The Starving Novelist
 
Ahh . . . it seems like it was only yesterday I was sending my very first query out into the cold, cold world; with nothing but a hope and a wish to keep it warm.  Oh, the memories . . . 

Seven months later, litters upon litters of queries have been thrown out into the world to fend for themselves, and just a couple of weeks ago, I entered the realm of triple digits.  Yes, I have sent out over 100 queries (I will not say how much over, because I do need to maintain some dignity).  Admission is the first step, right?  I actually felt embarrassed and ashamed at first, like I was some kind of loser who “couldn’t get the hint” (self-deprecation at it’s finest).  However, when a querytracker.net member (Raven1- maybe you know her?  If not, she’s QT’s own resident cheerleader) recently congratulated me on reaching this milestone, it caused me to re-evaluate the situation.  Hmm . . . maybe it wasn’t something to be ashamed of.  It’s not like I just randomly sent out 100 queries in one fell swoop.  Those queries are a representation of hours, upon hours, upon hours of hard work and determination.  Not to mention, I’ve read plenty of success stories from people who got offers of representation after hitting the 100 milestone.  So maybe this is something to be proud of after all.

How did the number get so high? 

First of all, can I just say this whole ‘send out about ten at a time to see if your query is working’ philosophy is a bunch of phooey?  Theoretically, it does make sense, but realistically?  Not so much.  More and more agents are switching to the “no response means no” rule, and those who do respond either (a) do so with a vague form letter and/or (b) take forever to respond.  I think twenty queries at a time seems more appropriate (especially if this is your first time querying a novel).  If after about three weeks you haven’t gotten a single request, then you know for a fact your query isn’t working. 

My query wasn’t the greatest at the beginning, but it was good enough for me to get a submission request here and there.  To make a long story short, it took me sending out seventy queries (and several sub rejections) before I’d gotten enough feedback to realize my ms needed revising. 

After three months of revising, I was ready to jump back into querying.  Needless to say, after about two months of being back, I’ve easily surpassed the 100 mark. 

Why keep going?

This is my first novel, and if I’d quit after 20 queries, I would’ve been doing myself a huge disservice.  It’s very likely this novel will end up getting trunked, but it’s been a HUGE learning experience, and I don’t regret one second of it.  I’ve learned so much by putting this project out there.  For example, if I had quit early on in the process, I would’ve never known that my dialog has a tendency to sound “choppy,” or that I really need to be careful not to bog down my beginning with back-story.  These have all been invaluable lessons that I would’ve never learned had I given up fifty queries ago.  My next project will surely benefit from the hard work I put into this first novel.  I hope.
 
 
This is a continuation of last week's entry, regarding some of the important things I've learned since undertaking this journey a year ago.

The first chapter- The first chapter is almost just as important as the query in getting a request for a submission- especially since a lot of agents request sample pages along with the query.  When I originally wrote my opening chapter, I THOUGHT it was original, creative, and most of all, pulled the reader in.  However, as of lately, this first chapter of my ms has proven to be my nemesis.  How do I know this?  Well, for starters, ALL my submission requests came from queries with NO attached sample pages, and when I got feedback from agents regarding submissions, there was often a mentioning of my first chapter.  Back to the drawing board!  Lesson- don't put hours and hours into a query, and then neglect your first chapter.  Your first chapter needs to introduce the main characters, and at least HINT at the conflict.  Oh, and don't overload the first chapter with backstory (another one of my faults)!!  Spread it out throughout the ms . . . leave a little mystery ;o) 

Agents- One piece of advice I'd like everyone to take with them is: Don't lose your integrity!!  Remember who you are!!  Agents are not God's, and we are not their little minions.  They need us just as much as we need them.  Let's face it, most of us are . . . well . . . desperate.  We want to find an agent so bad, we sometimes put up with a lot of behavior we probably wouldn't put up with in any other sort of business relationship.  Don't get me wrong, I've had really good experiences with several agents (even though I received rejections from them), and will most likely query them again with future projects.  They were considerate and respectful, and I would highly recommend them.  On the other side of the spectrum, there are some who are . . . . less considerate and respectul (I'll avoid specific details- no need to start a debate).  We've all heard author/agent horror stories.  Don't become one of them!

Feedback- What is there to say?  This stuff is like gold- most of the time.  I say most of the time, because sometimes the feedback can be very vague, like "I don't get a sense of urgency" or "the writing doesn't sparkle".   Just like I did, you're probably racking your brain right about now, trying to 'break the code'.  My point is, sometimes you have to disregard some of the feedback, or else you'll drive yourself mad trying to figure out what the h*ll they're talking about.   However, if you're receiving similiar feedback time and time again- USE IT!!  Don't disregard it as 'coincidence' or some kind of 'conspiracy'.  Take it, and use it to make your manuscript "sparkle" *sarcasm*.

Moving on- Don't throw in the towel until you've done everything in your power to get represented.  I've heard of people sending out HUNDREADS of queries before getting an offer of representation.  The key is to always be open and willing to making changes to your query and ms.  Oh, and continue to write!!  Try to get a little bit of writing done while querying.  Also, in my own opinion, READ, READ, READ!!  Reading other books will give you ideas on how to word things, or how to set up your plot.  Personally, I know the more I read, the better I write (strange, but true).

Wow, if I've learned all this (and more!) in a year, I wonder what I have to look forward to this year?   Here's to wishing all my fellow writers a wonderful and successful New Year!