Sometimes the best ideas are associated with a red couch. . .

Embracing the query process

One of the many benefits of the MN Publishing Tweet Up is a chance for bookish, publishing, and writerly types to interact in the most casual of settings – over a happy hour.  During our newest installment of the Tweet Up, Dara, Art, and Jen started up a conversation on the general feelings of stress and self-doubt that many writers face during the writing process. The next day, Art wrote a blog on this, titled “The Three Blogging Hurdles Writers Face” – I highly recommend you read it.

If it’s okay with Art, I’d like to take this another step.

It’s time for your book to be pitched to editors. You’ve already found an agent who’s enthusiastic about it, and enjoyed the collaboration process of getting all the necessary materials fine-tuned in advance. Of course, some rejections will arrive, that is normal in the industry. Remember how many rejections received before meeting your agent? Eventually that agent read your book (and/or book proposal) and liked it. Liked it enough to add you to his/her client list. Trust me, this is a big deal. We don’t do this every day.

If the idea was good enough to survive the agent query process, you can survive the editor query portion of your book’s “journey.” My suggestions:

  1. Look at the rejections. What are they saying? Did the editors take the time state exactly why they turned it down? Look for a common theme(s).  If there seems to be repetition in the reasons for the rejection, it’s worth considering the best ways to strengthen your book
    based on those themes. Editors are just like agents, it’s rare they give loads of advice and/or reasons for rejections. Consider it a compliment if they go that extra mile.
  2. Communicate with your agent – brainstorm about the book. If it’s not necessarily the writing or the idea, but maybe something as basic as building a platform that’s resulting in the rejections, then it’s time to get strategic. Taking the time to overcome those figurative hurdles can be used to your advantage.  My advice?  Don’t rush the process. But do be persistent.  And of course read “Get Known Before the Book Deal” by Christina Katz.  Read the book.  Implement the ideas.  Repeat the process.
  3. Never take rejections personally.  What one editor likes, another may not like. That’s par for the course. Should everyone like all the same books? No. The fact that we all bring personal reading tastes to the table = rejections during the query process. Do I need to remind you how many rejections were received before finally meeting your agent? If every editor had the same taste in books, publishing would suffer. Readers would suffer too. So when you do receive that rejection, don’t beat yourself up over it.  That was never the intention of the person who sent it.

To be frank, it breaks my heart when I see a writer overly stressed about the writing experience or the publisher query process. It’s one thing to be able to learn from the rejections, it’s another problem altogether when an author begins to doubt his/her ability to write. When this happens, I think back to my early days with Sebastian Literary Agency. Laurie taught me that an agent is the author’s champion & advocate.  I took it to heart, because she was very correct; if we love our clients’ books, we’re here to make the overall publishing process a valuable (and hopefully positive learning) experience. That’s the most important thing to remember, no matter what happens.

This leads into too many other topics, so I’m going to stop here (for the moment).

Questions?  Comments? What has your experience been thus far?

4 Responses to “Embracing the query process”

  1. art

    Permission granted!

    I think what really helps all of these problems–on your post and on mine–is actually talking to people. Writing is a very solitary process, and when you’re (I’m) alone for eight hours a day with only me and my words, it’s easy to lose all perspective. Encouragement and reassurance (but not coddling) are just as important as inspiration, I think, but I find they tend to not be built into the writing process as much. Or, at least not built into most writer’s expectations of the writing process. But maintaining perspective is definitely the most important thing in the business of writing.

    Which is to say: when I find myself hating my own work (inevitable) I seek out other people and talk to them about it. I have a couple people I trust for this and it almost always works.

  2. TAMWriter

    How do you interpret editors who take a long time to reply? I have a reputable agent who sent my (non-fiction) proposal to several editors around 6 months ago. Three initially responded positively but ultimately rejected it (one of those actually ended up offering me a contract for a different project). One responded three months ago expressing interest, but we’ve heard no final word. And about 4-5 have not responded at all. What would you make of this as an agent? Is this a scenario that happens frequently?

    • redsofaliterary

      Editors have the same challenges as agents, as we are always working in different modes at the same time. For agents, we are selling new projects, developing and preparing new books (to bring to editors) w/ our clients, and we’re dealing with adminstrative sides of our jobs (which entails negotiating contracts, dealing w/ royalty statements, maintaining the daily operations and more) – on any day. This doesn’t include writers conferences, which is another important aspect of our job – which take us out of the office, and away from these tasks that need our attention.

      Imagine being an editor, editing manuscripts with strict deadlines (so that the books will be ready on time), looking at new ideas, attempting to find the time consider those ideas (i.e. reading the mss, proposals, etc…) and being able to juggle many meetings any given week – let alone needing to attend even more conferences than most agents, and being able to get the necessary “alone” time to actually have time to focus. If it has been 3 months since some editors have requested your proposal – please do remember it’s summer time. There are even more conferences, catch up and rest time in the form of vacations (as it’s crazy busy Sept through early June) – and they are trying to get ready for the Fall and Winter catalogs no less.

      As long as your agent is touching base (which I assume s/he is), try to not stress out. Your agent is doing whatever is necessary more than likely, especially during a time of the year when editors are not in the office as much. I say, sit tight, keep in touch w/ the agent, and if the editors still don’t have a decision by let’s say October, that it’s okay to move on and not worry about it anymore.

      In regard to the question on lack of responses, that does happen. Just like agents, editors have the same challenge of attempting to read all the book proposals and queries sent them too. It can get very overwhelming. I know for me it’s about a 4-6 week period before I even respond to an email. Thank goodness my interns have made it easier to not worry about that anymore. If the editor doesn’t respond, maybe s/he didn’t like it? Maybe s/he hasn’t even read the email? Who’s to say? I assume that your agent will do like any of the rest of us, move on. Nothing wrong with moving forward to folks who will respond potentially and/or be interested in your book idea.


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