Once upon a time, there lived a girl named Janet. By day, she slung medical insurance to the masses. By night, she attempted to hush the voices in her head aching to have their stories told.
Fueled by coffee, dreams, and men in kilts, she slaved long hours every free moment, working to get these stories into the world, shaping them into a beautiful book baby hopefully someone would love.
Thus, the querying process begins. And here's what you need in your satchel, purse, pants, or under your desk in order to survive:
Step 1 in the Survival Guide to Living the Dream as an Author - RESEARCH
This word will be your best friend for life in this business. Learn it. Love it. Live it. You MUST....let me reiterate in case you glossed over it. YOU MUST research whom you are querying. You will only do yourself an injustice if you don't. Not to mention waste your time, other people's time, and countless years of your life if you don't.
Not every agent/editor/publisher is created equal. Say it with me. Not every agent/editor/publisher is created equal. Now say it again.
It's your job as a writer to do your homework. Know where your work best belongs. Then, when you find someone who you think is a good fit, research them further. Google, look on Absolute Write (For the love of all that's holy, don't skip this step), Preditors and Editors, Twitter, Query Tracker...there's a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips in this techno day and age. USE IT.
Just because someone shows interest in your story, do not jump in without doing ….what's that word again?
Just like anything in life, there are people who prey on the unknowing, the naive, the uninformed. Don't be a victim. You wouldn't walk in the middle of the worst part of town, alone, at night, wearing a kick me sign would you? Don't do that with your book baby either.
Also, research if you want to go direct to a publisher that accepts unsolicited manuscripts or if you want to pursue an agent. But do not query both. Pick which option you feel best for your career. They are two different career paths. Research which option is for you. It may even lead to self-publishing after you've gathered all your research. But that's why it's very important to know what you're jumping into. And there's no other way out of it other than research.
Similarly, research agents to see which authors they represent, which editors they work with, what their sales records have been, how long their client this is. All of these are factors in making a decision for your career. How long have they been in business? Is a new agent good or bad? A new agent is not necessarily bad, they may lack years of experience, but they also have a smaller client list and you can build careers together. Weigh your options before you choose.
Does research take a lot of time? Yes. But you wouldn't hire someone to work for you if you knew nothing about them would you? So why do it with your precious words?
Step 2 - ALCOHOL. Accepting Life's Cold and Often Harsh Outcome with a Level Head.
(Also known as The Querying Phase.)
Don't drink? You should start. Okay, maybe you prefer chocolate, or ice cream.
Once you've done step one, conquered it, stalked it, made it your bitch, you're ready for the query phase.
Have plenty of your chosen poison on hand. Once you hit send on that query, you will need to save your nails from being bitten off. Waiting is hard. Rejection is harder (but we'll get to that later). So enjoy the waiting period while there's still hope in your heart and a song in your step. (I'm so full of happy, can't you feel it?)
READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. ←Do Not Skip This Step. It's as important as Research.
If you don't read submission guidelines, your chances of making it out of the slush are as good as Chris Hemsworth knocking on your door with a marriage proposal. Ain't gonna happen. If you leave out a vital piece of information or assume you're above everyone else and attach a full manuscript when the agent only wants a query? You've just shot your own damn foot off. Why would you do this?
It floors me to see how many agents each day get queries for genres they don't rep, get attachments when they strictly advise they do not open attachments, and get links to websites instead of a query and samples in the email.
If you claim you didn't know what they were looking for or how to even do a traditional query? You obviously skipped step one in the whole process....what's the word again? RESEARCH. Yes...old friend....RESEARCH.
So many places online, all you have to do is type in the word query and you will get a wealth of information on how to work up the perfect query. Query Shark is a great place to start. All Hail Janet Reid (moment of reverence). In your researching of agents/editors you should have come across their websites which have their specific submission guidelines. Another good place for information is QueryTracker. Agent Query is another good place, but beware, it's not always current. Publishers Marketplace is another good one. These are all good places to start, but ALWAYS go to the agent/editor's website for the most current sub guidelines.
Follow them. Send your query. Drink Alcohol while you wait. Or eat chocolate or stare at Chris Hemsworth on Pinterest. Whatever will get you through. Or, here's a novel idea ←See what I did there? Write a new book!
Step 3 - CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR
(Also known as, don't be a Douche-Canoe. Similarly, how not to get yourself blacklisted.)
So, you've sent your book baby into the world. You've done your research, you've picked agents or editors/pubs to query. You've waited patiently to hear back.
Going back to reading the submission guidelines, most agents/editors will post their query response times. If they say to give them six to eight weeks, DO NOT send them a nudge five days later wondering where your response is. Follow up only if you haven't received a response after their normal response time-frame has sufficiently passed.
That day will come when your email dings and you run to it in slow motion through a field of wildflowers. Inside you find......*cue ominous music soundtrack*....the ugly form rejection. I'm not going to lie, it's going to hurt. It's going to be THE SUCK. But rest assured, you're not alone. I promise.
First off, if you get a form rejection...be happy. Wait...what? Be happy?
In today's techno age, electronic querying is pretty much the only way agents/editors accept queries. Some still accept paper/snail mail queries. A select few still take ONLY paper queries (that one still boggles my mind, but that's another post). So imagine it from the agent's point of view. They're inundated with queries, some get hundreds a day, tens of thousands a year. For you to get a response to a query, even if it's form, be thankful you at least heard back. Don't be a dick and think you deserve a personalized response when these agents/editors don't know you from Adam. A lot of agents have gone to no response at all means “no thank you, please drive through.”
Imagine you land an agent. Don't you want your agent spending their quality time on YOU and YOUR BOOK, not sending out ten thousand personalized responses to general mass queries? Would that leave much time for you? No. So rethink unleashing the ninth circle of hell on an agent/editor for sending a form rejection. Yes, your time is just as valuable as theirs, so be thankful they took the time to even bother responding. END OF STORY.
Do not respond and berate them for not wanting your book. Do not stalk them and cause them physical harm. Do not publicly shame them for not writing you back with all the ways your book can be improved from the five sample pages you sent them. DO NOT BE THIS GUY!
A form rejection can mean lots of things. True, you'll never really know why they didn't want your book. Suck it up and move on. In the end, the only thing that really means to you is, they weren't the right people to represent you and your vision. End of Story. Wash, rinse, repeat. The best way to respond to a form rejection is not to. Agents don't expect to get a response on a form rejection. So don't give them one. Even if you want to say thank you for their time, don't. Say it when you send the query before hand. Responses on rejections just clog their inbox. You don't want your query smooshed between an irate rejection response or even a “thanks anyway”. Rule of thumb....just move on down the road.
Keep in mind, publishing is truly a small world. People talk. Agents talk. Editors talk. They're not out for blood with each other (unless they're vying over the same awesome manuscript). More often than not, they're friends and respected colleagues. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Don't let your name be acid on their tongues. Let them remember you for being gracious.
Everyone gets rejected. EVERYONE GETS REJECTED. Because your book is not meant to be represented or published by everyone! Cold, hard fact. If you can't deal with this fact, then unfortunately, you should hang up your writing hat right now because that's the nature of this business. Because guess what, it's still a business. Your words may be beautiful, and the world may need to see them. Unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn't happen.
Step 4 – FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT AND PRESS ON.
There are many options now in this techno age. Self-publication, Small Press, Hybrid Presses (that's another post). Or good old perseverance. So this one tanked in the query trenches. Write another book. With each book you'll get better, you'll have lived through more experiences, you'll learn patience. And some day reap the reward.
Maybe you'll be the exception and be the next J.K. Rowling. I truly hope that happens for you. Sure, I'll be jealous, but if you followed all the instructions above and you got through, I'll also be your biggest fan.