Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Queries Are Horrible, Gut-Wrenching, Soul-Sucking... and Necessary

(This was originally posted on my crit group's Four Corner's Blog)

I went through the query process. Twice. Well, to be honest, really only once and a half. The first time was a hesitant, put-my-toes-in-the-water type of experience. I only queried a few agents, got a handful of requests which were subsequently turned down, and I quit to write a better book.

The second time I went full out. Every query I received a rejection on, I turned around and sent another. I decided I'd quit after I had a hundred rejections. I didn't.

It became like an addiction. I swore I'd stop. But I couldn't. Which isn't to say it felt good to do it, because rejection like that can suck the hope right out of you. Even when you wake up saying, "Today may be the day," it can come crashing around you into the dark "this is never going to happen to me" as fast as you can click open an email.

You can get wonderful comments from agents about the strength of your voice or the intriguing nature of your plot or the beautiful use of language or the appeal and depth of your character, and in the next breath they say, "But it's not for me."

Or you can get a form rejection with nothing more than a "Sorry."

They hurt just the same. Equally devastating.

People who have gone their entire lives on an emotional even keel can find themselves in a crazy, roller coaster, corkscrewing spiral of ups and downs, hopes and depression, determination and deflation. It can make a person physically ill.

And in the midst of it, no doubt every writer reads something which makes them think, "How in the world did this get published?"

Isn't there a better way to do this?

And yet... and yet I think in some ways the query process is the first and necessary step to prepare you for what lies beyond the agent.

Getting the agent is not the end of the line. It's not rainbows and puppy dogs after you get an agent. There is more rejections and harsh words possible in searching for an editor, and in that editor taking your book to a committee at their publisher, And then there's the public. Reviews. Bloggers. Readers who read, who may not love your baby of a project.

The tough skin, however thinly developed in the query process, is the first layer of a thicker skin you'll need down the line, for when you submit to editors and publishing committees and to reviewers and the public, for when you sit in a bookstore ready to sign books no one wants to buy, for when you face the blank computer screen to start a new book with a new journey ahead that is just as terrifying and breathtaking as the first.

It never ends.

There is always a new chance for rejection.

Queries are horrid, no doubt. But they teach life lessons.

It's American Idol time on TV here in the U.S., and every year starts with the audition process. As three or four judges, most of them qualified on some level in the music business, sit at a table, singer after singer enters the room, just them and the judges, to show their talent. These judges are not the ones who will produce the albums; they are the gate-keepers. These star-hopefuls get one shot - a measley little minute or two to sing one song - maybe not even a whole song - to impress them.

It's a query process.

And during the process there is always a group of people who are told they shouldn't quit their day jobs, or that they just don't have what it takes, or that they chose the wrong song, or that they're good, just not good enough. Sometimes they don't have the right look. Sometimes they don't command attention. Sometimes they just don't have "it." And "it" is something even the judges can't define; they just know it when they see it.

And in those people there are some who rant at the judges, swearing and cursing and making bold prophesies about how they will be someone some day and the judges don't know anything. Seriously, some of these folks go off the deep end with their crying and raging and hysteria.

And I think – every single time – those judges just saved that person from inevitable suicide because if they can't take decent but honest criticism in the quiet of a private room, how in the world are they going to face the Paris Hiltons and TMZs of modern day media? How are they going to deal with the trolls on Amazon who will trash their precious CDs or the booing crowds?

It's brutal out there, dear readers. But it's easier to cope when you've learned along the way that not everyone is going to love your book. That life is not always fair. That sometimes just because your book is fantastic doesn't mean it's going to connect with everyone. That every time you go into a bookstore you reject thousands of books, not because they aren't good stories but because there isn't enough of you to go around; because some just aren't your style or interest; because you love it, but you love the one next to it just a little more.

The query system may not be the perfect way to get a book onto a bookshelf, but it's the way we've got.

If you are on that part of the journey right now, remember this: if it kills your will to write, perhaps you weren't meant for this business after all, and you've saved yourself much pain. And if it doesn't, then let it teach you the sweet and sour of lessons that can only come from experience. Let it add to your thickening skin. Let it spur on your determination. Let it teach you not to take everything in the business personally.

And don't forget, each day, that this day could be the one.


  1. Very well said, Heidi! I remember the anxiety, everyday hoping this day would be it.

    I feel less of that now with an agent along for the ride. Still... the whole process is hard.

    And you're right. Each rejection is like being groomed for the next step, which will holds more opportunity for hardship.

  2. I agree- very well said. It's just step 1 in this crazy process we all have to go through to make our publishing dreams a reality. No one is exempt (well...with the exception of some celebrities and reality stars- given pub. contracts just because of who they are regardless if they actually have any talent or not..... but don't get me started on that! LOL!)

    But're right..the rejection is first. I remember getting so upset over form rejection letters...but after a while....those didn't hurt so bad. I rationalized that they probably didn't even read my stuff. It was the partial requests that really stung...cause they DID indeed read my stuff and didn't like it. You do tend to build a thick skin in the process and yeah...that is kinda helpful to have. I just hope it doesn't toughen me up too much! I like to think my sensitivity is an asset to me in my writing!

  3. Caroline - yes, it's nice to have an agent there to help you through it. Every added support system is good!

    Stephanie - I'm so with you! The rejections on the partials - and even more so the fulls - hurt much worse!!I think we need a thick skin, but still a tender heart. That's a wicked combination though!