Sunday, September 25, 2016


Project 2016 is at the part of the process that I may hate more than anything else.


I think I've explained before that, with this project, I'm trying to get wider distribution--I want, for example, to be able to pick up my book at a big box bookstore rather than just being able to order it online. Meeting this goal means that I'll have to get my manuscript picked up by a larger publishing house--one of the "big five" publishing houses, maybe.

The thing with bigger publishing houses is that everyone wants to get picked up by them. Dreams of the seven-figure book deal start with signing a contract at a HarperCollins or a Macmillan. Given the option, almost everyone who writes would send their manuscripts to them.

So they don't give people that option.

There are two types of submission that an author can make to a publisher or agent: solicited and unsolicited. The second is pretty much what all unagented authors are sending out (with the exception of, like, if you talk to an agent at a conference and the agent asks them to send a query or something like PitMad, where an agent makes a request for a particular project). An unsolicited submission is essentially a cold call. Hey, here's my work--you interested? Smaller publishing houses accept unsolicited submissions from unagented authors. But the big five don't. If you're sending a submission to one of the big five, it's either because they asked you to or because you have an agent that's convinced them to take a look.

And so, since an agent is more or less required for me to take the next step up, I'm trying to find one with Project 2016. For the sake of full disclosure, I should say that this isn't my first time trying to make this happen. I tried to find an agent with Evin for a while, but, for various reasons, I didn't have success. I'll get to that in a minute.

Finding an agent is in part about matchmaking. Project 2016 is YA speculative fiction, so the genre of the book has to guide my search. I've made use of Manuscript Wishlist and Writer's Digest (in addition to generic Google searches) to try to find agents that are looking for work like mine. I find the name, I look at the agent/agency page to try to determine if I think I will want to work with them, and, if I think I want to query them, I add them to my list. My list right now has 15 agents on it. I might go back and add more later, but I think this is good to start with.

I organized my list according to which agents I was most excited about. I don't want to send out all 15 queries at once (what if one of the agents has feedback that might help with my next query?), so I set a loose order for sending out queries.

Queries are hard. Your query is meant to sell your story in a paragraph or two. It's not a summary--not exactly--but a short pitch. It's got to introduce your protagonist(s) and set up the stakes. For me, this is always pretty complicated. How do I pick the most important part of the manuscript when, to me, it's all important? Which characters absolutely have to be in the query? Of all of the conflicts that are in the manuscript, which is the conflict? It usually takes me a couple of drafts to get a query down--and I'm usually unhappy with it no matter how long I work on it.

I started with three agents. I tailored the opening paragraph of my query for each agent--making note of what the agent has said s/he is looking for and what I think my manuscript has to offer. Then, I follow up with my two-ish paragraphs about the manuscript and a paragraph about my publication history.

Depending on the agent, I add sample pages (usually they ask for the first 5-10 pages) and a synopsis (and oh my God, writing a synopsis is an ordeal worthy of its own post).

And then off it goes. The query packet is sent to the agent, and I wait for a response.

This is the point where I start checking my email every five minutes.

I call this phase of the process the land of a million rejections. When I was querying with Evin, I got discouraged pretty early. I sent out maybe five queries total and got five rejections.

It's worth noting that this isn't uncommon. Rejections--several rejections--are part of the deal. Sometimes the work isn't ready, and if that's the case, you need to find out. Even if the work is great, the agent might not feel like they're the work's best advocate. But rejection always stings.

Two weeks ago, I sent out my first three queries. And within three days, I had already gotten back my first rejection. It was very polite, and I don't think it was a form letter (which is encouraging, even though it's still not the outcome that I wanted), but I can't deny that I felt pretty bad about it.

Last time, this might have been enough to derail me. This time, though, I've got my list of agents. I got a rejection, so I sent out another query (and got another rejection--this one was a form letter, I'm pretty sure). The let down of a rejection sucks, but having an action that I can take in response--sending another query--helps keep me from getting too bogged down.

I've still got three queries out--two of them from the first batch I sent. I have eleven agents left on the list as it is. I'll probably add more as I do more research.

The querying roller coaster is rough and certainly isn't my favorite part of the process, but this time, I'm not going to give up--or at least, I won't give up so soon. And who knows? Maybe I'll find someone who is as excited about Project 2016 as I am. 


  1. I see rejections as badges of honor - "Look, I did something really scary! It didn't work out this time, but at least I tried."
    Good luck querying!

    1. Definitely a good way to look at it! I'm trying to approach it with that mindset this time.