Guest Post: Surviving the Querying Trenches
[box type="note"]Patrice here: Today, I have my friend Laura Sebastian on the blog to talk about the querying process. Take it away, Laura![/box]
We talk a lot about how difficult it is to query—how you have to put together the right list and all the important things to remember when writing a
query. All of that is true, but in my experience, the most difficult part of querying was something more internal: I was sending my hard work out to strangers and many of them would, inevitably, reject it. There’s no way to avoid this, but you can be proactive about it.
The best advice I can give is to work on something new when you start to reach out to agents. There are a few reasons for this.
1) It gives you something to channel your energy into. Otherwise, if you’re like me, your life will start to revolve around your inbox.
Don’t let your life revolve around your inbox.
Much like a watched pot never boils, a constantly refreshed inbox produces only spam.
2) It takes the sting out of rejections. Don’t get me wrong—rejections will always sting and there’s no way around that. But if you’re knee-deep in another project, it’s natural that you’ll begin to feel a healthy bit of distance from the project you’re querying and those rejections won’t feel quite as fatal as they would otherwise
3) It’s your next project. No matter what happens with your querying project, you’ll need something new sooner or later. Maybe the project you’re out with will find an agent and sell. Maybe it will find an agent but won’t sell. Maybe it won’t find an agent at all. No matter what, if you want to be a career author, you’re going to need to find another story to tell. Might as well get a head start on it.
In the fall of 2015, I started sending out queries for a historical fantasy set in the Gilded Age. I’d researched and labored over it and I was proud of the outcome. I still am. But as soon as I started sending out queries, I started working on something new and wholly different. That book turned out to be my debut, Ash Princess.
And that Gilded Age fantasy that I put so much time and energy into? I ended up trunking it.
Whenever I hear the phrase “trunked novels” I imagine an actual trunk. A steamer trunk, specifically, bright red and shiny with a gold padlock. Inside are stacks and stacks of manuscript pages with a thick layer of dust gathered on top. Months and months, years and years worth of stories and characters and prose that ended up abandoned. Every author has their trunk, though today I guess it’s more of a folder. Though “foldered novel” doesn’t have quite the same romantic images attached to it.
It’s hard to trunk a novel because it feels like you’ve wasted so much on a project that got nowhere. But here’s the thing: nothing was actually wasted. You did the work. You wrote something you were proud of. You learned some things about craft and the market along the way. Bits and pieces—maybe entire characters and storylines—might end up in another book. You might even end up pulling it out of the trunk one day and dusting it off. You might be able to rewrite it in a way you couldn’t before.
Currently, I’m reworking a trunked novel. Not the Gilded Age one, but something that I’ve been working and reworking for the better part of ten years (Note from Patrice: It’s AMAZING). Each time I pull it out of the trunk and dust it off, I look at it through a new set of eyes. Each time, I see a clearer shape of what it needs to be. There are characters I understand better, plots I know how to make more compelling, themes I hadn’t picked up on before. It may be the proverbial book of my heart, but it needed that time in the trunk. If I had kept working on it over and over again and not tried something else, I don’t think I would have ever grown as a writer.
Maybe one day, I’ll bring that Gilded Age book out of the trunk again. I still love that book, though I can see its flaws much more clearly now. Every so often, I’ll think of some way to improve it and I’ll jot it down in a notebook. I know that it’s still not ready yet, but one day it might be. Or not. Hard as it is to admit, that’s okay too.
LAURA SEBASTIAN grew up in Key Largo, Florida (like the Beach Boys song). She studied Performing Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design before segueing her love of storytelling into writing plays, then books. Her first book, Ash Princess, is due out on April 24th, 2018. She now lives in New York City with a dog named Neville and a precariously tall stack of books to read. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.