The Querying Process: A Lesson in Humility

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This is a difficult post to write. Not because I’m embarrassed to share this experience, but because I really had to do some digging to understand what urged me to share this. The point I hope readers take away from this post is that as writers, we fall. We fall hard and often. I don’t want to say fail, because it’s only failure if you don’t get back up and fix the problem the made you fall in the first place. So I hope, by sharing my stumbles and flat-out face falls, readers find comfort in knowing this experience is hard for everyone. Writers in the writing stage, or the querying stage, or even the publishing stage all go through set-backs, self-doubt, and necessary readjustments. I suppose this post is also a mantra to myself that everyone experiences these emotions and fears, and the only way to overcome them is to work through them.

I recently submitted my first novel to a few agents for representation. However few my submissions, the response–or lack thereof–reiterates the fact that there are millions of fish in the sea and even more microscopic plankton trying to latch onto those fish for a ride. I now fully understand that I’m just another microscopic plankton. In order to even be considered by the fish,  I need to make sure I’ve got something worthwhile to offer them. Okay, that metaphor got weird. Apologies.

After reading the excellent article, “Is Your Book Good Enough for Publication: A Cold-Blooded Assessment“, recently posted on Writer Unboxed, I considered the replies to my query submissions, the first of which was my most coveted agent who just so happened to reject me about an hour after I clicked send. Now, it could have been my query letter, but I think it had more to do with my premise. Then again, there must be thousands of situational combinations that could have prevented these agents from asking for a full manuscript. To better guard myself in the future against any potential pitfalls during this process, I had to reexamine my work and pitch from the outside in. I had to consider each from an agent’s perspective to effectively refine them.

Though I wrote a book I would love to read, I didn’t really consider whether it is what publishers want right now (and therefore what an agent would want to take on). Did I think enough about marketability? Will it tidily fit into a niche somewhere? And the biggest question, will it be what people want to buy? I have taken this “Cold-Blooded Assessment” (and a number of other articles WU keeps putting out, like “Writer, Boxed“) as a sign that my decision to strip my novel down to its bones and tendons to better see the inner workings is the right one. My plan is play up the vital parts of my concept in a work, not only I enjoyed writing, but others will love reading, people will want to buy, publishers will want to print, and agents will want to pitch.

My critique partner and best friend has always been encouraging and assuring that my novel could be published. And I know, when we encourage one another, we both mean it as readers honestly gauging each other’s work against the quality of the other stuff we’ve read. On the flip side though, we’re not publishing experts or agents. So after six rejections and three resounding cricket choruses, I could submit to more agents, but I’m taking this as a learning experience and responding, rather than reacting, to it. I will take measures to ensure I feel comfortable with every aspect of it before putting it out there again (Is that even possible? Has anyone ever felt that way in the history of this craft?).

I saw this advice somewhere recently: If you have a gut feeling that some particular thing is wrong with your work, that element probably needs revisiting. Why should you expect an agent, a publishing house, or, most importantly, your readers to overlook that problematic element you noticed? Until heeding this advice, I never truly understood the meaning of throwing out 50 plus pages. I used to scoff at such a thought–why write a book if you end up trashing a quarter of it? But here I am now, starting anew and racking my brain for the perfect formula of internal action versus external action, weighing the genres I should most closely associate myself with (I’ll be tackling this in a future post), and just trying my damnedest to write a good book people cannot put down.

If you haven’t gotten this far in the publication process, know that there is some amount of satisfaction about getting your work out there though, despite how terrifying it is. Knowing that your pitch has been seen by people in the biz–rejected, granted, but seen nonetheless–is pretty amazing. You have to pat yourself on the back if you’ve gotten this far. Whatever you do, don’t stop just because you fall a few times. It’s only failure when you let it make you stop. You have to keep moving to get anywhere. 

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Have you refined your process, your novel, or your approach to getting published as you moseyed along Writer Road? What advice, rejections, or encouragement incited those changes?

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8 Responses to The Querying Process: A Lesson in Humility

  1. “Okay, that metaphor got weird” made me lol. 🙂 Yes, every writer goes through these feelings! You’ve got a great attitude; I know it will take you far.

  2. ElleKurz says:

    The first thing I learned after getting back my first ten rejections: It is, in fact, not the end of the world. It keeps turning, I keep writing, and I’m sure one day what I write will mean more to someone other than myself. I admire your gung-ho attitude. I admire your willingness to learn from this experience. I’ve always admired your ability to look at your book objectively. I think this new journey of turning your book inside out and revisiting it will only do you better, and help you grow as a writer. If I’m lucky enough, I’ll grow with you.

    • A. B. Davis says:

      You’re so right. Amazingly enough, it did keep going, and I think the initial shock and debilitating disappointment mostly has to do with the fact that it didn’t stop for you to mourn the fact an agent who has never heard of you didn’t care enough to ask for a full MS of your book…le sigh. You think I look at my book objectively? That’s good to hear. It’s like that time you thought your face was all twisted in pain as you were getting a tattoo, but really, you just looked very alert lol. I think this will help us both, and I am very glad I have you to grow with during this terrifying, exciting process. Now that that afterschool special is over…jk. 😉

  3. Hi A.B. Davis,
    I’m not there yet. I’m still writing the first draft of my YA novel (oh yeah and I have a quarter-finished draft of a horror novel and also a partial fantasy novel lying around here somewhere too), but I am bookmarking your blog for when I am in this place. By then I’m sure you’ll have a success story to share with me to keep me going.
    I just read this interview this week on Scribe, the blog for the Writer’s League of Texas. I think it is both inspirational and humbling and maybe worth a few minutes of your time. http://writersleagueoftexas.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/success-story-5/
    Keep going! And keep thinking about how great it’s going to feel when you get that YES.
    -Carie

    • A. B. Davis says:

      Our interests sound pretty similar, Carie. I also have a YA, a partial fantasy–put on hiatus to rewrite my paranormal first novel, and all my short stories tend toward horror. 🙂 I hope my blog does help you when you get to that point. I was a little wary of posting this, wondering if it would do anyone any good as I expose all of my faults and missteps, so I am happy to hear it has already provided some encouragement. I did read Richard Hacker’s Success Story per your suggestion, and it was inspirational. It is good to see other writers, far more established than myself, endure humbling situations. So thank you for the suggestion. And I hope I’ll have a success story at some point, don’t know that it will be that soon though. Good luck to you in your endeavors!

  4. litadoolan says:

    Good advice. Thanks for sharing! Great post.

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