Dispatch from the Querying Trenches
Image by Arun Thomas
The past five months have been, in one specific area of my life, absolutely interminable.
See, in mid-March 2021 I sent out the first of a new batch of queries for the novel I had been working on since 2017. Four years of drafting, revising, re-drafting, revising again and again and I finally thought the book was ready.
In a way, I still think the book was ready. In another, five months of querying have sent my confidence spiraling to the depths.
Once upon a time, I might have said that the most crucial quality for a successful writer was, well, the ability to write well. Or perhaps, at least, to be a great storyteller. These days, I’d probably shrug and mutter something about having thick skin as the only way to succeed. Because ultimately, the most talented writers will fizzle out if they can’t handle the inevitable rejections. The most spell-binding storytellers will run out of energy if no one is hearing their tales.
The writers who succeed are the ones who take hit after hit and shoulder on.
Of course talent and luck have a say in this success as well, I don’t want to imply those two things are unnecessary. But to me, thick skin is important because without it, the talent will have nowhere to get you and the luck will be unable to reach you.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have the thickest of skins. Every rejection, even the form ones that come from big-name agents whom I knew not to expect anything of, hits me right in the softest part of my heart.
It’s really hard not to be overwhelmed by rejection when you’re a writer; the stories we tell, even when they’re fiction, can be so personal.
The novel I’m querying is about a fat teenage blogger who is running as fast as possible from her depression. She winds up in Italy with her aunt and finds that she can’t keep fleeing, has to turn around and face her diagnosis or risk derailing all her future plans.
There are things about my main character that are so different from me, but many other aspects — her size, her love of writing, her depression — those are things that come straight from my soul to the page.
So to get an email saying someone couldn’t connect to the character makes me feel like I’m being told there’s something wrong with me.
Realistically, I know that’s not the case. The agents I’ve queried are busy people, popular professionals. And even if my book is perfect for me, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect for them. And even if they love it, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to sell it. And even if they love it and think they can sell it, that doesn’t mean they have room in their client list for little old me.
I don’t write the above paragraph to complain: the opposite, actually.
It’s an encouragement to remember that this business is so freaking subjective. That every rejection comes with a host of the rejecter’s history and baggage and maybe they had a bad day or ate a bad sandwich when they read my words, and it just...wasn’t clicking.
That doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. It doesn’t mean I’m not a skillful storyteller. In fact, it doesn’t even mean I’m fresh out of luck and will never get an agent.
It just means it’s not my time.
I still believe my time will come. I have to. The only thing that keeps me going when I get disappointed is my unwavering belief in the fact that someday, sooner or later, I’ll get to write my own “how I got my agent” blog post.
That I’ll get a phone call that makes me break down in happy tears in the middle of my work day.
That I’ll be one step closer to achieving my dreams.
I believe it because I have to. Because without that faith, I won’t keep writing, and if I don’t keep writing, I lose my joy.
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