Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Querying is a Game

It really is. If you're querying right now, you're playing a game, one where you don't have all the pieces.

If you're feeling down about some rejections you've received recently, try to remember these things (these are the pieces you don't have to play with):

1. You don't know the agent's full client list. They may have a client that writes similar books to yours. They may reject you for this.

2. They may have just picked up an author with a similar plot line to your book. They may reject you for this. (This totally happened to me. I could name names. I won't.)

3. They may only be looking for a certain genre right now -- and you don't know what that is. They may see that yours isn't what they're looking for and reject you. Does it suck?

YES.

But like I said, it's a piece you don't have, that you can't play with.

4. They may have just sold to an editor that they would pitch your book to. They can't sub every book they have to the same editor, so they may pass on yours.

This is sucktacular too.

5. Timing is king. And unfortunately, you have no idea if it's on your side or about to checkmate you. So, uh, good luck with that...

So what can you do to stay in the game?

1. Write the best book you can.
2. Don't give up.
3. Whine to your writerly friends.
4. Work harder, learn more, write better.
5. Write another book.
6. Try, try again. (Okay, this is the same as #2. But it bears repeating.) Basically, I'm saying to send more queries. Each one is like a shiny new piece, a new opportunity, that could be the card that says, "Go directly to home, collect the $200, you're a winner!"

So yeah.

What do you think? What pieces of the game are you missing? Will you keep playing until you win? I hope you do. If you feel like throwing in the towel, send me an email, okay? Okay.

74 comments:

Cheree said...

I agree with not knowing all the pieces. When I started writing one of my stories I never would have guessed how many were similar to it, but I'm definitely not going to quit. I'm in it for the long haul.

Slamdunk said...

Good advice Elana. I agree that you should put forward your best work and not get lost in the pressure to conform--as in write something that you think will be what agents are looking for.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

LOL. Your first line sounds like most of the games in our house. I keep finding the pieces in the oddest places. Now if I wasn't so tired, I'm sure I'd be able to relate that to querying. But it's only 5:20 am, and my brain isn't function yet!

Great advice! It's why you shouldn't have your heart set on a certain agent (e.g. your dream agent) to rep you.

salarsenッ said...

You really hit it home, Elana. Simply stated, we really are in the dark when we query. I agree. Timing has a lot to do with it, but we have no control over that. Control what we can--like improving our writing and writing the best book we can--and the rest will (eventually) take care of itself.

Matthew Rush said...

You make several great points Elana, and the only advice I can add is simply to make sure you DO have all the information that you can. You're right much of the knowledge that is necessary to decide who and when to query is not available, just make sure you gather all that is.

Mary said...

Very informative. A great way to look at this *game* of query. Worth adding to notes.
Thanks much.

KatieO said...

I love the word sucktacular! I may have to use that - especially with regards to the Query Game!

Having definitely fallen prey to #1, as well as to some of the other pitfalls you've listed, I'm still playing the game, but it gets harder as time goes on. Posts like this help keep it all in perspective!

Thanks!

Theresa Milstein said...

You and Tahereh wrote inspirational posts today, which is good because I have one query out and I'm about to embark on a queryquest today. Not looking forward to it.

Christina Lee said...

yeah...sigh. THX for the boost today! The missing piece for me?Imagining them laughing at my premise or even my writing ("come look at how sucktacular this writer is") b/c mostly you only get form rejects. You just have to trust your gut;-)

Kris said...

Thanks for the inspiration, Elana!

I'm in the middle of the query game--and not really sure of all the rules!

I've got a couple of fulls/partials out (and that is the ONLY thing keeping me going). The sport in my YA novel is not one that tons of people follow (ok, it's golf, there I said it.) I've been getting a lot of passes to the effect of "not a golf fan, sorry."

Because I've had some requests, I know it's not the writing. Just got to find a golfer--but that's not usually in their agent bio. ;)

I've got enough positive feedback, that I'm far from quitting the game!

Scott said...

Thanks for the post. Definitely needed since I'm nearing the point of query . . . after eliminating close to 50,000 words from a project. Yup, 50,000! Be afraid, be very afraid!

Speaking of word counts, from what I've learned, some agents pay close attention to word counts. I'm not sure if that's an auto-reject, but a debut novel with 140,000 words make make an agent go "Uh, No!" I'm just saying . . .

S

Indigo said...

Encouraging words dear friend. I doubt I'll feel like throwing in the towel, but it's a great feeling knowing you're an email away if I should. (Hugs)Indigo

JustineDell said...

You are ... the greatest!!! I mean that! I never thought about the missing pieces. And in the last few weeks, I've wanted to pull out my hair, break my fingers, and throw my computer across the room. Okay, that's dramatic, but it's been tough.

I will certainly remember this one: Write another book! Because that's what I love to do!

~J

Jessica Nelson said...

Thanks for this post, Elana. I have def. been feeling down so thanks for reminding me that it might not be because my book completely stinks. *grin*

Alexandra Shostak said...

Great post. I've been feeling like that for... 3 novels now. :-P I definitely get frustrated about not knowing WHEN the best time is, when timing is everything.

Here's a question for you: how did you know when your manuscript was ready to query? :) Because that has a lot to do with it, too.

Candyland said...

I will keep playing until I win and I will whine to you in the process:)

Aubrie said...

I'll definitely keep playing! Every book I write is another shot.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Elana, these are the most reassuring words on querying that I've come across. So true. So spot on.

Melissa Sarno said...

Thanks for the reminder, Elana. As crazy as the experience is, there is a lot of up and down, win and lose, just like a game. You strategize and send your queries out to the right people and refresh your e-mail waiting for random good or bad news. If you're lucky enough to get requests or offers you pit the agents against each other in a high stakes battle... I like seeing it that way :-)

Crimey said...

Elana,
I'm not even at the query stage for my current WIP, but after the first WIP received all rejections, I'm not looking forward to it either. But I think*** I'm better prepared to deal with whatever happens this go around.

laurel said...

Thanks for the reminder that at times market forces are playing against you even if you have a very publishable manuscript. I keep thinking of Madeleine L'Engle, who took 10 years to find a publisher for _Wrinkle in Time_. The book was before its time. But she didn't stop writing or trying.

Kristi Helvig said...

When I think of a game, I think of something fun like Monopoly. Querying seems more like a form of torture than a game. :)

Marsha Sigman said...

I'm not giving up. I write the books I want to read and it's just a matter of time before I find that perfect agent match.

Lydia Kang said...

I know, it's all true and probable, but those rejections still sting! But writing a new book helps a lot!

Janet Johnson said...

Thank you. It's so good to hear. You're right. We do our best at the game and can only keep trying.

Definitely sucktacular, though.

Jill Kemerer said...

I always leave your blog with a smile on my face. Thanks for the wisdom!

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm getting closer to that querying stage - and quite honestly I'm terrified! But I'm going to throw on some armour and do it. (Once the ms is ready that is.)

Larissa said...

Ha! I love how topics springup around the blogosphere. I posted this week about not giving up, too.

Thanks for the reminder!

Kimber said...

Great Post, Elana. Today's blog post includes the very first query letter I sent out to publishers...oh, the embarrassment. But it did result in a few requests, as shocking as that seems to me now. And luckily, I know that I am getter better and closer with each new submission.

catwoods said...

Elana, this is a great reminder. While we don't have all the pieces, we can up our odds by careful research and patience.

Sometimes you just need to give one manuscript a break from the market before sending it out again. Just because we're ready doesn't mean the industry is. It also doesn't mean, "Your book sucks and will never find a home."

Learn your craft. Every day your manuscript doesn't sell is another day we have to learn something new that may catipault us from an okay writer to a great writer.

lotusgirl said...

Great advice as ever. I've improved my writing so much in the process of trying to get published. It can only help in future projects.

Stephanie McGee said...

LOL.

What pieces am I missing? Uh, how 'bout a manuscript ready for submission? That count?

Great advice, as always.

Marva said...

7. At some point realize that even if you really, really want something it may not be within your abilities to achieve it. In other words, know when to fold 'em.

Sorry, Elana, but telling writers they'll win if they simply perservere long enough is just not realistic given the few slots available and the numbers of writers trying for them.

Not everybody can get to the Olympics, win American Idol, play a pro sport, or get an agent just because they keep trying.

Heather Kelly said...

Elana--You're awesome. I think that faith is a big part of this whole process--faith that you will at some time hit the right person at the right time. Of course, I'm holding out querying until I have something spectacular. So I have absolutely experience with this yet. But I have lots of faith... :)

Renae said...

As usual another great post Elana! Everything you said is so true. As hard as it is the best thing writers can do is keep writing...keep perfecting that MS. The right agent is out there, we just have to be ready when they come along.

Kenda said...

Thanks for the post, Elana--your points are very timely as I'm in the first stages of querying now. The piece of the game that's missing for me? Something I don't think you've mentioned and that is, when do I finally stop tweaking the thing, let it fly, and see what happens?

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Dude. Really good advice. Best part? "it's a piece you don't have, that you can't play with." That really puts into proper perspective. Thanks!!

Christine Fonseca said...

oh yeah...love this post! I know you wrote it just for me! And don't I always send you an email *wink*!

Heather said...

Thank you, this is both eye opening and encouraging~oddly enough~at the same time. It's all about how bad we want it and never giving up!

Shelley Sly said...

You're so right. It does feel like a game, sometimes even more like a casino game than a board game. Maybe the next spin will line everything up on the slot machine -- we don't know until we try. Eh, okay, not as great of an analogy, since casino games are mostly random, but it's the same feeling of not knowing, right?

Thanks for the reminder to write another book and try, try again. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Not missing anything at the moment, because as you said, timing is everything, and I timed mine right.

Susan R. Mills said...

Great advice. And I absolutely love the word "sucktacular". Love it!

Tahereh said...

another fabulous post, elana. this is why we love you. <333

Valerie Ipson said...

So is it okay to whine to your writerly friends while completing all the other steps?

Nicole Zoltack said...

Great post! I'll never throw in the towel. I'm currently querying one novel and working (stressing over) the writing of another query letter for a different project. I think I'm beginning to hate writing query letters more than sucknopses!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Great post--as always! ;)

I think going to writer's conferences are a key playing piece in your favor--but I know not everyone can afford to go to one of those.

Really, the best advice is not giving up. If your current project isn't the one, try the next one. Just keep swimming.

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Great post--as always! ;)

I think going to writer's conferences are a key playing piece in your favor--but I know not everyone can afford to go to one of those.

Really, the best advice is not giving up. If your current project isn't the one, try the next one. Just keep swimming.

Angie said...

I feel like throwing in the towel often, and I'm not even querying. Well, maybe a little. I have one query out. It's funny that the other two rejections I got from the other two queries I sent didn't feel like rejections to me. It was just like "No thanks." They weren't actually rejecting my manuscript, so it didn't bother me as much.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Like Angie, I often feel like throwing in the towel. But writers are like sharks in that the only way to keep our dreams alive is to keep moving forward.

Thanks, Elana, your post reminded me of some things I had forgottened or had never even thought of.

Querying does sometimes resemble a game : Pin The Tail On The Donkey -- and usually I feel like the donkey!

Corinne O'Flynn said...

Great Post Elana - thank you for this. The whole thing is so daunting.

Jennifer Shirk said...

"whine to your writerly friends"--LOL!! Love that. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Great post, Elana! I'm a firm believer that though time may work against you at times, if you hang in there long enough, it will come back around and be your friend!

Kat Harris said...

So what you're saying is I might not suck as bad as I thought I did?

Bonus. :-)

ali said...

How'd you get to be so smart? Maybe if I hang around you more, some of your smarts will rub off on me. ;)

Carolyn V. said...

You bet I'll keep playing! So awesome. Great post Elana!

Bekah said...

Found your blog through Candyland- Nice posts and great site : )

Robert Guthrie said...

Rinse, repeat. Thank you!

Julie Musil said...

Never quitting! What if I quit just before that "yes?"

Stephanie said...

I love advice #3...we all do that don't we??? Misery loves company???

Mary Aalgaard said...

Great pep talk. I especially like to do #3.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Quitting is not an option. I've heard too many stories about persistence being the key. This is a fabulous post -- I've never considered many of the factors you point out. With my own work, I tend to assume a rejection means my work isn't quite there yet, which makes me determined to make it better. With anyone else's work, it's easier to consider that the business is very subjective. I'm going to print this article and tack it on my wall. (After, of course, I add it to our Friday round-up :))

Martina

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Ah Elana so true, so true. Great post putting things into perspective. Querying is starting to feel like Russian roulette lol (okay so maybe I'm being a little dramatic).

Yvonne Osborne said...

I'm a very poor loser. So I have to keep playing until I win. I wonder how many emails you got....

Good post. You rock the blogs I haunt.

Nichole Giles said...

Rejections are sucktacular! I love that word, btw. But they're necessary in the process of finding the best agent.

And yeah, I've had a lot this year. I'd like to not get any more, please. *crossing fingers and waving around a variety of lucky objects*

But if I do get more, I'll still keep going. Because that's what we do.

Tabitha Bird said...

This is so true. I got a request direct from a publishing house. I met the CEO at a conference and she wanted to see my memoir. I sent it. She loved it... but it was not the right fit for her house at this time... which SUCKS!

I was not planning to actively submit my memoir just yet. But this CEO's response was hard to ignore. I am glad to have had the opportunity to play the game. I am currently re working parts of the memoir and plan to play the game in earnest at the end of this year. I feel I am close. But who knows how close.
This post was great. Thanks :)

T. Anne said...

Your awesomness is beyond mere mortal limits you know that? Each time I come here I'm floored by the number of comments you get, the awesome follower list that exceeds my normal word count on any given day. Me? I'm playing tag with an agent. I won't till fall if it pans out but if it does I will shout it from the rooftops, or twitter, whichever.

Amber Lynae said...

Ever tried to play Old Maid with some of the cards missing. Yeah not so much fun. Neither is the querying... but I love your advice.
Thanks for the post.

Meredith said...

I hate that so much depends on timing, but you're totally right. This is such an encouraging post--thank you!

Horserider said...

Great post. :) I needed it today. I got two rejections yesterday and woke up to one this morning and it made me think about throwing in the towel for awhile (on this novel at least). But it's time to suck it up and keep on trucking because if I haven't given up yet, it would be pointless to give up now. :)

Amanda Sablan said...

You have some great, inspirational advice to share!

Carol Kilgore said...

I know I'm late chiming in on this, but this is such a great post because many writers don't understand this because they don't understand the business part of writing. It's also handy because even when we do know all this, we sometimes forget when we read 'sorry, not for me.' Thanks.

Palindrome said...

You're right . It's nice to keep in mind that there isn't just an agent sitting out there waiting for your book. Although, that is my dream.

Rita Arens said...

Struggling through this right now. Thought it would be easier after having published a nonfiction anthology. But this is a novel. So? Not easy. Thanks for this post.

Rita Arens said...

Struggling through this right now. Thought it would be easier after having published a nonfiction anthology. But this is a novel. So? Not easy. Thanks for this post.

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