Hey, querying writer.
I see you.
You’ve spent so long pouring your entire being into this manuscript, into your story, this precious piece of you. You had nights where the words flowed, your keys onslaught, your fingers cramping against the white-knuckle hold of your pencil as you struggle to keep up with the flow of the words desperate to escape you. Nights where you stared at your blank page, your face tight with the remnants of shed tears as you wonder where the characters have gone, why they won’t speak to you. Why is it so hard to write that next sentence, when just last week, the words flew like water against rocks, familiar and endless, constant and consistent? Why does tonight feel like starting over, despite doing this a hundred times before?
But you pushed on, until you had a score of both nights in your memory and finally wrote the ever elusive, but fiercely fought after, phrase you’ve only dreamed of.
It’s done, complete. You celebrate with sweets, walking out into the sunlight for the first time in weeks, calling your friend to celebrate, posting on your social media accounts using all the exclamation marks you denied your characters for the sake of making those three you left in truly count.
You take off for a week, two, perhaps even a month and find it’s hard to figure out what to do with yourself, without spending so much time with characters who have transcended to feel like family. You read and wonder if your books will ever be as good as this and suddenly doubt if your story that your gave everything for is any good at all; only to wake up the next morning after dreaming of your Oscar speech, after the cinematic adaptation of your now-published novel won Best Picture and your face is still heated from imagining speaking in front of so many people. But, in a rare moment of confidence, you believe your story can make it, that it’s worth telling.
That it’s enough.
You dive into revisions like one possessed and only leveling up your story can save you. You work with beta readers, writers, friends, going through the emotional spirals of learning your story isn’t as perfect as you dare dreamed it to be, yet it’s not nearly as shit as you were certain it was, trashcan lid already lifted with the lighter ignited. Suddenly, everything you’ve done before doesn’t feel like work at all, because this, now this is the definition, where your creative muscles flex and strain and you push beyond the limits of what you thought yourself capable, discovering who your characters truly are.
One draft becomes two, two becomes five, six, ten.
You don’t stop until you hate this story so much, you love it.
Feedback turns from criticism to praise, a reflection of insurmountable time and everything you’ve given, everything you’ve done. You know this story no longer belongs to you, because you want to give it to the world. It’s time to do a different kind of labor, putting names to faces, numbers into spreadsheets, checking off facts to see if perhaps one of these individuals you’ve researched and put onto your list might be the person to finally help make your dreams come true. You double and triple check email formats, refusing to be docked for something as simple as a typo or a misread instruction you accidentally failed to follow. You review page counts, whether to include a synopsis, attachments versus email pasting, titling your subject line, making sure you spell their name right. You reread your query and tweak the same word three times over until your eyes cross and your oh so very certain that this entire book is shit. You’re sweaty and nervous and suddenly you want to puke and the confidence you felt two seconds ago, the belief that this story was ready and you wanted to send it out to the world comes shattering around you like the thousands of shards that erupt when you shatter glass against the concrete.
But you’ve come too far to give into fear now.
Your characters deserve better.
Your future readers deserve better.
And so, frankly, do you.
One, five, ten, a dozen, you send out your query with a prayer and stare at your computer screen with bated breath, managing to barely last a minute before you hit “F5” and watch as your screen doesn’t change, resisting the urge to glance down and make sure you hit the right button. Eventually, you force yourself to walk away and continue living your life like you didn’t just send months and years of work out into the abyss amongst the masses and the slush, hoping against hope that someone else will read your story and fall in love, their vision only brightening your own as you finally take another step towards publication. Your mind whispers every fear you have about your work, attempting to nitpick every detail you’ve already spent hours agonizing over and attempting to fix yourself, and somewhere, you find the strength to silence it. You move on, either to work on another project, take a well deserved break or do anything–anything–that has nothing to do with creating entire worlds and lives out of nothing.
An hour passes.
Your email pings and your heart lurches into your throat, though you expect it to be another alert you wished you’d never signed up for–who cares if it’s a flash sale, you aren’t buying anything, anyway–only to see the subject line you agonized over, even if it only says, “Query: Agent Name,” as instructed.
Suddenly, you wish it was just another spam email.
You debate for roughly five seconds whether to open it immediately or wait until you’re more emotionally prepared, your gut trying to simultaneously prepare you for the worse while your heart dares to hope this particular agent might be the answer to your dreams.
It’s a rejection, form, simple and professional and honestly expected, the impostor whispers from your core, sharper than any knife.
The impostor grows in strength and, unlike the muse who wanes away much more quickly than you ever want her to, the impostor sticks around, dampening your day like a dark cloud when all you want to feel is sunshine. Suddenly, your story is as pointless as you believed, all of your fears confirmed from a single moment, a one line response from the opinion of a stranger. You wonder why you even tried, why you even dared to dream that this story could one day become an award-winning film when it can’t even get out of an agent’s slush pile.
Hello, querying writer.
I see you.
And I’m here to remind you that you’re wrong.
That doubt you feel? It’s just part of the process. That rejection you received, the sting it caused? A valid feeling, yes, but as significant as a rain drop into an ocean that makes up your career, where your story is the massive wave–and not the only one you’re capable of making. Yes, rejection hurts and I hate to be the one to say, especially in this fragile moment, that to pursue the career of storyteller, the constant you will truly be able to count on is the rejection you just experienced.
A constant in experience, yes, but not a constant state.
One rejection doesn’t mean a failed story. It isn’t a command to abandon this career or an affirmation that your story is not worth telling–or that you didn’t do it justice by telling it. Neither does two rejections, ten, twenty, a hundred.
The only rejection that matters is the one you tell yourself.
That moment when you quit or you give up.
There is no shame in that path, for sometimes, it might be the right path for you. But there is also no shame in being stubborn. In querying this story until you receive every rejection you can and then reevaluating your next steps–and there is always another path, even if it wasn’t the one you saw yourself taking, back when you first dreamed, once upon a time. In believing in this story despite what the impostor might want you to think. In remembering how subjective life is, but especially the publishing world.
Don’t question yourself too much. Don’t stop being vulnerable and putting your story out there. You wrote it for a reason and you believed, even if for only half a millisecond, that it belonged out in the world, to be read.
Fight for that belief.
Hold onto it.
I know this process sucks right now. I know it’s hard to make years worth of work and a 400 page story, all its intricacy and value and merit, come across in a three paragraph query letter. I know there is so much out of your control, from an agent’s mood that day, what their interested in and whether the market is ready for the kind of story you’re trying to tell or not. But please, don’t lose heart amidst the rejection. Don’t give up on this story or yourself. Continue to be vulnerable, to let yourself grow, to push yourself and what you can do, as a writer.
I believe in you.