Falling in Love with the Query
by Anna Kaehler
Writing takes courage and vulnerability, as well as a healthy dose of tender faith every time we approach the page. It is a lot like falling in love. A few months ago, I would have compared the query process more to online dating. If writing was loving, querying was testing that love in the face of overwhelming odds.
I have begun hundreds of novels and stories, and I have even finished a few. While pulling espresso shots through college, I tossed around ideas for careers in accounting, technical communication, early childhood education (read failed nanny), business – even floral design. But deep in my heart, I burned to write.
I fell unashamedly in love with my first completed novel. I adored the first draft, the hours spent dreaming it up and putting it down, the revisions. Everything. Then it came time to query.
How did you start?
What did a success story look like?
What kinds of inventive things could you do with the rejection letters I believed myself prepared to receive? (Writers seemed to get ultra-creative on this score, folding their rejections into origami or cutting and pasting sections of them into repurposed decoupage art.)
A sea of agents waited out there, many of them looking. As with online dating, it was imperative that writer and agent made a basic match before any messaging or connection could be attempted. Did said agent enjoy hiking and independent films, or were they more the beer and football season type? Did they smoke? Did I? And if so, did I want to reveal this tidbit of information right out of the gate?
These agents were a slippery bunch. The pictures and blurbs on their websites made them look like actual people with heartbeats and dogs. But phrases like “looking to acquire” butted up next to “a manuscript I adore that will keep me up all night turning the pages,” baffling me. I couldn’t grapple with this transactional/emotional paradox.
What did they want, these agents? I saw the acquisition process as solely focused on sales, on the projection of the buying public’s reaction to the book. The agent’s love for the book, however, seemed discrete from this. If she couldn’t stop turning the pages, did it matter that it that the novel might or might not suit the current market?
I decided on a different tactic. I would attend a writer’s conference. There I would meet people like me (but not too many like me as the idea of heavy competition drove me to drink) as well as agents looking to love us. No matter that the conference pitch sessions amounted to speed dating in its most ruthless form. Anything was better than the endless websites, the email queries that could get lost in the void of “no-response” that lurked between send and receive.
Surely they were kind, these agents at conferences. Surely many of them did, in fact, have dogs.
I plunked down some cash on the San Francisco Writers Conference, and it was thrilling to be around all those fellow writers. I learned so much I was bound to retain at least some of it, and I pitched in a vast room dotted with tables and chairs, my dreams shining from my face, my spiel polished to a clumsy perfection.
The agents were more than kind to all of us, and I left the conference feeling exhilarated and deflated at the same time. I sent out some emails and some pages to those who had expressed an interest. A few gracious responses that amounted to the not-quite-saleable potential of my novel trickled in. Bruised, I moved on.
My second novel never got so far as an online profile. It was a private sort of love affair. Maybe even a rebound.
The third ignited after a long dry spell. I’d stopped writing for many reasons, and I returned under one primal impetus: I had to write this story. It wouldn’t leave me alone.
I fell in love all over again, only harder. I had one of those experiences in which I was transcribing more than thinking, feeling more than plotting. It was stunning, transcendent, and life affirming. And at the end of it, I had a novel.
But the query…
I considered keeping number three for myself. I had more than a few possessive moments over this novel, and still more moments of abject fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of inadequacy. Fear that if I brought my lover to the party, no one would see what I saw and that this would taint my passion.
A handful of trusted readers read the finished draft. I polished it, poked around agentquery.com and Publishers Marketplace. I moved some more commas and phrases around, rewrote the ending again. Still, I was hesitant. How could I release my darling into the world?
And then I remembered that love is born to be shared.
If I poured all the love I’d felt writing this novel into the query process, it could be no less magical. I hadn’t been concerned about the novel’s fate when writing it. I hadn’t tried to make anything of it but something I loved. I could query the same way.
I created a spreadsheet to track agents I felt would be a good fit – people who loved what I loved, whether they kept dogs or not. It turned out there were many of them, and I was growing crushes right and left. I wrote the best damn query I could and I sent it out there with every ounce of me poured into it (minus a picture, of course, because in this situation that’s pretty tacky).
I began to receive responses. A couple of requests for the full manuscript! While this was wonderful, it was the process itself that brought on the butterflies. I was sharing something I loved, and I was hearing from others who loved it as well. Maybe this is due to the readiness of the work, or to timing (or to chanting under a full moon?). Or to a solid query letter that held nothing back.
I prefer to believe it is because I said yes to all-in, head-over-heels love.
Anna Kaehler is a freelance, health, and marketing writer who admits to a burning and insatiable passion for fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in The Montreal Review and as a finalist in the Arizona Authors Association Literary Awards. She blogs about self-discovery, mirrors, and other unrelated topics at annakaehler.com.