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The Highs and Lows of Querying

December 2, 2020 in Daily, The View From the Basement, Writing
roller coaster

It’s been a while since I updated you all on my novel, The View From the Basement. Part of querying a novel that nobody ever tells you about is the large chunk of time you also spend ignoring the shit out of your novel once it’s out in the world, or rather, sitting in the inboxes of various literary agents. And, well, I figured it was time to be more candid about this whole process because nothing really prepares you for it, honestly.

May: Revising + Round 1 of Querying

I started this whole process back in May. Had to go back into my Facebook profile to dig out the proper timing of this all because 2020 has been a ride, but it turns out that I dug out my old draft, revised it, and also wrote my entire synopsis and query letter in the span of a week.

So yeah, the quarantine had its positive moments.

I queried about 20 agents. I also participated in a couple of Pitch War events. Two responded immediately and requested fulls, which literally got me feeling like I was going to sell this thing right away. I got a one partial from this batch of agents too, so I was confident.

July: Rejection

I eagerly awaited a response from one agent in particular. I had high hopes. She’d followed me on Twitter years ago, likely having read one of my stories at one point.

Well, she rejected me with a nice rejection letter. It gutted me at the time because I was so confident that things would work in my favour.

The other agent who’d requested a full rejected me later:

Your writing, the unflinching nature of this story and the intensity of the relationships are all so well done and I hope it’s clear that this is a very close one for me. 

She offered a couple of wary suggestions on improving the manuscript but said she didn’t feel confident leading me down the wrong path. Which was… helpful? But also tough to take because of the previously-faced butthurt.

Looking back I now read those rejections with pride. Because I got so close on the first try. Hearing “No” is always tough at first but it’s easier to take with perspective.

The Rest of Summer: Depression Sinks In

Months passed with nothing. Then I got a third full request during the summer. Another batch of time passed and I forgot I even had a full out.

Honestly, this is where things get a bit hazy because after all that time I kind of distanced myself from the novel, didn’t want to touch it with a stick.

October: The End of Round 1

Then, in early October, the agent with the full responded:

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you so much for your patience–sometimes the better ones take the longest. Please know I carefully considered your project, but I don’t feel I can offer representation at this time. The marketplace is more selective than ever and I must keep a modest list.

I loved the creepy premise of this, however, I had a hard time getting grounded in the story. This is completely subjective, so don’t give up! Nevertheless, I wish you every success with THE VIEW FROM THE BASEMENT.

Keep going with it, there are numerous agents out there that may be a good fit. I wish you the best of luck!

Warmly,
A Very Kind Literary Agent who didn’t mean to dash all my hopes and dreams but kind of did in that moment.

Fuck.

I didn’t want to tear my hair out with revisions again because ALL of the feedback I got on the manuscript fell in this realm.

They liked it but something was missing. No real criticism. No points of where to look into fixing the problem. If there was a problem? Maybe my third act was horrible? Maybe they just weren’t into the slow burn of the book? Or, perhaps, my characters were poorly written and couldn’t carry the dark subtext of the plot? Maybe?

My brain was a cesspool of “maybes”.

With nobody left on my first list of agents, I weighed my options in my obviously shitty mental state.

The All Is Lost Moment

I considered submitting to small presses. I considered the fact that my book was an absolute piece of shit that didn’t deserve to be published at all. Sure, I could write a mean short story, but this novel shit? Not for me.

I took to Facebook and vented all the angst.

Writer friends were supportive and offered suggestions.

Non-writer friends kept telling me: “d0n’T gIvE uP!!!!!!!” And you know, I do need to hear that. I’m a pessimist when it comes to writing. I know what the publishing industry wants. I get too invested in my own world.

November: Round 2 of Querying

I had no time to compile a new list of agents. Anxiety plagued me. Still, I went over to Manuscript Wishlist and started searching up terms.

Domestic Thriller

Daphne DuMaurier

V.C. Andrews

Female Friendships

Psychological Thriller

Gillian Flynn

My husband made dinner and I frantically compiled a new list in a few hours. He also hated me for not helping by the end of it. My metal state took a blow because I felt like shit for being a shitty parent and a shitty wife, but dammit, the other 1/3 of me needed a pick-me-up and it was worth it.

I already had a good query letter, I realized, and over the next two days I sent that query to every agent on my list that was taking queries.

Then I did another PitMad event and an agent liked my pitch that I’d already submitted to! I let her know and she dug my query out of the pile that day, got back to me and said she’d devoured the sample pages.

Four more agents took the FULL DAMN MANUSCRIPT.

Obviously, at this point I refuse to get on another high horse. They could all reject this thing again, but at this point in my novel querying, I know these things:

  • My query letter is solid
  • The sample pages hook
  • The novel is good. It’s very close.

Of course, I hope to get an agent in this round, but I do need to prepare myself for rejection again.

My Novel Querying Takeaways

This process proved to be tougher than I thought. In my 10-year career (on and off, honestly) of writing, I feel that I developed the thick skin I needed to take criticism and rejection. Querying takes a different kind of skin.

It’s not just dealing with rejection but understanding of how the process and works and how the publishing industry work. So all my non-writer friends might mean well, telling me that I’m good and that if I work hard enough that I will find fame and fortune, BUT THIS IS NOT THE TRUTH.

My novel may not see the traditionally-published light of day.

But when querying a novel, the point is to learn.

The point is to see the pros and cons of every part of the process, as well and the strengths and weaknesses of your own work.

Fortunately, I managed to write a good query. I managed to write a good opening to attract the agents who might best represent my book. My main struggle at this point is to figure out that climax of my novel that is losing the agents.

After the first round of querying, I decided not to revise my novel. None of the agents hinted at a clear point where the novel lost them, which leads me to believe that the flaw might not be in the book itself. There might not be a flaw. The book just wasn’t exactly what the agent wanted.

Hopefully, even if all five agents with the full manuscript reject the novel, I can at least get a clearer picture of how to strengthen that part of the book. That’s my goal.

Onward!

So that’s it. My detailed story as to how the novel querying process has affected me. It’s been difficult but I know I should talk about it more because people are engaging with my “writing” posts and it’s nice. I hope I’ve enlightened you and perhaps helped you process your own querying journey.

This all just fucking sucks but we do it anyway for some reason.

Credits

Header Image by Augustine Wong

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Rebecca

Rebecca is a neo-noir author from Kamloops, British Columbia. Her first collection of gritty short fiction, Vile Men was published by Dark House Press in 2015. She also writes about her writer lifestyle on her blog at rebeccajoneshowe.com.

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  • Emily Slaney December 31, 2020 at 7:57 am

    Honest things like this are good to know, and essential to read. Thanks for sharing.

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