What Not To Do While Querying Literary Agents
From the moment I learned about literary agents, I couldn’t wait to send query letters. I’m fortunate. My friends and family support my writing. I’ve learned tons from the #writingcommunity. A group of beta readers generously shared their time and talents with me. But I love the idea of having a partner -- someone who truly has a stake. Someone I can learn from and collaborate with. I enjoy the solo work of writing, but I’ve always found it better to be part of a team.
So, I set to work. I researched agents. I read the archives of query blogs. I listened to the podcasts, attended workshops, and asked questions in online panels. I revised, got feedback, and revised again. And again. And again. (If you’re reading this, you’ve been there.) I was finally ready.
I did not anticipate feeling so many feels after I hit send.
There are plenty of excellent posts out there about how to write a query letter that gets manuscript requests and persevering through the process. But here are four things I learned NOT to do after submitting queries to literary agents (and what to do instead).
Join me as I remind myself, over and over again, that waiting is hard.
Dear Bex, don’t lose yourself to the refresh monster. You’d like to pretend he’s only lurking under your bed, biding his time to surprise you at 3:00 AM with an urgent feeling that this might be it! But no, he’s constantly with you. When you take a bath, you daydream draft the How I Got My Agent blog post featuring an antidote about how you got your phone all wet when the full request arrived. You set your watch to alert you to emails as if you’re ever more than a foot away from your phone. It. Is. Time. To. Stop. On-call ER doctors aren’t this responsive. Instead, try to be present. Leave the phone on the charger. Sit on the floor with your kids. Actually pay attention to the movie. Journal. Hey, why not try writing a self-indulgent blog post to bolster your authority and confidence?
Dear Bex, don’t reread your query letter. (At least not right away.) It was perfect at the moment you hit send. It was proofed by you and several people smarter than you. It was polished but personal. It was tight but descriptive. Or maybe it was gutter trash. Who can even tell? But either way, it’s time to give it some space and allow distance a chance to produce wisdom. Instead, try working on the next book. This is the fun daydreaming and plotting stage where anything is possible and wine is allowed. Enjoy it. You’ll miss it on the fourth revision, trust me.
Dear Bex, don't waste time searching for four-leaf clovers. (Or other omens from The Universe.) Now, I understand that we’re spending a lot of time confined to the front yard with the boys these days (because of that pesky pandemic) and that there are really only so many heart-adorned Be Well messages you can write with sidewalk chalk. And please, do try to remember that those lunchtime quarantinis weren't your best idea. So yes, you need something to occupy your racing mind. Instead, why not focus on making your own luck. How? Keep learning, keep meeting people (virtually), and keep working hard. Many conferences are offering free or inexpensive alternatives since they were forced to cancel. Local libraries and bookstores are shifting events online, opening up a whole new world of opportunities.
Dear Bex, don’t get down about attempting this emotionally intensive endeavor in the midst of a global pandemic. You’ve read in the annals of querying lore that there’s a certain amount of witchcraft involved in finding an author/agent match. With dementor-like droplets of dread hanging over the world, logic screams that it might not be the best time to be casting a spell. Maybe just wait. Maybe be cautious. Nah. Instead, remember that agents are actual, real human beings. Yes, many of them are in the epicenter of the US outbreak, NYC. Yes, this uncertain time is triggering stresses, new and old, in most of us despite our coping mechanisms. But if you stop and actually listen to agents (from a safe distance), many of them are talking about what they want to see from authors right now. This is the first pandemic in world history in which many of us are still able to connect via digital platforms. Isolation doesn’t have to be so isolating.
So to those of you 347 "how to query" blog posts into a wee hours stress-session: I’m with you. Waiting sucks. Rejection sucks. But you don’t suck. At least not yet -- not if you refuse to quit. Use each sliver of feedback to get better. That’s what I plan to do.
Are you querying? What have you learned?