From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.
I’d planned on writing an article about being in the query trenches, and how hard it was to keep motivated when the rejection rate is so high. But then I got an offer from the wonderful Caitie Flum, so I wondered if that topic was still relevant.
Friends, it is. I’m FRESH out of the trenches, so a lot of the feelings are still there. Querying authors know what I mean. The fear, anticipation, and hope that comes when sending out a new query. Then the paranoia! Rechecking the sent email, praying no typos snuck their way into the email mid-send! And then the waiting. Some agents respond quickly, some take a while, some not at all. And it’s such a roller coaster of emotions. I went through a myriad of them while in the trenches, to the point of “quitting” several times. The beauty of quitting a thing like this, though, is that the next day you can start again.
I’m very lucky. I have several writing communities and friends that helped me through the rough spots. Allowing me to step away when I needed to, for as long as I needed to, but gently encouraging me not to give up. And it worked. I survived the trenches long enough to sign with an amazing agent.
So now that I’m out of the trenches, here are a few things that kept me going, and still do:
- Community, community, community. Having safe people and spaces where I could vent my frustrations, my insecurities, my worries, and fears is so important to me. They are a shoulder to cry on, a pillar of support when I just want to crumble. I doubt I’d be here if I didn’t have that.
- Remembering who I was writing for. Every time I got determined to throw in the towel, I remembered little me, desperately reading anything and everything, trying to find even a little bit of myself in those characters. I don’t want any more little girls and teens to feel that desperate and erased.
- Plain old stubbornness and persistence. Being determined to make it no matter the odds. And the odds are so much harder for a black woman writing about black characters in publishing, especially when those characters are outside of stereotypical lenses. I simply refused to let the rejections completely wear me down.
- Comforts. Every time I got a pass, especially if it was on materials, it stung. Every single time. Even if I could nod along with the feedback and think, “OK I get that.” Some of the sting was because I felt like I should’ve known better. Some of it was guilt, feeling like I wasted that agent’s time. And of course, despairing if I had what it takes on many levels, to keep going in this business. So, I’d chat with my writer friends, pull out a Harry Potter book or movie, and eat junk food. Self-care is definitely important, but even more so when feeling rejected and vulnerable.
- Keeping it in perspective. Especially at the query stage. When I go to a bookstore and pick up a book, read the jacket, and think, “Nah, not for me,” and put it back, it’s no reflection on the author or the author’s talent. That story just isn’t my jam. I do this with NYT bestsellers all the time. Obviously those stories are resonating with a lot of people if they’re selling that many copies, but again, it might not be my jam. And that’s OK. When I think of a query rejection that way, it helps ease the sting. It really is subjective.
- Having a strategy. Some people send out queries in batches of 5, test the waters, revise/rework, and try again based on feedback. Others send a huge load at once and hope for the best. There are some who send a new query as soon as a rejection comes in. I was one of the send 5 at a time lot. I tried to be very deliberate, and I ended up querying fewer than 30 agents over the course of my year in the trenches.
- Distractions! Most people start work on another book while they’re waiting. I was worried I’d be a one-trick pony (even though I’d written full novels in the past, many times), but somehow, I began brainstorming 2 books! I also worked a LOT. Working a 9–5 plus freelance jobs keeps one busy. Also holidays, family, Netflix, day-to-day life, and a major surgery kept me distracted enough so I wasn’t refreshing my inbox over and over or stalking Query Tracker. Much. Also, I made a commitment to keep learning the craft. There are so many free writing resources out there. Pinterest has a plethora of links to explore, and there are even agents giving query and writing advice. Filling my life kept me from obsessing about query/submission status.
- Patience. That’s the hardest part. You’re excited about your work, and you want to move forward NOW. But, publishing is SLOW. At least to outsiders. Why does it take 2 years from announcement for a book to come out? Why do some agents take several months to respond to materials? The answer: Everyone is swamped! On the inside, there’s never enough time to do everything that needs to be done . . . but somehow, it all comes together in the end. Keeping that in mind helped me reflect on really pursuing this. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to embrace publishing’s slow burn.
I queried Caitie on August 2, 2016, and officially signed with her March 1, 2017. I’m excited and thrilled. She gets me and she gets my book, and her passion, her smarts, and her dedication makes me think we’ll be a great team.
The point of all of this is: Don’t Give Up. Every no, every hiccup, is a nudge toward the right agent. Keep going, keep working hard, and keep believing. And in the meantime, there’s chocolate.