Sunday, January 27, 2013

365 Days of the Query: Lessons Learned

So about a year ago, as I started querying my ms, I decided to keep track of my progress over a one year period. Am I repped by an agent yet? Well, no. Am I much further along than I was when I first started? You bet. Am I going to stop querying? Absolutely not. In fact, both my query and my novel feel a lot more ready than they did at this time last year, and I'm optimistic moving forward.

So, in no particular order, here are some things I've learned so far:

1. Stop hurrying.

There's a panic that would set in whenever I read articles that said, "the traditional publishing world is dead" or "paranormal (dystopian, sci-fi, or pretty much any other genre) is no longer selling." Whenever I read things like this, it would put me into hyperspeed, worried that if I didn't pitch my idea soon enough, either the publishing world wouldn't be there to see it, or it would be un-marketable.

But here's what happened: I was in such a hurry that I forgot some of the basics. I sent a query without a greeting. I sent quite a few with glaring typos, even after I'd perused them multiple times. I sent others without all the agent's specifications. There were so many that I sent with one or two things missing or wrong that it (almost) got comedic for awhile.

A very helpful published author passed along some very wise advice. A slow querying process is best. Concentrate on writing, and reading. That's where the bulk of your energy should go. Still query, of course, but take your time with it. The most important thing isn't getting there first--it's getting there correctly.

2. Pitch comes first, and everything else comes second.

A webinar I participated in indicated that a compelling pitch is the most important thing in a query. Even more so than the bio, in some cases. Because the story is what matters most.

When I look back at the query pitches I've posted to this blog, they make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. They're so long-winded!

But when a critique partner showed me the Pitch U website, it totally changed my outlook, especially Lesson 4: Where's the Beef? It really helped me cut out the chaff. And now, my query pops off the page much more than it used to.

My bio was pretty long-winded too. I even sent one agency the longest letter about how I'd followed their blog, and their webinars, etc., thinking this would make me stand out somehow--and all it got me was a very nice form rejection.

3. Contests, contests, contests!

While I did get some really great agent feedback on partials I'd sent, I think I learned the most about what was and wasn't working in my story by entering contests. A lot of these are online, and can be found on author blogs, agent blogs, and through organizations (particularly RWA). I even finaled in a few, which also gave me the motivation to keep going.

4. You are never done learning craft.

Once your novel gets to the querying stage (it's completed, and you've revised the crap out of it), it doesn't mean you're done growing as a writer. Yes, keep querying. But also keep improving your craft. Here are some books that have helped me a ton:

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Writing 21st Century Fiction, by Donald Maas

5. The agent who loves your work is the agent that is meant for you. Period.

I need to thank Janet Reid for this one. She has a great feature on her blog called the "Question Emporium," where aspiring writers can send questions. And this post really caught my eye, because I was really concerned about it: "What if my dream agent rejects me?"

In the post, Janet says, "Your dream agent is the one who loves your work with a passion and begs you for the chance to take it on submission. Thus you don't know who your dream agent is until YOU GET AN OFFER."

And so, with these tools, I move forward. 365 days may turn into 730...or even more. But I'm going to keep on, keep growing, and keep learning, no matter what the future holds.

Question to all: What are some lessons that querying has taught you?


Angelica R. Jackson said...

That no matter whether it's your second query or your one hundredth that you're sending out, there's always that mixture of hope and dread.

"What if this agent is the ONE who gets my book?" holds both promise and pressure!

The Writer Librarian said...

@Angelica--so true! Sometimes I've been reluctant to hit send. "This is turning back..."