On The Table Read, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, author of The Strangled Servant and The Poisoned Clergymen, E.L. Johnson, writes how querying is tough. Here’s why you shouldn’t give up.
Written by E.L. Johnson
It can be incredibly demoralising for a writer to go through the querying process.
You have to:
- draft a cover letter and make sure it’s witty, smart, personable and specifically tailored for whomever you’re pitching it to
- perfect a synopsis and have a short and long version ready to go based on submission requirements
- most importantly, your book (whether it’s a poems, a picture book, non-fiction or novel/novella) should be complete, polished, edited and made beautiful to within an inch of its life.
You should have gone through multiple revisions of it, torn it apart in terms of characters, plot, motivations, stakes, and revised it so much you’re sick in the face at the prospect of reviewing it again. And then once you do that, you’re ready to query.
Some authors magically query very few times and get picked up. Other authors can query hundreds of times and strike out every time. It hurts, it sucks, it’s and it can be incredibly painful to spend your time pitching your story only to see it get rejected time and again. If it makes you feel better, I once got rejected within about five minutes of sending a query out. When it’s right, it’s right, but when it’s wrong, it’s so very wrong.
Be strategic. Do your research.
This is literally how I got my book deal. For months, I spent every Friday night consulting the 2020 Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, which spelled out what publisher and literary house was looking for which genres, and how to contact them. I dog-eared pages in that book, made notes, and created a spreadsheet for agents and publishers along with their submission requirements. Saturdays I spent writing, revising and polishing my novel. Sundays I spent hours checking out these industry professionals I’d identified on Friday. Sometimes they were open to submissions and looked amazing, other times I could tell it was a long shot and they probably weren’t right for me. But you don’t get anywhere if you don’t try, so that’s what I did.
For my Georgian-era historical mystery novel, The Strangled Servant, I queried it 87 times. Out of those, 5 industry professionals asked to see my full book, which was ultimately rejected. Two said they’d be happy to look at future work. Thirty-seven sent me rejections, and 45 never responded to my query.
I’ve had agents reject me within five minutes, an hour, six months, and even a year later. Don’t hold your breath and expect to hear from the publisher, editor or agent right away. Instead, keep polishing, perfecting and querying your story. And write your next one. There’s always a next one.
Don’t write to trends.
Don’t write a novel loosely based on or similar to a big film/tv series out right now. Even if more books come out in the same vein and are all doing well. The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner series are all examples of this. They’re excellent stories that made it big. But it’s worth remembering that the books that are getting made into tv and movies were written years ago.
Their authors queried just like you, went into the slush pile, and were picked up. Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton was first published in 2000. Twenty years later it became a big hit on Netflix. The chances are that the next big book series trend to reach the big screen have already been written or are being written right now. It’s up to you to write the next one, so make it original.
Write the story that’s inside you, dying to get out. Write the story that’s making your fingertips itch to type up that page.
Part of it is down to luck, and having your story reach that agent, editor or publisher at the right time. But another part of it is not giving up and continuing to query. Make your own luck.
There are unicorns out there, the writers who write an amazing book the first time around that becomes an overnight success, an instant bestseller. They get the book deal, the huge advance, the tv series, the film deal. Those are unicorns. But remember that while those will exist, you are not the exception. Like me, you are probably the rule, and for us the going is tough. That’s why you keep at it.
Believe in your novel. Never give up, never surrender. Only you can fight for your characters and bring their story to life. Once you shut the cover on that opportunity, you’ve limited yourself from that. You won’t get that job if you don’t apply, and while our stories are passion projects, they are also marketable products. Think like that.
I was incredibly lucky in my querying process, but it can literally take years of querying. So don’t give up. All it takes is one yes.
Find more from E.L. Johnson now:
Follow me on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18090432.E_L_Johnson
My website: https://eljohnsonstories.weebly.com/
And catch my latest writing escapades on my blog: https://eljohnsonstories.weebly.com/eljohnsonblog
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