What I wish I’d known when I was querying

1. Do. Something. Else.

I was the worst because I had so few hobbies besides writing. Reading, sure, but after a while lines start to blur and “I’ll read this book by a stranger!” turned to “I’ll read this book by a Twitter friend!” turned to “I’ll read this manuscript by a critique partner or someone I’m beta-reading for,” and that’s not healthy. You need to have a life outside of publishing. Sometimes I joke about whatever writing- or publishing-related thing I’m doing that day being the only thing in the world—whether it’s plugging away at the first draft of my manuscript or line-editing a critique partner’s book before it goes to their agent or proofreading an author’s galley for my internship. But while sometimes those things are so intensive they seem like the only thing, it’s important that we make the distinction: it’s not, because life exists outside of publishing, and we should be living it.

2. Do not obsess.

Yes, I was one of Those Writers. I checked QueryTracker a minimum of five times a day, every day, and I say that without joking or exaggerating. If I sent an agent my full on January 1st and I hadn’t heard anything by April 1st, I nudged them that day, since three months is the general timeline when nudging becomes a thing you can do. I was absolutely obsessive about everything, and I know a lot of people for whom “don’t obsess about querying” is equivalent to “don’t breathe.”

But the thing is, it gets so much easier if you relax a little. If you realize that agents have professional and personal lives outside of the slush pile, let alone your book, #19 in the onslaught of Microsoft Word documents they might not even have time to send to their Kindle. I can’t promise that it’ll ever be easy, but it does not have to be this hard. Write and edit your best damn book. Follow guidelines. Be professional. Then let your work speak for itself.

3. Write the next thing.

Please, for the love of all things good and kind in this world, write your next project. Throw yourself into it. Get breathless every time you think about how magical it will be, how it will be the best thing you’ve ever written. (Because if you’re not improving with each book, especially if you’ve only written a few so far, you’re probably not doing it right.) If you’re absolutely in love with your next project, the sting from rejections on the one you’re querying will be so much lesser. It doesn’t mean you don’t adore the book you’re querying—it means you’re simultaneously making things easier for yourself and being proactive about your career.

4. Take things to heart.

I know—this isn’t the standard advice! You’re supposed to remember everything is subjective and wholly impersonal! What gives? Well, yes, you’re correct about rejections, but I’m not talking about those. Or I am, but I’m also talking about the good things that come from rejections.

When an agent says “Please do send me your next project,” they are not kidding. In almost every circumstance imaginable—and certainly in all the ones I can think of—this means something to the tune of “I really freaking like your writing but, for one reason or another, I can’t take on this book, but I super hope you’ll think of me for the next one.” You’re not a one-trick pony; you’ll have other books. (If not, why are you trying to break into publishing?) And even if (what you think is) the worst thing that could happen does happen and you don’t get an agent with this manuscript, you already have someone—maybe even someones, plural—you can send your next one!

5. It gets easier.

It feels like it never will. It does. It takes time, dedication, and unending patience, but you will get there, and it’ll be amazing.

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