Update on Querying

When I jumped into the query trenches back in September, I said I wouldn’t be giving an update. I lied, LOL.

I’m not going to give you stats — who I’ve queried, how many people I’ve queried, number of requests, number of rejections, etc. Instead I’m going to talk more about the experience and an unexpected choice that experience drive me to make.

The Experience

Intellectually, I knew querying would be hard. I knew it would be long. I knew there would be tons of rejection. I knew this book might not get picked up.

The head knows. The heart does not.

Querying is soul destroying. It killed my interest in publishing. It killed my interest in writing. The new story I had been so anxious to start sat untouched.

The problem isn’t rejection — it’s lack of feedback. I don’t expect feedback on queries, but it sucks to get no feedback on fulls. There are many reasons for rejection. Some are things I absolutely have no control over. Others, though, are manuscript issues that might be fixable. Am I wasting my time sending out more queries? Can I change something and get more interest?

Awful. Horrible. Soul destroying.

The Unexpected Choice

I don’t believe that writers aiming for traditional publishing should pay for professional editing. Pro editing is expensive, and it misrepresents your skill level. But I needed to know if my manuscript was fatally flawed.

I chose to get an editorial assessment from someone at Reedsy. His name is Dominic Wakefield, and he had worked for Harper Collins and Little, Brown as an acquisitions editor for books like mine.

An editorial assessment isn’t editing. It’s more like an extended book report. He read my book, and he told me what worked and what didn’t, and he gave me concrete suggestions for improvement.

It took him about a month to do the report, and we followed that up a week later with an hour long phone discussion.

Was it worth it? For me — 100%! I had told him my big question was whether there were issues — fatal flaws — that would prevent me from getting an agent. He addressed that on page one: No. In his opinion, the manuscript was good enough as is to get an agent.

He went on to give me various suggestions to make it even stronger, nearly all I agreed with. But the value for me was in reassuring me that I’ve just got to keep looking for that agent who falls in love with my manuscript.

Let me be clear: Reedsy is high-end, and it's expensive. Getting an editorial assessment was extremely valuable for me, but it's a lot of money.

The Experience after the Assessment

Just asking for the editorial assessment back in December settled my heart a bit. I created a new list of agents to query, and I began noodling on the next book.

After receiving Dominic’s feedback in January, I felt even better. I sent off the new queries, and (until work took over my every waking moment) I did significant pre-work on my new WIP.

But rejections are still rejections. Especially full rejections.

I don’t know if I’ll send more queries for this novel. I still have fulls and queries out, so I’m not giving up. I’m just not sure I’m going to put my energy into Doubting River anymore.

If work allows — seriously, I may be working seven days a week through the end of May — I’ll work on the new novel. If Doubting River doesn’t land me an agent, I can put it in my back pocket and query my next book.

What about self publishing?

I am not anti-self pub. I actually think self pub is awesome. But it’s not a great choice for standalone book club fiction.

If I were to self publish Doubting River, it would blow my debut status. If I want to traditionally publish in the future under my own name, blowing my debut status would not be a good thing.

So I’ll never say never, but right now, self pub isn’t in the cards.


Jumping into the Query Trenches

It’s time! I have finalized Doubting River, and it’s time to jump into the query trenches and begin querying agents.

Why traditional publishing?

I’m a huge proponent of “self publishing well.” However self publishing well takes a fair amount of money, excellent craft, and a LOT of business knowledge. I also believe, for several reasons, that traditional publishing is the best path for me and this book at this time:

  1. Doubting River is standalone book club fiction. It will do best if it has access to opportunities such as book stores, big box stores, book boxes, book clubs, and libraries.
  2. I want the external validation that my writing is READY for publishing. 
  3. Traditional publishing can give me a wide fan base that I can leverage for self published books in the future, if I decide to go that way.
  4. Traditional publishing will introduce me to the business side of publishing, and do so with a much easier learning curve than I would face if I self published first.
  5. If I self publish first, I will have blown my debut status.

I discussed these reasons and the pros and cons of self publishing and traditional publishing in a previous post.

What happens now?

I used Query Tracker to curate a list of agents who rep book club fiction, and I’ve organized my list into batches (first round, second round, etc.). It’s important to query in small batches until I’m certain my query package — query letter, synopsis, and pages — are getting requests. I also created a spreadsheet to track information about who I’ve queried, response times, results, agency policies, and so on.

I’m sending out my first queries today–September 20, 2020. 

And then what happens?

The hope, of course, is that agents will read what I’ve sent them and request the full manuscript. It can take five minutes or three months to hear back on a query. I’ve heard that agents are responding more slowing during COVID because there’s so much else happening.

Responses to requested fulls can take…forever. Months. Many months. I’ve heard stories of writers getting offers well over a year after they sent their requested full.

So, really, my job is to query and wait. Traditional publishing is a lot of waiting.

Will I get an agent?

There’s no way to know. If I get requests, I know I’m doing SOMETHING right. Does that mean I’ll get an agent? No. Most queriers don’t get an agent, especially with the first book they’ve queried. I read somewhere that the average number of manuscripts queried before getting an agent is four.

This is my first. I’m hopeful, but I’m also realistic.

Will you give updates?

I’ll let you know if I get an agent. Hell, I’ll probably rent a skywriter if I get an agent. But, no, I’m not going to update you on rejections and full requests. That’s bad form. 😉

Wish me luck!

Querying agents