Querying got you down? Read this ⛅
Welcome to the second edition of Chapter Break, a newsletter with writing and publishing insights put together by me, your friendly neighborhood book editor! If you haven’t subscribed yet, join our amazing community of 1,900+ storytellers and story lovers by subscribing here:
This one’s for all of you out there in the query trenches…
There’s no sugarcoating it: querying sucks. Especially right now. It can feel hopeless, overwhelming, and downright discouraging. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. And you don’t have to take it from me—I’m excited to share some words of wisdom from someone who has been through it all in today’s feature!
Remember: everyone’s publishing journey looks different.
And that is completely OK—normal, even! Maybe your first book is a masterpiece that’s perfectly suited to the market, and you get a literary agent with your first batch of queries. But maybe you don’t get bites from an agent until your third or fourth manuscript. Survey a handful of traditionally published authors, and everyone will have gone through a different journey—each with their own trials and tribulations.
I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Please forward it to anyone who might find it interesting!
OUR SPECIAL GUEST TODAY IS…
Author of All Your Twisted Secrets
Her new book, Lying in the Deep, will be out with Razorbill Books / PRH in 2023, and you can add it on Goodreads here!
How did you get your literary agent? What was the querying process like for you?
It was a long road to publication for me. All Your Twisted Secrets was the first book I sold, but I’d been on submission to publishers four times with three different agents beforehand. All told, it was six years and three months between finishing writing my first novel and the day my debut novel was published.
For the sake of brevity—and because this was a while ago now—I’ll skip to how I got my agent and publisher for All Your Twisted Secrets. After parting ways with agent #2, I was eager to get my books into readers’ hands, so planned to indie-publish my first novel. I even hired a copyeditor and started researching cover designers.
Around the same time, I finished editing All Your Twisted Secrets and sent it to critique partners, who told me they loved it. A few said it was the most marketable book I’d written, and encouraged me to try for a new agent. But that would mean nixing my plans to indie-pub—if I signed with an agent, they’d need to pitch All Your Twisted Secrets to publishers as my debut.
After a significant amount of soul-searching, I decided to give traditional publishing one last shot. It’s a dream I had for years, and if this book could make those dreams come true, I wanted to go for it. Of course, that meant querying agents all over again.
The “query trenches” are aptly named — pitching your novel to literary agents is like putting your emotions through a war zone. The rejections are brutal, and the silence is even more torturous. But this time around, I felt more prepared to query than ever before, thanks to all the lessons I learned over the previous few years. I did a lot of research and was much pickier about who I queried than my previous two times in the query trenches, choosing agents who’d expressed interest in the type of story AYTS was and had an established track record. I ended up getting an offer of representation after three weeks and signing with my dream agent, Jim McCarthy.
We did one small round of edits together before going on submission to publishers in January 2018. After a couple of months on sub, HarperTeen asked me for a partial R&R. Thankfully it was a pretty quick revision process, and I continued revising the entire manuscript while I waited for news. And by the time I got “the call” a month or so later, the full revision was ready to go. Three months later, I was able to announce my first deal, and the rest is history!
What is the most memorable writing tip or technique that you have heard, and how did it influence your process?
Revisions are where the real magic happens. Throw away the notion of writing a perfect first draft. Just like you wouldn’t solve a jigsaw puzzle by pulling pieces out of the box and setting them down in order, from left to right, one at a time—you don’t write a book that way, either.
Instead, you scatter all the pieces on the table and start working on the edges of the puzzle (the outline, or the framework of the novel) and then you tackle one section at a time (one plot thread, or one character arc, or one red herring), building and building until it all finally fits together. It can be overwhelming to conceptualize a book all at once, but when you break it down and take one element at a time, it’s easier to manage in your brain. At least, that’s how it works for me!
Read my tips for finding the right agents to query
What is one thing you wish you had known about the publishing process before going through it yourself?
I wish I’d known how little control authors have over everything besides the writing itself. If there’s one thing I wish I could go back and tell myself, it’s this: keep your eyes on your own paper.
So much about the publishing process—especially in the months before a book’s release—will make you forget how big an accomplishment it is to publish a book. It’s rare to be a lead title darling at a publisher, so it’s easy to be disappointed by all the things you’re not getting that a few lucky peers are. And you can't control any of it.
Instead of dwelling over that, focus on what you can control—namely, writing your next book. Every new book you write is a new chance to break out. Tell the best stories you can, write for the readers who love the types of stories you tell, and tune out the rest. It’s hard, but recognize how far you’ve come, be proud of yourself, and enjoy the experience as much as you can!
What is one piece of advice you would give to a writer who aspires to be published?
Get ready to be in this for the long haul. It’s easy to find success stories because you’ll first look up the publishing history of authors you know, who obviously have reached some level of success. So it’s easy to set your expectations sky high. And when reality doesn’t meet your expectations… that’s when your heart gets crushed to bits. So be aware that most of us aren’t overnight successes. Most of us take years to get published. Even after that, most authors take several books to “break out,” if they ever do (some authors earn steady income across a dozen or more books without a breakout hit). You need to have determination and perseverance in this field.
Also, make friends with other writers; join writing groups, swap stories, exchange notes, encourage each other, vent together… be there for each other.
How do you personally get over writer's block?
I find it most helpful to read purely for pleasure—as in, a book I’m genuinely excited about, not one I think I should read, a commitment read, etc. It could be a reread of one of my favorites! It reminds me to tell the types of stories I personally get most excited about, and other authors’ voices help inspire me.
Thanks so much for reading!
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Who should I talk to next?
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