in this query-letter journey, that is. When I wrote Ficus Way I didn’t have any idea how someone actually went about getting work published. I knew about submitting to calls for papers, and submitting to journals and anthologies, but I didn’t know how you went about submitting a novel. How did people do it? I had some vague notion that you needed an agent, but I had no idea just what a feat it would be to GET one of those. Agents, as it turns out, are not sitting around in their cramped-yet-hip NY offices sipping on their Starbucks and just waiting for your query letter to pop up on their computer screen. Agents, as it turns out, are sifting through hundreds of query letters a day and getting your letter past them–hooking them so they will actually ask to read sample pages, feels like a near-impossible task. It’s also an art form, or a science–however you want to look at it. I sent my first query letters at the end of July, so I am still fresh to all this. But as the rejections letters pile up I can close my eyes and conjure up a vision of myself, a year down the road, still querying Ficus Way.
It’s a depressing prospect, truly.
Here is what I have learned along the way:
Research your genre. My first draft of Ficus Way was 60,000 words. I thought I had written a TON–I was giddy with joy. Yet, as it turned out, I was almost 20,000 words under the expected page range for novels in my genre. Most mysteries/thrillers are considered complete at the 70-80,000 page range. Some agents may not care and be willing to give yours a read even if it falls under, but many won’t. I was lucky in that the second agent I queried asked for the full, even with it at 60.000 words. I was unlucky in that he went on to reject me the manuscript, leaving me to my what-ifs: what if the novel had been longer? What if I had waited and done more edits before sending out the full?
This brings me to the second thing I learned. Don’t query until you feel 100% grand about your novel. I thought I felt grand, but then when I researched the length of novels in different genres I went back and heavily edited the manuscript and ended up adding nearly 10,000 more words. I did this after I had sent the full request to that agent. Of course I queried plenty of agents after that, but I am still haunted by the what-ifs. My edits made the MS so much better. I’m biased when I write that, but I think that it is true.
Rejections are so much better than no-responses. There is closure there, and a way to handily scratch that agent off my list. As of this point in time, I have nearly fifteen queries out there that no one as responded to yet. They make me sad, those dangling query letters that no one has the time to even answer. They are like lost souls, looking for the way out.
They say rejection gets easier over time, but I don’t think that’s true.
The words “slush pile” have got to be the ugliest, grayest, soul-robbing words out there.
I learned to do something positive after each rejection. I send out another query, or I go back into my MS and read a section. I feel both happy and sad when I do that: happy to see my words leap up off of the page to me, reminding me of how good they really are, and sad that I’m the only one reading them.
This is some of what I have learned along the way. Oh, I am sure there will be more.