Today’s post is written by Carolyne Topdjian.
Writers who query a project to literary agents receive several rejections over the course
of a week, month, or year. Despite the quality of your writing, hook, and concept, there
will be times you wonder why you’re voluntarily putting yourself through the grueling
experience of pitching a manuscript.
Whether you’re thinking of beginning, continuing, or stopping the process of querying,
here are five reasons why it’s a good experience to have at any stage of your career.
1. It’s a Rite of Passage
A rite of passage is defined as a transitional period that prepares you for a new
role. I can’t think of a better description for querying.
“Becoming a writer” is not something that happens overnight. Like all careers or
lifestyles, it involves both personal and professional growth. So while it may sting,
slap, and hurt like a Brazilian wax job in January, querying is a necessary evil in
the process of becoming. It is the acne to your puberty. It is a zitty badge you
earn, rejection after rejection.
It’s okay if you’re teary eyed. You raise your chin and you wear your badges with
2. It Leads You to Your People
The query trenches are highly populated. You are not alone.
While I was querying my first novel, I knew few writers in real life. I joined social
media and boom: I was amazed at the #amquerying community thriving there! I
still am. The community makes all the nos worth it.
I pitched in various Twitter contests (which don’t negate the querying process, by
the way, but help bump your letter to the top of an agent’s inbox). I can’t
recommend this enough. Throughout the countless passes and rejections of my
manuscript, I met other writers just like me.
Other people got “the voices in my head.” Other people understood my woes, my
joys, my fears. (Shout out to #P2P16 and #PitchWars ’17 alum!) Only because I
was querying did I find my community and form friendships in what would
otherwise be an isolating, lonely career.
3. It Builds Moxie
Querying leads to rejections. A lot of them. There’s no way around this.
Rejections are always plural. They come in batches, in downpours, in boatloads.
They are heavyweight punches that catch you upside your jaw and send your
front incisor flying in a sprinkle of pink drool. (Thorry to thay, it thucks.)
Yet once you clear the daze from your head, you’ll find you’re still standing, still
hoping, still querying. Are all writers masochists?
No. (Well, maybe some are.) But the real secret behind querying longevity is to
allow each rejection to toughen you that little bit more. Each pass from an
agent—be it in the form of radio silence or a personalized email—can prepare
you for an industry that is brutally honest with its criticism.
Yes, scar tissue doesn’t feel nice, but it can also serve as armor. If you want to
write long-term, it’s a good idea to develop armor as soon as possible. (Note:
armor can take many forms, like that community mentioned in point 2! It
requires neither insensitivity nor immunity to disappointment.)
Querying takes guts and, when all is said and done, it builds moxie.
4. It’s Networking
Querying does not guarantee you will find an agent. However, it does guarantee
you will make first contact, and with that, interact with in-the-know professionals.
In an ideal situation—even with an “I regret that…” response landing in your
inbox—you’ve managed to network. It is only through querying, through receiving
rejections, that I’m now acquainted with several agents.
By acquainted, I don’t mean I run in the same circles as agents. (I’m a reclusive
introvert, after all.) I mean when someone mentions “so and so” to me, I now
have an idea of which agency so-and-so belongs to, for how long, and what type
of work they represent. Why does this matter if they’ve rejected me?
Well, first off, they haven’t rejected me but a manuscript I pitched to them at one
point. And second, like all of the arts, publishing is a small world. Writers become
editors. Editors become agents. Agents become writers. It’s a circle of
input/output where creative and business professionals move and groove.
It’s always better not to start from scratch. Agents talk. Get to know them.
5. It’s Fun (No, that’s not a typo)
That moment when you hit send on a query letter is magical. Energies stir:
happiness, hope, faith, anticipation, a dream materializing into real, lived
experience. It’s an amazing feeling.
Don’t let the potential sting of rejection overrule your achievement. Celebrate:
you queried your manuscript! You put yourself out there! Allow yourself to enjoy
the moment. Every. Single. Time.
Final Word: It’s Foolproof
See numbers 1–5 on the list. Failure is not an option, regardless of outcome.
While querying may not feel good at all times, that’s not the same thing as it not
being good for you. Whether or not you get an agent through the process, writing
a query letter forces you to sharpen your craft. You’ll hone your pitch and better
understand your plot as well as your target readers. (How to write a strong query
is a lesson all on its own. There are entire workshops, publications, and
consultations devoted to the dos and don’ts of it.)
Either way, the result is always this: querying is good for you. It will earn you your
stripes. It will work your muscles, make you face your fears and rise to the
occasion. It will introduce you to publishing professionals and offer you a platform
for camaraderie with other writers.
There is no such thing as failure when it comes to querying. At the end of the
day, the process is full of potential to make you a better writer.
And that, in itself, is good practice.
Join the discussion
Robin T. Vale says
And, if you stick with the big five publishers it’s guaranteed safe, they have reputations to uphold.