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In Control: Querying
Don’t give publishing the power to dictate all of your moods, all of your highs and lows, or your sense of worth
A recurring theme through my newsletter posts has been control. Why I queried three books at once, how mentoring empowers both mentors and mentees, how to remain focused on your vision of the book.
Writers have so little control over so many things in this industry—marketing plans, sales, covers, whether or not you even get acquired, whether or not you even get agented. In the midst of it all, how do you maintain a sense of agency? While you’re waiting (and you’re so often waiting) how do you keep yourself from spiraling into helplessness? Mostly, you don’t, you suffer a lot regardless. But I have a couple suggestions.
I’ve said before that my #1 piece of writing advice is to have a life outside of writing. This is a form of control. Don’t give publishing the power to dictate all of your moods, all of your highs and lows, or your sense of worth. I am a writer; at the end of the day that feels like the truest aspect of my personality, but I also have a day job. I’m an artist. I really really like doing DIY stuff. It’s nice to be outdoors, it’s nice to chat with friends, it’s nice to watch TV and listen to music and pay attention to a world outside social media and outside of publishing. These are the things that ground me and give me a sense of self so that when I do turn my focus to publishing I am not ground into dust by the subjectiveness of the entire thing. I can work on my craft, but I can’t make someone like my book. I can keep writing and keep working, but I can’t make someone buy my book. There’s not much objectivity in the industry, which means you can have a book you think is really really awesome and you still won’t get a deal. No one’s owed a platform in this industry, not even you, however heartbreaking that is.
So I gain some perspective by power washing my deck. I quest for clarity by going for a walk with my cats (they have little harnesses). I remember that I’m not running out of time. I have my entire life left to keep trying, keep pushing, and keep getting better. This is how I stay in control in ways outside of publishing.
Okay after that introduction to the topic, let’s move onto querying specifically. It's all good and fun to powerwash your deck, but how do I take control while actually doing publishing things?
I still think you should go do other things in your life, probably not all to your deck both because many don’t have decks and because I destroyed my back fiddling with my deck. But anyways:
Firstly, I helped gain a sense of agency by querying multiple books, and you can read about that in my very first newsletter. This is maybe a faux pas to a lot of agents, but I have to look out for myself and I handled it in a responsible and respectful way with clear communication. Response times move at a glacial pace and there’s no reason you should have to put your life on hold too if you don’t want to. Take breaks, yes (I only write 5/12 months of the year) but also keep writing, keep learning, and keep producing.
Write new books and edit them. Spend concentrated time thinking about what your best writing process is. Put those books out in the query trenches. Increase your odds and de-emphasize the mindset that ties your worth to your books in general and especially to any single book. Some books really are books of your heart, but they aren’t a reflection of your worth. This is a business, and that means the market matters more than anything else. Some books just aren’t going to be your debut, no matter the order you write them in, and it’s helpful to be able to swap focus to other projects if you have to. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s a useful thing to have when you’re trying to sell a book: think of it like a product. One you love, but one that doesn’t encompass your whole being.
Nudge agents when they need to be nudged. NOT TOO EARLY, but many often list when they should be nudged on fulls. When I got offers, I even nudged those still holding my query whom I’d marked CNR because, well, why not—once when I was querying, I received a full request 3 months AFTER the official agency CNR date. Be polite, professional, and don’t be demanding, but do feel empowered to nudge.
Make friends. Talk to other writers both online and off. Build a community that will support you when you need support. Find other people to cheer on (even when I’m not making career progress, if my friends are winning I am winning). You can do this on Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, etc.
Learn as if you already have an agent. Seek out resources (the BookEnds Youtube channel covers a lot of topics!) that will tell you what to do at every step from here to publication and beyond, so that when those moments do come you’re not floundering as much. Time spent learning is not time wasted—you can think of it as an investment in your future! Plus, knowing what comes after signing/the book deal will better prepare you to determine what it is you need from your agent.
My last piece of advice is to do admin stuff like build a website, grow your following on social media, and submit to mentorship programs and other competitions. All of these things can be good for you and good for your career and they’re practical bits that you can (mostly) control and set the pace for. You can teach yourself how to use wordpress instead of paying for it if you just need something to do and stay current with happenings in the writing world. Programs and competitions are often great ways to build community even if you aren’t selected!
None of these tips will ever be a replacement to publishing just…moving faster, but I hope they help prepare you for when you do get an agent. Having a backlist in place will make it easier to keep selling projects. Having a website is always useful, knowing how to email and nudge professionally will set you up for your future!
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