I had an entirely different post planned for today — about the good, bad, and ugly of prologues –but then I got hit with what I’m not-so-affectionately calling the Rip Van Winkle flu and was forced to sleep away any writing time I may have had. So the dissection of everyone’s most hated literary device will have to wait for another week, I’m afraid.
Instead, I’m going to give you an encore of an article I wrote earlier this year, which is especially pertinent now, when hundreds of writers with freshly finished NaNoWriMo drafts are preparing to brave the query trenches and Twitter is heading into what’s otherwise known as Pitch Party Season. Be sure you check out the counterpoint article referenced as well, for the full spectrum of both good and bad behaviors found in querying.
Good luck to all those participating in #pitmad today! And until next week, happy writing!
What To Do WHILE Querying
by Kisa Whipkey
Originally Posted on 7/3/15
A few months ago (okay, six months ago), I posted a surprisingly popular piece about what not to do when querying, detailing all the things authors should avoid, as well as some of the things they shouldn’t (I posted a reprise of it last week too, in case you were wondering). But that only covered the initial part of the process, the actual act of querying. Today, I want to talk about things you, as an author, can do while you wait oh-so-patiently (yes, that was sarcasm, people) for those elusive responses. And in keeping with the tone of the previous post, there will probably be at least a tiny bit of snark, so be ready.
What To Do WHILE Querying
(aka How to Avoid the Finger-Drumming Lure of Bad Decisions)
Let’s face it, waiting sucks. It has always sucked. And it will continue to suck, because it’s waiting. And waiting — say it with me now — SUCKS. Humans aren’t wired to be patient, and the age of the internet, with its instant gratification and its lightning fast access to information and entertainment, has done absolutely zip when it comes to instilling the virtue of said trait.
Well, publishing isn’t the internet. At all. Publishing is a relic, a dinosaur founded on the very essence of patience. Yes, there have been advances that minimize the time it takes for an author to see their name in print, and yes, there will continue to be avenues and improvements that further move us toward that as yet unattainable moment when a decision is instantaneous. But today is not that day. Today, a querying author faces weeks, months, and possibly even years before they’ll finally hold their book-baby in their hands. Today, you wait.
I’m sure you can see how this scenario often leads to behaviors and decisions that can be problematic, many of which I listed in the previous post. No one likes waiting. No one likes that nail-chewing anxiety of having their fate in someone else’s hands. But how do you get around it?
The easiest way to avoid becoming the poster child for what not to do is to find some other way to distract yourself. Agonizing over the wait, refreshing your inbox every twenty seconds, is only going to drive you crazy. So here are some things to try instead.
1. Learn the Ins & Outs of the Industry
This is especially important for the newbies out there, which is why it’s going to be the biggest section. Debut authors are like fledgling birds, testing their wings for the first time. And that’s a special, unique place to be. But it’s also dangerous. Just like baby birds have no idea what waits for them as soon as they leave that cozy nest, debut authors often have little to no understanding of the industry beyond the steps required to query. It’s okay if this sounds like you. We were all there once. I promise.
One of the deadliest poisons to the author/publisher relationship is unrealistic expectations. Let me paint the picture for you: as a kid, you decided you wanted to become a writer. You loved reading and the act of putting words on paper, and stories just seemed to flow magically from your fingertips. You envisioned topping the New York Times Bestseller list, landing that triple-figure book deal with a Big 5 publisher, instantaneous fame, book-signing tours, movie deals, and quitting your crappy day job with money to spare. Right? Don’t lie, we’ve all done it.
The sad fact is that only the top 1% of the top 1% ever reach any of those things. The rest of us slum it out in the query trenches, find a nice home at a small to moderate-sized press or even forge our own paths and do the self-publishing thing. You will see more rejections than accolades. Sales will be slow because no one knows who you are yet. Marketing budgets, if offered at all, will be tiny and heavily reliant on the author’s own willingness to do the majority of the work. There are no book tours, probably no movie deals, and you’ll be stuck at that crappy day job for probably several more novels. If you’re lucky.
But as discouraging as all that is, you can combat it. Do your research. Learn the way the publishing industry actually works. Set aside those shiny expectations that will label you a diva author and figure out how to attain success within the system that already exists. Read blogs by industry professionals, attend writing conferences, research publishers and agents and contracts and marketing and every other tidbit you can get your hands on. A firm understanding of the way the industry operates will prepare you for what’s to come when you land that offer of a contract and will help you avoid becoming prey to the cats waiting below your nest.
2. Befriend Agents & Editors
Social media is fantastic for this sort of thing. Find and follow agents and editors, and even publishers, to see first-hand what they’re looking for. Get to know the people behind the “gate,” as it were. Because we are just people. People who love books just as much as you do.
When you’re on the outside, publishing seems like a big, scary world. But it’s actually not. Industry pros talk to each other as well as to authors, so if you can befriend a couple, guess what? Your chances of success just went up. You’re no longer just a name on the 800th query in the pile; you’re a person. They know you. They may even like you. And when that happens, you can guess what comes next: they dig your query out of that massive pile of submissions.
So don’t fall for the us vs. them mentality. Agents and editors are your friends. Just be careful you don’t abuse the privilege. You can read last week’s post for the cautionary note on that. 😉
3. Read Widely, Both Inside and Outside Your Target Genre
By now, you should be sensing a theme. Research, research, research. All of these are great ways to bide your time during the painstaking months of waiting. If you’re a writer, you really should be doing this anyway. But we all know how few those reading hours become when you’re wrapped in the thrall of writing. Which is why it’s perfect to spend some time catching up on the latest releases while your query works its way through the pipeline.
Why is this necessary? Well, for starters, it will give you a chance to see what the current trends in your genre are, or rather, were. Remember, the books releasing now are a few years old, because unlike the internet, publishing operates at a pace not unlike a sloth on Valium, which is to say, it’s slow. So by the time they’re on the shelf, those trends are pretty much dead. Which means that if your book fits in that trend, you can already guess it’s going to be a hard sell.
But the other reason is that you grow as a writer by reading the work of your peers. You’ll learn new styles, new approaches to storytelling, and possibly even new ways to combine genres. It will also come in extremely handy when an agent or editor asks you for comp titles (comparative books that appeal to the readership you’re targeting) for your work.
4. Start Something New
This is the last piece of advice I have, not because it’s less important, but because it should be the most obvious. Writers write. It what you do. Yes, you poured your heart and soul into that manuscript you just sent out into the world, but there’s nothing more you can do for it. It’s time to turn your attention to the next one. Because it may be years before your first-born novel sees the light at the end of the publishing tunnel, if it does at all. Many writers don’t succeed with their first, or second, or even third novel. Sometimes it’s the sixth or seventh that lands them their first book deal. And that’s perfectly normal. Those first attempts aren’t wasted effort. You learned and developed and grew, and now, now you have a back-list.
Back-lists and archives of “new” content are an author’s secret weapon. Because guess what? Readers are impatient too. Just like you don’t like waiting for agents and editors to respond, readers don’t like waiting for a new installment from their new favorite author. Which is why the best thing you can do while querying is to continue working. Continue honing your craft, be it on novels, short stories, or novellas. Continue generating new content, be it blog posts, contest entries, or platform-building endeavors. Just continue working. Because at the very least, it’ll keep you from drumming your fingers on the desk and falling prey to all the bad choices I mentioned last week. And you never know, one of those other projects could be the very thing that gets you noticed.
All right, those are my top suggestions for ways to make the waiting less agonizing, but they’re certainly not the only ways. I’d like to hear some of yours. So, authors and other editors, what do you do or recommend to keep the query-trench madness at bay? Sound off in the comments below! 🙂