The Game

Gang, I’m going in. It’s time to query.

You’ll be glad to know that I’m going to spare you the blow-by-blow of the agent hunt. (Who do I need to blow around here?) It’s too awful. The hopeful beginnings, the form rejections, requests for partials, fulls (!) . . . more rejections. Kinder and more elaborate rejections, but still. I don’t wanna talk about it. I’ll let you know when I sign with someone or give up the ghost.

There must be a way to make this more fun. How about a rejection-letter drinking game. Get a letter, do a shot. One shot for a form letter . . . two for a rejection of the partial . . . a bottle of gin with a nipple attached for rejection of the full . . .

It could be a long few months. I’ll be counting the glasses.

Any tips on how to get through the query process?

60 responses

  1. Preoccupy yourself with some other goals/submissions. Focus on those so much that if they don’t pan out, you’ll remember: Oh yeah. My manuscript is out with several agents. Wonder how that will work out.

    Don’t plan on giving yourself a specific reward when you get an agent, especially if there is visible evidence of said reward in your home, because every time you get rejected you will see this thing and be reminded of failure.

    As you are already planning to — don’t blog the querying play-by-play, even if there’s a certain comment/rejection/close call that really stuns you. Best to just wait until the end, as you say. This advice is not because we don’t want to read the play-by-play (we do) but rather for your own sanity.

    A well-respected author recently told me she knows writers “who are amazingly talented, and with absolutely incredible, polished books, who can’t even find an agent right now. It’s insane.” Remember this with every rejection.

    If my list sounds overwhelmingly negative, remember that this is what querying can do to writers. Try not to let it happen to you, too.

    Remember that people really do get pulled from the slush and sign with agents. It’s documented and everything. So have hope and believe in how much you rock.

    When you do get an agent, give us EVERY LAST glorious detail of how everything went down so we celebrate right along with you.

    Good luck and godspeed!

    • Well, I’m the last person to express certitude in any way, but I’ve got my list of agents together, and in a few days I should have a solid query and synopsis. I plan to spend a weekend sending all my queries at once. In my experience, the only yeses I’ve ever received have come quickly, so if there are requests for the full, those should come within the first few weeks, and the answer to the full a few months after that. Any agent who can’t decide within six months is probably not someone I’d want to work with–we’d kill each other.

      The short answer is six months for the agent hunt, tops. After that I’ll be looking at other options.

  2. I’d listen to Laura and Tetman.

    Once you have that synopsis done and the queries out, start your next book. In fact, start it so you have some distance when you write the synopsis.

    That’s all I’ve got except all these crossed fingers and toes and my e-mail address if you need to rant or doubt or dance in joy.

    • Seconded for starting the next book. It is the only thing that keeps you productive in the way you want to be (or at least, in my case did).

      Don’t play a drinking game: you will be a long time sober, waiting for those letters.

    • The only problem with the ‘start the next book’ thing is that I don’t know what I want to write. I keep thinking about that guy MSB photographed, who looked as if he’d been dipped in milk. I like him for a character but what on earth will he do?

      Besides getting laid, that is, and wallowing in existential angst.

  3. I kind of used to apply for jobs on automatic mode.
    I had a number os set letters with blank spaces with words I’d replace that would tailor it for whatever job it was.
    Maybe you can do the same. It makes you feel less involved and therefore not as invested so when you get rejected it isnt as soul destroying.

    • That’s a great strategy. It’s the distance that’s so necessary; hold it too close and every rejection feels like a first date gone horribly wrong.

  4. I agree with detachment. Put on your perky secretary sweater and kitten heels and send this queries off pronto. Detachment detachment. And if one comes back rejected, cross it off your list and send a new one wheeling off into the world. Never stop. On creative days recalibrate your pitch. But mostly organise your golf afternoon or your massage course and wait till your new book comes creeping up behind you, taps you on the shoulder.

    It will.

    • Kitten heels? Check. Massage course? Double check. Golf afternoon? Heads up!

      I’m going to attempt to be bored with the whole thing. I’ll be filing my nails like Mrs. Wiggins, snapping my gum. Yawn.

      • “Heads up!”

        The correct term is “Fore!” When you hit a ball wrong in golf, you yell, “Fore!” It’s known as a “Foreplay.”

        • I’m afraid in my case the ball would be headed in the wrong direction altogether. Toward the parking lot. I’ve never hit a golf ball in my life, except at the putt-putt with the hole inside a windmill. (Ricochet off the back wall. Hole in one! WHO’S yo mama?)

  5. Hi Averil, You don’t know me, but I’ve been at Betsy’s & msb’s blog and have been following your trek for a few weeks. First off, congratulations on your accomplishment. You’ve written a book! Shots to that all the day long!! You inspire me with your love & dedication to writing. Writing is Air to me, and I believe you understand that.

    Now, for the agent query… I’m about one step ahead of you on that, so I have a few thoughts. My fancy, NY boutique agent that I secured a few years ago recently decided that literary fiction wasn’t her thing and that she wanted paranormal romance, or whatever. It’s a long story and I won’t bore you with details. It may turn out ok in the end and I’m just letting the relationship ride for the time being. I hate her. She’s a bitch!

    How I got her, and a few other interested agents: Well, I kept the query to one page. I did not send a synopsis, but sent the first 3 or so chapters. I also included a brief summary, beginning to end, in the one page query. I did some of this via email, but had the best luck with snail mail and an email follow-up, if needed. Let your voice shine in the query. You are a natural and elegant writer and don’t be afraid to show your true self. Do you have any writing or publishing credits? Your blog would definitely count here. Be patient. They don’t respond quickly.

    I hope some of this helps. I also hope it’s not to freaky to hear all this from a stranger. I don’t hang out online a lot and keep my interactions simple, but your story is compelling and I’m pulling for you.


    • Hi November! Of course I know you, I’ve been enjoying your comments at Betsy’s and MSB’s, and hoping you might drop by for a visit. And here you are, with so much good information.

      Your agent story breaks my heart a little. I know it happens that an agent and client grow apart over time, but I tend to get attached. I need to really watch it, and remember that this is a business relationship, not a romance.

      I’ve got a couple of publication credits. The kind you don’t want! I may leave them out of the query altogether, the jury’s still out on that part.

      Thanks for visiting!

  6. Yes, LauraMaylene has it pretty much right. What I can add isn’t going to make it sound any better. I talked to many writer friends during AWP, and those who were able to land agents said it took as many as 100 queries. The established agents have full rosters and aren’t really looking, so a newer, hungrier agent may be a better target. Unless you have your heart set on a New York publisher, you may eventually want to consider some independent publishers–many of them don’t require you to have an agent to query. But then again, the best of the indies receive so many submissions they are either now looking for agented mss, or have simply closed to submissions for 6-12 months. If you do go indie, be very careful and do the research. Some of these “publishers” are little more than a couple of people who couldn’t get published themselves and decided to start their own company. Same goes for agents, too. Make sure you know who you’re dealing with and what they will do for you (instead of to you).

    A personal contact who can help get you out of the slush pile and in front of an agent (instead of in front of the MFA intern who would normally read your query) is your best bet these days. If you know anyone who knows anyone, call in that favor.

    Enough for now. Good luck. I have a feeling you will be successful in this.

    • The indie publishers can be very good or absolutely worthless, and unfortunately there are more of the latter from what I can see. I would be even more lost trying to go directly to a publisher than I am on the agent hunt, and to be honest I’m not convinced there’s much in it for the writer unless you happen to get a good one.

      If I don’t get an agent with this book, I may simply tuck it into my back pocket while I work on the next . . .

      I dunno. Is it time for that shot yet?

  7. I had to keep a spreadsheet, because my mind played tricks on me. I’d swear I sent out a dozen queries, when I only sent six.

    My personal tip: use a completely different email account that you have to log in to check separately. That way you *ONLY* receive rejections when you feel like checking, and not constantly and mixed in with your other business.

    It gives you a bit of the power back, and they don’t need to know. Just like the fact I’m not wearing underwear because nobody around here will do laundry.

  8. yup. Averil, just always remember, the ones who reject you are no doubt morons. i can list so many greats who were totally rejected ’til they got to the one with a brain. continue…

    • Aww, I don’t know. The fact is, my book may be a psychological thriller but it’s still crammed to the margins with smut. It’s not gonna be everyone’s cup of tea.

      What I need is an agent with hormones, Tony.

      • the whole world loves smut. psychological thriller smut is even better. smut sells. do you have enuf smut? that is the question. :-) seriously tho’ i’ll bet it’s good and i do hope someone with hormones gets it. continue…

  9. Oh, I’m so excited for you, my dear! Yes! Take the query by the…oh, you know, and ride that bronco. This is your time, lady. I’m sure of it.

    As for tips…Spreadsheets, absolutely–or separate files in your email for those that want partials, the full, etc…

    It would be wonderful to think there was some way to avoid refreshing our emails every ten seconds after those queries go out. If there is a way, I’d like to know about it…

    • Oo, oo, I’m good at the not-looking bit. My natural pessimism shines through, and I assume that every new email is a rejection. So I only open them when I’m feeling like Wonder Woman, caped and bedazzled. (Or drunk and bewildered.)

      Okay, so, nightly.

  10. No practical advice to give, except take the good advice already given. On the other hand, since so much of success rides on the gyrations of fortune and the ripening of karma, if you want to petition any supernatural beings in your favor, Ganesha, the elephant-headed demigod, is invoked as the remover of obstacles. He is also considered the patron saint of writers. Couldn’t hoit!

  11. I agree with Tony– the best thing to do is know that they are morons if they don’t take you. Say it with me: Morons. Such a good word. If holding on to your self-respect requires that you have a stiff shot to look yourself in the eye and say that they’re morons convincingly then do it. If you have to have two shots and flash your no-underwear self in the mirror to believe it, then do that. Or take a long walk or obsess about cleaning the faceplates of your light switches or flossing. Whatever it takes. Meanwhile, do the thing you do when you get ideas (for me, it’s driving or sleeping) (or just do some short stories) so you can get started on the next one. (Very exciting! And hello from Kauai!)

    • Kauai! Oh my god, everything else you just said went right out the window. You’re in Kauai?!

      Wahhhhh!!! I can’t believe you left me here in shitty Vegas, ass-up in a sand dune. Next time I will ship myself to you in a cardboard box with holes in the top.

      Enjoy! (Don’t mind me, spitting sand . . .)

  12. The way you havve gone after your dream, grabbing it with both hands, is inspiring. Regardless of how the querying goes, I’ll badly paraphrase what my husband told me last night. You are richer of mind and spirit now, for having written, for having worked hard, for having succeeded personally, than you were before. You will continue to grow and improve as long as you realize that. A book deal can’t give you that fulfillment, only you can.

    • What Lyra passes on in her always lyrical way from her husband’s perceptive and supportive soul to you is true. It’s a process, call it craft or art, a process and a gift that we first give to ourselves.

      • Yes, absolutely. And on a purely practical note, I’ve learned a lot about structure and storytelling over the past year as I’ve put this manuscript together. That part of writing doesn’t come naturally for me, so it’s something I need to continue to work on.

  13. You go, girl. Any agent who rejects you is a moron and clearly not deserving. And, yes, you can quote me.

  14. Oh now this IS exciting. You never know, it may be way easier than you think. I’m rootin’ for ya missus…

  15. How is the light at the end of the tunnel? I hear it’s divine.

    I’ve been through the process twice wih the last two novels and for this one I plan on doing the same thing I always do. Go through methodical bouts of hysteria tempered with short spurts of despair. While wearing yoga pants the entire time. I’m no help. But in all seriousness, congrats!!

    • I’m not sure, that light could be an oncoming train and I’m running at it in yoga pants. Oy.

      Thanks so much for visiting, I love your blog.

  16. Decca Records turned down the Beatles, Thirteen publishers turned down “Day of the Jackal” and eight publishers rejected “Harry Potter”

    Nobody knows anything. A lot of it is just luck in my view.

    Well done, and good luck!

    • It really is luck, you’re absolutely right. But my expectations are at ankle level, so whatever happens won’t bring me down too far.

      I read an interesting post the other day on an agent’s blog. She was mystified by the Shades of Grey phenom, and was trying to get a handle on why it’s become so popular. One of her readers responded here:

      Very strange, the hits and misses.

      So nice of you to visit, Bill, thank you for stopping by.


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