Monday, March 30, 2015

The Query Process

            There are many writers who complain about the query process and, while I don’t join them, I can hardly blame them. It’s a long and arduous process that, in the end, often results in feeling like all that time was wasted. Yet, it is the most important step for someone who wants to get published – even more important than writing a book in the first place.

            It all starts with writing a query letter and, let me tell you, there is very little that is as stressful as that. You have roughly 300 words in which you have to introduce yourself and describe your book while having to make it sound as interesting and unique as you possibly can. Not only that, but you have to do it with the pressure of knowing that the entire fate of your book hangs on this letter.

            Next comes the research. You need to find agents and/or publishers to send your letter to – specifically ones who would be interested in publishing your book. There are various sites to help with this, but I've discovered that there’s no all-inclusive list. You also need to check up on their backgrounds to make sure they’re legitimate – there are many people out there who would love to take advantage of an unsuspecting author and all their hard work.

            Then you need to find out how to submit your work to them. Some of them only accept e-mails, others only snail mail. Some of them want only a query letter, others want samples of your work and a synopsis of the whole book (another nightmare to write) or any combination of the three.

            Finally you get to send the letters out – being sure to personalize them to each agent/publisher you are sending them to. There is some debate on the need to do this; I read one article by an agent that it takes so much time that she doesn't think authors should need to add it to their workload, while I've seen more often that it’s essential because it shows you really want to work with the person.

            Once the letters are sent, you wait.

            Sometimes the replies come quickly, sometimes not. The average response time is four weeks to three months. That is, if they respond at all, which a number specifically say they don’t.

            When the response comes, it is usually a form-rejection letter – pre-typed and sent with a click of a button. After all that work, this is a huge let-down. Not only is it hard on the self-confidence, but it feels cold and impersonal. You just want to ask them, “What did I do wrong? Tell me what to fix and I’ll fix it!” But if you do your research properly, you’ll know you’re not supposed to. So, you’re just left wondering if you’re actually good enough while you wait for the next response to come in.

            Now, while I’d love to hear back personally from every agent I've queried, I fully understand why this is their process. Some agents get as many as 300 books submitted in the span of a week. 300! Per week! Out of that, they end up representing 2-10 new books in a year. It’s little wonder they don’t have time to respond personally to everyone.

            But, once in a while, they do. Their feedback is usually as brief as a form rejection, but you know they’re talking specifically to you. I received one of these this past week and I can honestly say that the only thing that could have made me happier would have been if the agent had wanted to represent my book. She told me that my story was strong and it drew her in from the start. She said I have talent, but she didn't fall in love with the story the way she needs to if she was going to represent it. She also said that she’s certain that it will find a home soon.

            Not only did this wonderful rejection give me a confidence boost, it also shed some more light on the whole query process. The agent took the time to tell me that my book was good enough to publish, but she just wasn't the right one to represent it – and that’s what most writers don’t understand. In order to represent a book, an agent had to fall in love with it. They can’t simply like it.

            So, more often than not, a rejection isn't the “You’re not good enough” that it feels like; it’s more of a “It’s not quite right for me” which, incidentally, is usually the exact wording in those form rejection letters.

            Hopefully that can bring some consolation to other writers, as it did to me. Agents work very hard, so it’s little wonder they can’t often take the time for a personal response – it’s better that they spend their time working with the people they do represent. That makes the times they respond personally mean all that much more.


            The querying process isn't perfect, but it’s the best system we've got right now. Until someone comes up with a better method, all we can do is work with it and hope for the best. Perhaps we should consider renaming rejection letters, though. Rejection feels too harsh for what they actually are. I think Not For Me letters would be a more apt name. Too bad it doesn't roll off the tongue as nicely.





Click here to find the charity anthology containing a couple of my short stories.


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If there's any subject you'd like to see me ramble on about, feel free to leave a comment asking me to do so.

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