On the subject of querying

I met an editor thanks to my grandmother.

She heard about a creative writing class being taught at a community center in Phoenix and thought it was something I’d be interested in. She paid the fee and told me to have a good time. This was the first writing class I’d ever taken. Up until then, all I’d learned about creative writing I’d picked up from my favorite authors. I was excited to learn more about the writing process and get a glimpse of the publishing world. More importantly, I wanted to meet the teacher. She was an editor. As shy and awkward as I was, I was suddenly determined to talk to this person and get her to look at my fledgling manuscript. She would be honest with me. She wouldn’t have any bias whatsoever. If I didn’t have any talent, she would tell me. And if she told me I should give up and choose another career path, I would do it. (Or so I kept telling myself.)

Most of the techniques and terms I heard about in this class were things I already knew; she just gave them names. But the most rewarding part of the class was that she gave us her contact information at the end, and told us to email her if we ever needed someone to edit our work. I thought this was perfect! I didn’t even have to give her the speech I’d been preparing. I let some time pass before I contacted her, partially because I didn’t want to sound desperate and partially because I wanted to read through my manuscript one more time. Once I was convinced it was as perfect as I could make it, I emailed her. I got a response about a week later. She was interested in my story. She wanted to take a look.

I worked with her for five to six months. She edited through my work, we met up at a nearby Barnes and Noble to talk about some of the things I could improve or take out of the manuscript, then I went home and worked on it. Then I emailed her again with the newest version and waited for her to have time to look at it. All the while, she was convinced I had talent and could get my story published. It was a dream come true. An adult, a professional, thought I could make it as an author! It was all the validation I needed. I saw her one more time with the third and final version of my manuscript, and she declared that there was nothing else she could teach me. Not really, but she said it was as polished and neat as it could possibly be. She gave me some tips on query letters and some good articles to read. Then she wished me the best of luck, telling me I could email her any time with questions or future projects.

And so my querying journey began. I had very high hopes despite the voice of reason at the back of my mind, murmuring that I should probably prepare myself for a few rejections. I spent several weeks doing research on the elements of a perfect query letter, reading query letters that succeeded in hooking an agent, and applying some of those elements in a letter of my own. I spent several more weeks doing research on agents, hunting for the select few who advocated for my genre and had published books similar to mine. I made lists, I wrote and rewrote my query letter until I thought it was perfect, edited through my manuscript one more time, and then I began emailing agents. I must have emailed at least fifty agents. Then came the horrible period of waiting. I lost track of the months and the many times I checked my email, holding my breath as the page loaded, wondering if that day would be the day when I would be discovered and my dreams would come true.

That day, unfortunately, never came. Instead, I received a plethora of polite rejections and assurances that just because one agent wasn’t interested didn’t mean no agent would ever be interested and that I should keep looking for that perfect fit. After almost a year of this, I had experienced a range of emotions from confusion to anger to determination to hopelessness to self-deprecation. I read more articles, did more research, worked on my query letter some more, and tried again with another fifty or so agents. I kept telling myself I had been stupid to hope I would hit gold on the first try, but maybe the second time would be different. No such luck. More polite, sickening, heart-breaking rejections. Then one kind agent added something else to their rejection letter: a website for beta readers. The only people who had read my manuscript at this time were me, the editor, and my sister.

Any shyness or insecurities were tossed out the window then. I couldn’t understand how a manuscript could be liked and approved by an editor, and then not get any bites in the agent pond. I needed to be bold. I needed to try something different. So I joined this writers’ forum and got a few beta readers for my manuscript. And then I found out the truth. My editor had been nice. Too nice. I still had a lot of work to do if I wanted my story to appeal to the age group I had in mind. I admit that I was officially done at this point. The amount of work I still had to do was overwhelming. I thought, “There isn’t enough time in the world to fix everything that’s wrong with this story!” I took a break from it. I dabbled in other stories and edited through older manuscripts, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I kept thinking, “Why does it matter? No one will ever read these stories anyway.”

It wasn’t a good time in the life of Becca. I was pretty much questioning my whole existence. Ignacio from Nacho Libre summed it up best. “Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?”

But there was something about this particular manuscript, this story about faeries and a minotaur tyrant who wanted to take over the world and a group of friends who were closer than sisters and were strong enough to bring down the big bad together. Something about the magic of this island, the battles, the lessons, the drama. There was so much this story could teach young adults, so much hope it could give even though it was set in a mythical world. I thought of J K Rowling and all the rejections she received before Harry Potter was published. And look how that turned out for her! It was a major success and is still touching the lives of people to this day. (I don’t think I want to be as famous as J K Rowling, but I still greatly admire her work.)

I gave up on querying, but I didn’t give up on my writing. Obsessing about getting published was sucking the joy out of creating new worlds, characters, and plots. I went back to the basics, the simple task of putting words on paper. I kept my beta readers, though. With them, I slowly began to improve my craft.

That was three years ago.

I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m not the only one who thinks so either. My beta readers and fellow members of writers’ forums seem to think so too. I’m still not done with the faerie manuscript. I’ve managed to finish three other stories, but I’m still figuring out the best way to tell this story (The Sentinel’s Test). I’ve gotten confident enough in my other manuscripts to try querying again. I still haven’t gotten anything other than polite rejections, but I’m surprisingly okay. The desire to be discovered is still there, just buried a little deeper. I have a slightly more realistic picture of the publishing process and what it’s going to take for me to hold my printed book in my hands. It’s going to be hard, but I know now that I can’t allow myself to get discouraged. Or if I do get discouraged, I can’t stay there for too long.

As Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Surrounding myself with other authors and aspiring authors has helped. (Thank you, Twitter!) It turns out, I’m not the only one who has gone through this. That is always good to know. Hopefully, someday I’ll be finishing my querying journey and adding to this post. Someday, I’ll get my happy ending. For now, I’m just going to keep writing.

Author:

Wife, mother, reader, author, Netflix-binge-watcher, lover of baked goods, Jesus-freak, geek, introvert: that's me in a nut shell.

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