So someone you care about has been writing, probably for quite a while now. You’ve seen them go through the highs and lows of drafting and revising. The roller coaster of excitement and self doubt. And now, at the end of all of that, they have a book. And it’s the best book they feel like they can write at this point. So they begin the dreaded process that is querying.
Yeah, if you’re not a writer, you probably have no idea what that is. So I’ll explain it first.
If your friend is querying, it means they are pursuing traditional publication, i.e. publication through a company/publishing house. They are hoping to one day see their book on a shelf at the bookstore. But most of these publishing houses don’t let just anyone send them a book. They’re closed to unsolicited submissions. That means, if I send a manuscript to the folks at Random House, they won’t read it, they’ll throw it in the recycling.
What your friend needs is an agent. An agent takes manuscripts to editors at these publishing houses and tries to sell your book. They have a foot in the door. When a reputable agent sends an editor a book, they read it, rather than throwing it away.
Because agents basically act like quality control in the publishing world. Most of them are open to unsolicited submissions. Agents read through hundreds of book submissions every month to find the ones that are the best. Not just the best, the ones the agent falls in love with and knows they absolutely have to take on and try to sell to publishers. Because agents have already done the filtering/quality control part of this process, most editors only accept submissions from them.
The process of finding an agent that will fall in love with your manuscript and agree to represent your work and take it to publishers is called querying. What your loved one is doing when they are querying is typing up a short cover letter, called a query, and sending it to agents they think would be interested in their sort of book. The agents then read the query and possible sample pages, and if they’re intrigued, they’ll request more. Here’s were we get into some outcomes and terms you should know because they’ll be happening to your friend on a regular basis.
Rejection = The agent said they weren’t interested.
Partial Request = An agent asked to see a small portion of the manuscript.
Full Request = An agent asked to read the whole manuscript.
So here is what your writer friend wants you to know about the querying process.
- It isn’t about selling a book. Not yet. There are no book deals being brokered at this point. So don’t ask about that. They’re trying to get a literary agent.
- It is a looooonnnnggg process. Lots of waiting. Often, a writer will send a query and have to wait several weeks to hear back from an agent. If that agent asks to read more of the manuscript they will probably wait months to hear back if it’s a yes or a no. There are people who have queried a book for a year or two before getting an agent for it. So don’t expect this process to be fast.
3.Your friend is getting a lot of rejections. A LOT. This is just part of being a writer. every writer gets rejected at some point. Every. Single. One. Multiple times. Your friend will probably be a little bummed about a rejection, but they knew what they signed up for. Don’t act like each rejection is a big deal, or a sign that this book isn’t very good, or that agents don’t know what they’re doing. None of those things help your friend. The best thing you can do is say, “I’m sorry. That stinks.” And throwing in some chocolate never hurts either.
They feel a lot like poor Tom Brady here.
4. A partial or full request is exciting, but ultimately not that huge of a deal. If your friend gets a request from an agent, it’s a good day. It means this manuscript is in roughly the top 10% of what comes into the agent’s inbox. That’s great news! But agents still end up rejecting the vast majority of manuscripts they request to read. Most usually only take on a few new clients a year. So don’t start talking like this is a sure thing or start telling all your family that an agent is reading her book and what not. Keep it between you and your friend.
5. Querying means that your friend has moved their writing beyond just a hobby. It means they are trying to pursue a career. Treat it like the endeavor it is. It’s important to them. Respect that.
6. I’m just going to say this again. Your friend is getting rejected on at least a weekly basis, if not a daily basis sometimes. They probably have way more rejections than you know. So, while your heart is in the right place, don’t try to remind them about some big author who got rejected 12 times, or 62 times, or whatever. Your friends numbers might be way past this and being reminded of that just stinks. Honestly, the only one of these stories that has ever given me hope was reading how many times Kate Dicamillo’s BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE was rejected, and that’s because it was over 200 times.
So, now that you really understand what is going on, let’s talk do’s and don’ts.
DON’T tell your friend they should just self-publish.
DON’T try to give them advice about writing different kinds of books.
DON’T comment on how often they are checking their email. They know they’re obsessing. Trust me.
DO try to distract them. Go out and have fun. Remind them there is life beyond their inbox.
DO ask them what the next book they are working on is. This is the best way to not let querying beat you down.
DO celebrate and commiserate with them. Never invalidate their feelings.
DO try to talk them out of giving up. There will be days they want to. Give them your best “Let’s get ’em” speech.
DO let them know you admire what they’re doing, no matter the outcome.
DO listen and try to be in tune with how much your friend wants to communicate about querying. Some won’t want to talk about it much. Others will want to tell you about each request. Try to follow their lead. It’s okay to ask about it, but with how slow publishing moves, I wouldn’t ask any more than once a week. Two times a month is probably plenty.
DON’T assume that if they can’t get an agent for this book, that it isn’t any good. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Getting an agent to fall in love with your book has a lot to do with skill, yes, but there is also an element of luck and timing to it. Did you see THE MARTIAN? That book was self-published after not getting picked up by agents.
And if your friend keeps working and writing and querying, hopefully they’ll come to you one day with the words, “I have an offer.” I’ll talk to you about that next week.