Monday, February 13, 2012

Query Hell

Back to the obligatory pit of author despair known as Query Hell.  In other words, everything is back to normal.

Except for me, it's not really all that hellish anymore.  I've done it too long.  I've been at this game, off and on, for the better part of several decades.  To put it in perspective, when I submitted my very first short story to a magazine, skinny ties, pastels, and leg warmers were in style - everybody wanted to look like they'd come straight off Miami Vice.  The publishing world looked much different than it does today, mainly because of the online accessibility of information to authors.

Back in the day, I'd get out my well-worn Writer's Market guide and pour over it 'til I was half blind.  After compiling a number of submission-worthy candidates, I'd carefully print out the material I'd polished and crafted, stick it carefully inside a Manila envelope with an S.A.S.E., and take my submissions down to the post office.  Then I'd go back to writing, and one by one, the rejections would trickle in.  It was always an adventure getting the mail, wondering if that would be the day I'd find an actual acceptance.  I usually didn't, and became quite calloused to getting rejections.  I filed 'em all away, collecting them like trophies, keeping the giant stack like some badge of honor.  I figure I have well in excess of a couple hundred now.  I did get an acceptance finally, got the galleys and everything.  And then nothing.  Don't know if the magazine abruptly folded or what, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Of course, there were times, jetting around the world courtesy of Uncle Sam, that this just wasn't possible.  It's hard to mail submissions out and collect rejection slips if you're not home.  Long hiatuses from the submissions game have been pretty much the norm.

And things have gotten much easier with the advent of e-mail submissions.  A whole lot easier!  I never query via regular mail now.  I have no reason to.  Yes, there are still agents out there who do not accept e-queries, but at this point in time, wouldn't you be a little hesitant of an agent who hasn't caught up with technology enough to operate that way?  Hell, a lot of agents accept only e-queries.

It's far easier, too.  There's tons of information on agents out there.  What they're looking for, how to query them, what to include, pretty much anything an author would want to know.  It's a lot quicker, too.  No complicated envelope, S.A.S.E., trip to the post office, and waiting on the postman.  Just zip it off and watch your e-mail.  You already do anyway.  Now there's more time for writing.

Except that there's not.  That time has been replaced by blogging, and tweeting, and all the other endless forms of social media out there.  Most agents want an author to have a good online presence.  They want to see the author is engaged himself, has worked to market himself as much as possible already.  It makes their job all that much easier.

Looking back, things haven't gotten any easier, but I've gotten better at it.  The one thing that jumps out at me right away is how much better I understand the publishing industry.  Publishing Separate Worlds was a tremendous learning exercise for me.  This blog has been too, especially with all the research I've put into the Literary Agents tab and sidebar.  I know better how to find what I'm looking for, and how to write better what they're looking for.

So it's back to the trenches for now, writing, editing, pouring over submission guidelines and then trying not to mix 'em up with I send the queries out.  It's still frustrating at times, but I've gotten as jaded to rejections as literary agents are to bad queries, so it's all cool.  And hey, it's not personal, it's the way things are.


  1. Good luck, Jonathan! If you want some fresh eyes to look your query over, I'd be happy to. I'm working on one right now before I get started on revisions to make sure I know where I'm going. Hating it :)

  2. Thanks, Shiela. Always the hardest part of the process. And I'll take you up on that offer.

  3. Good post, Jonathan. Hope the querying works out.

  4. Thanks, Luke! The more I do this, the better they get. That's a really good thing.