My journey within the query trenches began July 31, 2017, and I’m still there after six months. I’ve received one full manuscript request from an agent who later passed on the work. I’ve endured twenty rejections, but my partial manuscript is currently under consideration.
During this time in the trenches, I have done my best to not only survive but thrive. And I’m hoping you can do the same with these ten tips and tricks to surviving the query trenches!
1.) Start Small:
I think any querying writer who sends a letter to EVERY agent on their list is doing themselves a disservice. To survive, I’d start small. Begin with five agents. Or ten. Wait to see where the querying process takes you. If you don’t have an agent after the first round, don’t give up! Revaluate! Revise your letter. Revisit your work, and begin all over again.
2.) Begin Something New:
After sending out those queries, it can be too easy to become obsessive in checking your inbox, stalking agents’ Twitter accounts, wondering, hoping, revising, etc. I think the best thing any querying author can do is start something new. I began my current WIP as part of NaNoWriMo 2017, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made during my time in the trenches. Not only did I have a month to focus on something fresh, but the time away from my other novel, reinvigorated my love for that work when it came time to return to the next round of query letters and novel edits.
3.) Get Organized:
The query trenches are difficult enough without the added stress of keeping track of your queries. For this, I suggest using Query Tracker. Since the beginning, I added agents I knew I wanted to query, and updated the stats through this site. It helps keep track of rejections, requests, and lets you stay connected to other writers querying the same agents. Whether you’re just beginning your query journey or six months in, I recommend Query Tracker to keep you sane!
4.) Do More Research:
Feel at a loss with the agents you’ve already sent form rejections? Did the agent with your full manuscript just not love the story enough? That’s okay! Time to go back to the drawing board. To search for new agents, try using Manuscript Wish List: both the hashtag and the website. By searching #MSWL on Twitter, you will see what agents are looking for NOW, and you can use this information to personalize your next round of queries to make your story stand out amongst the slush pile! For more specifics, search agents on Manuscript Wishlist to gain insight into their favorite books, most wanted stories, and what sets them apart from other agents! *Note: Through their consultations you can reserve short meetings with agents to discuss your query letter or opening pages, and who knows, this just might be what leads to representation!
5.) Put Yourself Out There:
Throughout the query trenches, there will be many times in which you may have doubts about yourself and your writing. And that’s okay. But it can be of real value to have someone in the same place to swap stories of horrors and success. For this, I’d suggest putting yourself out there, searching #querytrenches or #writerslife on Twitter and getting involved with the writing community. Who knows, you might find a critique partner, or you might build your very own following for when your book does become published! And keep an eye out for pitch contests on Twitter. Often there will be specific days when you can pitch your novel using the preferred hashtag. Agents who like your tweet will let you know how to forward your pages, which skips the beginning of querying, eliminating the added fear that an agent won’t be interested to read further. Even if this doesn’t garner an offer of representation, it might just be the thing that gets you through the difficult days in the trenches.
6.) Start Smaller:
Does the idea of starting a new novel seem daunting? Start small! Write a poem, or a short story, a haiku, or a grocery list, a stream-of-consciousness confessional, which goes nowhere. Maybe you’ll even like what you’ve written enough to make it longer. Use these small moments to remind yourself every day that you are a writer. Keep writing!
I think it is impossible to be a writer if you’re not a reader. But maybe your TBR list got out of control when you were crafting that lovely novel, which you’re now querying. Pick something new. Pick something well-loved. Either way use the act of reading to remind yourself about the magic of storytelling. Remind yourself your story will be a real book someday. Along the way you might find yourself the perfect comp. title for your next round of queries. *Fun fact: This happened to me just before the new year with Kayla Ancrum’s debut novel, The Wicker King!
8.) Submit Something New:
Find yourself wishing for something other than a rejection? Try submitting something new to a small press or contest. I absolutely love @pwlitmagster on Twitter. They post calls for submissions, which could lead to your next publication. Even the small act of having one piece published in an online magazine could be enough to remind you that your writing is worth it!
9.) Find Support:
Too often, as writers, we might have family and friends who love us and who wish for nothing more than our books to be published someday. But just as often, these people might not understand. They might not know what to say to a rejection. They might not know how to read the current work in the trenches and give any concrete feedback on how to make it better. And that’s okay. New website and service Illuminovel provides a bridge between writers and agents. Though currently out of BETA testing and undergoing changes for June, this site offers writers the change to have their query letter, first 30 pages of the manuscript, or both, critiqued by agents. After two weeks, pages will be returned with insight as to how to make the work better and more desirable for representation!
10.) Don’t Compare:
Last, but not least, do not under any circumstance compare yourself to other authors if you have any hope of surviving the query trenches. Traditional publishing is fickle, and it’s a journey with no actual ETA. Just because someone found representation one month in, doesn’t mean you will have the same experience. By all means, use Writer’s Digest Successful Queries to guide you through writing your own letter, but don’t use those published stories as a comparison for your work-in-progress. Cheer on the writer’s who’ve made it, offer support to those who haven’t, and know that every published author has been where you are. They survived, and you will, too!
Kayla King is a graduate of Buffalo State College’s B.A. in Writing (2013), and the Mountainview MFA (2016). Her work has been published by or is forthcoming from One For One Thousand, Germ Magazine, Five 2 One Magazine, Plath Poetry Project, Cat on a Leash Review, MockingHeart Review, Figroot Press, Souvenir Lit Journal, Dear Damsels, The Mystic Blue Review, and Twelve Winters Press. Since receiving her MFA (Fiction) in 2016, she's set her sights on publishing the novel conceptualized during her graduate studies. Now in the query trenches with her YA speculative novel about dreams, she is seeking representation and dreaming bigger than ever.