In the Querying Trenches? Courage — It’s a Marathon

Are you in the querying trenches — querying agents with a fiction manuscript? That’s probably one of the hardest phases of the writing life. Being on submission is hard too (when your agent is sending out your manuscript to editors) but somehow querying agents feels to me harder. Here are some survival strategies.

They say the best thing to do while you wait for answers form those who seem to hold your publishing future in their hands is to write new things. I’m here to tell you that really works — but also planning your author career as if you are  in charge (you are!)  really works too. Think past this one book. Think past the querying trenches to the after you’re published part.

Do you wonder what’s behind the form letters? Anne R. Allen’s blog has a great article: “The 10 REAL Reasons Your Book Was Rejected”. It may surprise you. The thing is, many agents you query will at some point confess they really don’t know what they’re looking for until they see it. It’s about as scientific as betting on horses. If you search on “fiction trends 2018” you will learn that self-published books are to increase (big surprise there).  So one of your options is to quit querying and self-publish.

Going Indie

If you plan to make self-publishing your next stop after querying, you may  want to look at these stats:

Self-Publishing’s Share of the Kindle Market by Genre
  • ROMANCE. Self-published: 49% Small/medium: 11% Amazon: 9% …
  • MYSTERY/THRILLER/SUSPENSE. Self-published: 11% Small/medium: 5% Amazon: 16% …
  • SCIENCE FICTION. Self-published: 56% Small/medium: 9% Amazon: 5% …
  • FANTASY. Self-published: 49% Small/medium: 7% Amazon: 7% …
  • Romance: 40% Mysteries/Thrillers: 20% Fantasy: 6.33% Sci-Fi: 5%

For traditionally published books, several women’s fiction titles were on bestsellers lists of 2018 so far. Political nonfiction books dominated the lists. If all of this doesn’t make you want to change the way you write or topics you write about, read on.

Writing What You Want to Write and Letting the Chips Fall

This is my game plan. It’s a long game, and it’s based on the fact that I’m not trying to make a living from writing fiction. I have topics, characters, issues, and events I want to write about in my fiction and poetry. I’m a serious literary writer in the sense that I choose the topics that draw me and then try to find a genre or category to fit into. If I can’t, I can’t. I’m going to write what I want to write.

This brings me to a long-game strategy. If a book you’ve slaved over, rewritten, had early readers and editors review, polished, polished more, and finally queried to agents  (and in my case, also small presses) without success — put it in a drawer and write something new. It will be great, when you finally get an agent or publisher, to have other books to talk to them about. You’d be surprised how everything old can be new again — publishing trends included. Articles on the querying trenches rarely mention this, but it’s a fact.

Chick-lit is back?  Vampires never died (LOL), fantasy is still dominant, romance rules the world. You don’t have  to look at statistics. If you have a manuscript that’s a romantic fantasy with suspense, a magical realism whodunit, a YA that’s nearly NA, or any other blend of categories, and isn’t selling this year — count on it, it will be BIG another year.

When to put a manuscript away, or when to consider self-publishing, — those decisions are about how to build a writing career. I decided to go with a small press. Not the Big Five publishing companies in New York, but a small, feisty upstart with ambitions. But I’ve been down the querying path for many years, first with The Renaissance Club, and now with a new manuscript.I considered self-publishing. I know several very successful self-pubbed novelists. If I ever do that, I’m going to do it with the right book, and most like through Amazon, with whatever program such as KDP Select they’re promoting.

While I’m in the querying trenches, one thing I try to remember is that I have many options for this book. I’m the boss of my writing life, not an agent, not an editor, not a publisher. I’m building my audience and my literary goals. These are my choices — and guess what? They all involve a lot of work and a ton of decisions. But always Onward! And sometimes ice cream  helps.

One option is putting the manuscript away for a time, if it isn’t picked up right now. When you put a manuscript away, you’re not necessarily abadnoning it. You may instead be making a strategic move that works out well later.

The writing path can be long, steep, and require a well-supplied backpack of optimism and faith in yourself. Keep moving!  It will pay off.

Have some strategies of your own for navigating the querying/publishing field? I’d love to hear them and have them included here in the comments. Or point me to articles you like! Thanks for reading and writing.