I’m currently querying my first ever novel. It’s stressful, to say the least. It feels like there’s so much at stake and the thought of getting it wrong is horrifying, never mind the fear that the book is just pure rubbish which no literary agent in the history of time would ever be interested in representing. Okay, we’re getting into rant territory now; focus, Ellie.
Basically, despite feeling really proud and satisfied and excited about my manuscript as I put the finishing touches to it, I can’t help but question its quality when it comes to hitting the big, scary “Send” button on each query. I can’t help but feel that sickening ball of anxiety expand from my stomach to my chest when I think about agents – clever, professional folks who I admire and respect – reading my work and discerning its value based on a few opening chapters, a single-page query, and a cover letter.
Now, if you’re here looking for advice on querying, you will be disappointed. I couldn’t possibly give advice when I don’t even know if I’ve been successful. So far, I’ve had a couple of rejections and a lot of radio silence. I may have royally effed up and sent the worst queries to have ever been written. What I can offer you, however, is a quick rundown of what querying feels like. Because that’s super helpful, right? Maybe it will help you get mentally prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that is sending unsolicited submissions to agents who you have admired from a distance for a really long time and are desperately eager to work with.
Querying feels like telling your crush you like them
But not face to face. Oh no. It’s like sending them a lengthy text or email or MSN message confessing all of your secret love for them and having to wait forever for them to reply. Either they’re going to tell you they fancy you back, or they’re going to reject you. In that case, you’ll feel desperately embarrassed and turn bright red every time you even think about them because it will remind you of how unworthy you are of their attention.
Can you tell I was a glum teen whose crushes never liked her back?!
Querying feels like finishing an exam
You know those kids who come out of the exam hall and ask what you wrote for every question so that they could try to figure out what grade they were due before their exam paper was even cold? I was not one of those kids. I hated those kids. In my mind, what could do if I did mess up question 3? The damage was already done.
Sadly, though, I could never help but listen to those kids and I’d always begin to go all hot and cold when I realised I did in fact write the wrong answer. With querying, it’s that hot and cold all the time because there is no right or wrong answer and you’re always tempted to go back and read through your synopsis and various cover letters and pick out things you could have done differently.
Querying feels like letting someone read your diary
The agents I’ve submitted to aren’t the first people to read my manuscript, but it’s always daunting to give your work to a new person, particularly when they’re professionals from the publishing industry. Now, I’m used to sharing short stories and pieces of flash fiction with the world on my website, but sharing my novel is a whole different kettle of fish.
My novel feels so much more personal in so many ways. I’ve worked on the damn thing for 15 months, and the characters are so close to my heart that they feel like a part of me. I’ve put so much time and emotional energy into this manuscript that when someone reads it, it feels like they’re peeling back my skull and taking a peek into my brain.
There’s so much of me in it – so much of my own emotion from circumstances in my own life – that I feel vulnerable opening it up to criticism and analysis. It is terrifying and also exhilarating, like sharing long-hidden secrets with complete strangers. It’s a relief to get it off your chest, but horrible waiting to see how they’ll respond.
Querying feels like graduating from university and having no idea what comes next
When I finished university, I had no idea what to do next. I knew I’d probably end up with a job, but I had no idea what kind of job. I didn’t know where to start in terms of looking for a career. I lacked purpose and felt overwhelmed by the unknown. And that’s a little how I feel right now.
All the advice I’ve read about querying is that once it’s done (or should I say once the process is started), you should move on to a totally new project. And I’ve taken that advice, because there’s little use poring over my manuscript time and time again – I already got it to a point where I felt like it was the best it could possibly be without input from an agent/editor. However, I feel like I have so many options going forward that I’m just floundering.
I would love my first novel to develop into a trilogy and I already have tonnes of scribbled notes about books two and three, but it seems daft to start on the next book if I don’t yet know the fate of book one. Will an agent like it and sign me, resulting in a traditional book deal? If so, would that book deal allow me to write a trilogy? Because if not, there’s no point in me wasting time writing book two right now.
What if I’m not successful in winning over an agent? Well, I’ll probably approach some small presses or indie publishers, or I could self-publish. In that case, it could make sense to start on book two now, while book one is still fresh in my mind.
But I also have an idea for a whole new novel which I’d really like to get stuck into. And then there’s a bunch of short story ideas I have floating around in my head and in various notebooks; ideas for stories I could submit to magazines, Ezines, anthologies and competitions, all of which could help me to expand my readership. But honestly – I can’t do both. I don’t have the time to keep up with posting here and writing new longer-form short stories and writing a whole new novel. I’m committed to this writing malarkey, but I’ve still got to work and eat and sleep and stay sane.
There is so much going on in my mind that I’m bubbling over with what-ifs and what-nexts and what’s-the-points. And honestly? It’s crushing my ability to write new stuff. I feel lost.
But then again, I feel hopeful. At one point or another, this novel will make its way out into the world, I’m sure of it. I’ll make it so. And I already have an idea for my next big project, even if I’m not sure when I’ll get around to starting it. My imagination certainly hasn’t dried up, and as long it’s still churning out ideas, I’ll still be writing. I’m sure I’ll figure out my next step in this journey soon.
Until then, there’s always gin. 😉