Critiquing, PitchWars, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying

A few weeks ago one of my writing friends posted a wonderfully inspiring tweet:

And I replied:

Technically, this statement isn’t true. If you’ve seen my posts on tracking my queries, you’ll know that I do keep track of my rejections. However, I’ve never totaled them up for all the manuscripts, and as I thought about this post, I realized it might actually be helpful to share that information. I always figured I’d save these numbers for a dramatic How I Got My Agent post, but since that hasn’t happened yet, let’s do it! But also, as I’m still querying my latest manuscript, I’m not tying any of these numbers to specific manuscripts.

Manuscripts: 6
Queries: 594
Query Rejections: 500
Partial requests: 31
Full requests: 75
R&Rs: 4

So there it is. A nice even 500 rejections. But wait! That’s only query rejections. When you add in the fact that those submissions and R&Rs didn’t turn into offers, I’ve squeaked over 600 (some of those requests were from contests rather than queries). Now, I did include queries and submissions for the manuscript I’m currently querying in these numbers, and I’m still waiting to hear on a number of those. Plus, there are a few agents who haven’t responded on a couple of my older manuscripts. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find it in their inbox and still make an offer :). (I am an eternal optimist.) Which brings me to my first and always lesson:

PERSEVERANCE

Basically, I’m not giving up, no matter what. I will keep writing until one of these manuscripts sticks. I mean, this is my What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying Post, and it’s a tradition. I’ve written one for each year, so if you’re new here, that’s already going to tell you something. If you want to go back and read the others, here they are: What I’ve Learned in One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six Years of Querying.

But on to the other things I’ve learned this past year.

Being in a major contest like Pitch Wars doesn’t put a magic spell on your manuscript. Now, I want to be clear that I did not assume being in Pitch Wars would result in an agent. It’s more that I thought this manuscript would be more ready than any of the others and I would feel super-confident in my materials. I’d had multiple writing friends participate in the contest before, which is much more than an agent showcase, by the way, and so I understood going in that the main benefit of Pitch Wars was the mentoring. I’d entered Pitch Wars with three other manuscripts in the past and not been selected, with feedback varying from “You should go ahead and query!” to the sort of responses you get from agents: “Not right for me.” So when I was selected by a mentoring team (Hi, Beth and Kristin!), it felt like I’d done something right with this manuscript. I knew it wasn’t ready to query yet, and that’s why the timing of Pitch Wars was so perfect. I would work with my mentors to shine up the manuscript and start querying after the agent showcase. I was thrilled with the final product and happy with the requests I received during the agent round (I never expected to be one of the entries with dozens of requests). Where my expectations have stumbled a bit was in the querying afterward. As with every other project, I’ve questioned pretty much every aspect–query, first pages, the overall manuscript. So being in Pitch Wars didn’t magically erase all those doubts. Oh well. Fingers crossed the right agent is still considering it!

Participating in a mentoring contest brings your revision skills to a whole new level. As I started drafting and am now revising another manuscript, I’ve seen the benefits of working in-depth with two mentors. I have amazing critique partners, and they’re very honest with me when they spot issues in my work, but the difference with mentors is that they go even deeper, suggesting cuts and additions that a CP may not. As I started writing my latest project, I felt like I had two extra voices in my head asking me if I was addressing those weaknesses I’d had in my last manuscript. I believe this latest first draft was stronger because I went through the Pitch Wars revision process.

Seeing your name on the Acknowledgements page of a critique partner’s book for the first time is an amazing high. Several years ago I noticed there was a group of writers whose work I love who always thank each other in the acknowledgements page, and I thought, “Someday I will have a group of friends like that!” My group of critique partners and beta readers isn’t so close-knit that they’re all trading with each other, but several of them do chat with each other and share excitement over releases.

In any case, this spring marked the first time my name was in a friend’s book, and I definitely walked around the house making sure my husband and kids saw my name in there. There are two more coming up in the next year that I will get to celebrate as well. I don’t know how long it will be before my name is on the cover of a book, but for now I will cheer on my friends and continue reading the amazing work of the writers around me. There’s so much more to this writing journey than my work. I feel like breaking into a chorus of “We’re all in this together … ”

Find creative outlets with more immediate returns. I actually do a few creative things, but one creative outlet I’d missed recently was playing the violin, so last fall I joined a community orchestra. It was hard work. I hadn’t played classical music in years (I’d been playing only at church), so I had to practice A LOT, but experiencing the payoff of performing challenging music was very rewarding. Now that I’ve found it, I’m not giving it up. I need that opportunity to express myself creatively and see the end result.

So that’s what I’ve learned this past year, and I’m hard at work revising the next manuscript I plan to query. Because of that lesson I already shared but it doesn’t hurt to mention again …

PERSEVERANCE!

To those of you who are persevering with me, keep at it! I’m cheering for you.

15 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying”

  1. Gosh this is incredible! I have only sent a query once (and I probably shouldn’t have because I didn’t have a full manuscript yet) I was 16 and just learning about publishing and hadn’t finished a full novel yet (honestly still haven’t) I hope to have a good manuscript to start querying next year! It would be amazing to be a part of pitch wars. I wish you all the best and I hope you find an agent one day!

    1. Hi, Tiana! Sorry for the late reply, but I just found your comment buried in my spam for some reason and released it. I think every writer has stories of queries sent that they shouldn’t have. While this post marks my official in-the-know querying, I actually wrote another manuscript a few years before that I queried to a few agents and definitely should not have because I didn’t let a single other person read it. I sort of cringe when I think about it, but like everything else I’ve written, I learned from it. Good luck with your manuscript and future querying. I truly believe that anyone who perseveres will achieve that dream eventually :).

  2. As always, you are an inspiration for me to keep going! One day your name will be on the cover of a book – I’m certain of it!

  3. This post was incredibly timely for me, since I just received two rejections in the same week. *sigh*

    It’s difficult to keep going, but it’s worse to give up. 🙂

      1. Thanks, Michelle! We’ll get there… just have to keep pushing. I love the mentor idea, BTW. I would love to find one – or even a writer’s group – but I can’t seem to find one, and I’m not a contest person. Do you have any advice on how to get a mentor with doing the pitch war thing?

        1. For specifically a mentor, there’s another program called Author-Mentor Match that doesn’t involve a contest. If you do a quick search, you should find details about it (I haven’t participated). Do you have critique partners you work with? Even if you don’t want to participate in the actual Pitch Wars contest, there’s a forum where you can search for critique partners. You don’t have to enter the contest to do that. In February, there’s also WriteOnCon, which also has forums. I really like forums for getting a taste of other writers’ work to see if you have similar styles. I know there are other CP match services on Twitter and just online to help you find people who write similar types of work. If you are looking for an in-person writer group, I’d do a search for a local chapter of whatever genre you write in (SCBWI, RWA, etc.). While I have a couple of writer friends I meet up with in person occasionally, I don’t have an in-person group. My main CPs are all online. I hope that helps!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing about your journey as an author, Michelle. The dreaded rejection, or ‘no response’ {which is even worse in my experience}, is a beast I hate to battle. Seeing your statistics at the top of the post helped me realize how resilient authors must be. I appreciate your candor in this post.

    1. I lumped quite a lot of “no responses” in those query rejection numbers. I’ve gotten used to them, particularly if the agent lists a particular time frame in which no response is a rejection. I wanted to share these numbers to show that even hundreds of rejections don’t have to get you down. The most important thing is to keep going. Thanks for stopping by, June!

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