising the first draft, and I found there were some really great benefits to that process. I blogged about swapping weekly, but mainly I loved how it enabled me to anticipate what the reader might have an issue with later in the manuscript and fix it before she reached that chapter.

Deciding to take on a revise and resubmit, even if it resonates with you, doesn’t mean it will turn into an offer. I mentioned this in a previous year, but I think it’s worth repeating. If an agent gives you feedback, says that magical word “if,” and the accompanying feedback makes a light bulb go off in your brain with a million ideas for how to fix the issues other agents have mentioned about your manuscript, then you should absolutely do an R&R. But it’s always a gamble. Hopefully they will love the execution of your changes, but even if they don’t, be grateful for the opportunity. Whatever you end up doing with the manuscript, if the changes truly resonate with you, you have a better product in the end.

You become so used to rejections even a rejection on an R&R you put your heart and soul into hardly causes a blip. I wouldn’t have thought this possible. In fact, I know I mentioned in previous years that although query rejections no longer bothered me, the rejections on fulls still did. I thought it impossible to get to the point where full manuscript rejections truly wouldn’t phase me, and perhaps they will again, but when the rejection on this R&R arrived–and believe me, I pinned a ton of hope on it–I just shrugged it off. It does help that I was waiting on the response a while and was entrenched in working on another project.

Fewer agents reply to queries, and some don’t even reply to requests. I mentioned in year three that some agents who had replied to my queries in year one had become no-response-means-no agents. Now that I’m at year six and QueryTracker has even more detailed statistics (I do love statistics!), I’ve noticed even more agents have moved to the dark side (ha!). But actually, if that’s their policy, I don’t care as long as it’s stated. I respect agents’ time, and someday when I have one, I hope they’re devoting most of it to me ;). What I find to be a more disturbing trend is when an agent requests and never replies. I’ve had a few of those, and they’re agents who are making deals, so they’re not schmagents. I’m not naming names, so don’t bother asking. I just quietly cross them off my own list and continue on with the other fabulous agents out there.

You live off moments of hope, whether they happen to you or a writer friend. You get so many rejections on this journey, you have to hold onto every piece of happy news. It’s especially gratifying when it’s good news for you, like an encouraging note from an agent or possibly even an email that invites you to resubmit, but I like to celebrate just as much for my writer friends. In the past year, I’ve had writer friends sign book deals, win contests, and share other news that makes me dance happily at my desk. Last week I read a post from another writer–someone I don’t know personally–who had been on this journey for seven years and finally signed with her first agent, and that encouraged me too. When other writers have happy news, it gives me hope that my own happy news will be around the corner. That’s what I hold on to, and if you’re where I am, I hope you will too!

I figure that’s a good place to end–with hope. Because we all need some hope. I’m certainly not giving up. I have so many ideas knocking around in my brain, and if it’s not the one I’m working on now that leads to that physical book I hold in my hand, hopefully it will be the next one!

I’d love to hear where you are on the journey and what gives you hope!

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
This entry was posted in Agents, Querying, What I've Learned, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying

  1. Emily says:

    I’ve been querying for two years, haven’t received a single request (yet) and somehow I still have hope. I know, I’m crazy 😛

    • You’re not crazy at all! I hope ( 😉 ) you are surrounding yourself with other writers to exchange your work with and encourage each other. I’ve found that’s what keeps me going and also challenges me to improve with every manuscript. Best of luck with your querying!!

  2. kiperoo says:

    Hang in there, Emily! Hoping the best for you! (And obviously for you, too, Michelle!)

  3. I tell very few non-writers what I’m up to for the very reasons you stated. I keep hearing “All it takes is one,” but that doesn’t help when you’re in the trenches. Anyway, keep at it and we’ll all celebrate some day soon!

    • Ah, yes, “all it takes is one.” It’s true, and yet … there are a lot of these statements that are well-meant by friends who don’t understand how they make us cringe. I just have my internal dialogue going while I smile in response. And yes, as long as we persevere, we will both be celebrating at some point!

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