1) You finish your book
This stage is accompanied by an overwhelming sense of relief served with a side of soul-crushing self-doubt and a dash of staggering apathy. After revising your book for what feels like 18 years (…and for what may have been 18 literal years), you’re likely so sick of looking at it that you can’t tell if it’s a masterpiece or a the worst and longest ordering of words in the history of human language. Congrats! That’s when you know you’ve stared at it long enough to start querying. Give yourself a pat on the back, consume a congratulatory chipotle burrito, and GET ready. It’s finally time to…
2) Write your query letter
Honestly, this part takes you as long as writing your actual book. You obsess over query shark and reading blogs where other writer’s feature their own successful query letters. You revise it so many times you don’t realize you’ve faded into Spanish half-way through and spelled your own name wrong at the bottom, but hey, you can still remember misspelling forest about eighteen times in your actual manuscript before your critique partner caught it so that’s not going to stop you! It’s hard to get a lot of help at this stage because ultimately, you know your book best. It’s not like you can call up your grandma and ask, “So how’d this whole querying thing go for you?” Try and get some good writer friends to give you some honest feedback, and then just pretend someone’s holding a gun to your head like I did so you can polish it. After finishing, you’re essentially a fickle pendulum swinging between thinking your query is nearly decent to asserting, seconds to minutes to hours later, that it’s complete and utter trash. But that’s how you feel about the rest of your book by now so at least you’re consistent!
Now that you’ve finished your letter, it’s onward to…
3) Form your query list
This stage is filled with a large amount of – let’s be honest here – Light Stalking. You’ll begin fervently stalking agents on Twitter and Instagram and on their blogs and on their MSWL’s and on publisher’s market place and query tracker and the list goes on and ON. I’m convinced writer’s are the most professional, well-intentioned stalkers in the world. Once you sufficiently stalk and compile your agent list, some agents naturally float to the top based on their own preferences, the agency they work at, or the fact that they also love gin #justme? Once you’ve your list complied, then it’s…
4) Welcome to Rejection City
You’ve sent out your first batch of queries from your special query-only email address. You strive to preserve the purity of this inbox at all costs so no false alarms might occur. By all the blogs accounts, you’re doing everything right. And yet as soon as you send your first five queries, you will promptly spot a comma that shouldn’t be there in your intro. You cry. Then laugh. Then drink more coffee/gin, fix it, and begin what I call The Waiting ™
5) The Waiting™, also known as the most inescapable circle of query hell
This stage is characterized by large, vast expanses of radio silence, broken up only by rejection after rejection after rejection. Some rejections you’ll receive about a year after you send the query (isn’t that fun!), while some are in such a rush to get to you they’ll pop right into your inbox only minutes after sending the email. Yay! Somehow, through more coffee/tea/vodka (again, NO JUDGEMENT), you manage to continue querying and hitting refresh, waiting and waiting and hoping and hoping for…
6) The Request
We don’t all make it to this stage of the query hell, but it’s still hell nonetheless. You get that first partial or full request, and after so many rejections, you have to take out your contacts and rinse them and then put them back into your eyes just to believe it. You do a quick dance and then promptly stalk that particular agent to levels even the CIA has not yet mastered. If you don’t know that agent’s favorite food, can’t off-handedly quote their MSWL, or you’re unable to recall their favorite movie from an interview they did 5 years ago, you haven’t done your job. After sufficiently “researching,” you comb through your manuscript again, for the forty-eight-hundredth time, and then work up the courage to send it. Minutes after you send it, you 100% WILL reopen the word document you just sent and notice another comma or conjunction that shouldn’t be there. It’s just part of the job, friends. You can either wallow or laugh. I like a solid combination of both.
If you’re lucky, the agent replies that they’ve got your manuscript, and even though they say they’ll have a response in 6-8 weeks, you’re pretty sure they actually mean 6-8 hours. So now begins The Compulsive Refresh. While refreshing that inbox at an alarming rate, there occurs a scientifically inexplicable phenomenon I like to call WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GET MY EMAIL. Suddenly, just a few days after emailing your manuscript request, a bright and shiny ‘1’ pops up next to your inbox. You panic, have eighteen heart attacks, and then get the courage to open the email through squinting eyes only to find it’s from KOHLS declaring that you can now save 20% ON ALL KITCHENWARE. You blink once, twice, and then throw your phone back onto your bed and declare a blood feud with Kohls from this day until your last day. And amidst all the waiting, you…
7) Detour back to IT’S JUST NOT FOR ME Station
As that requesting agent is reading your partial/full, the rejections just keep rolling in. You decide that Adele’s Rolling in the Deep song was actually about stage 7 of query hell, because you are rolling in rejections at this point. Get ready for A LOT of “I just didn’t connect with the voice,” or, “I wasn’t very drawn in,” or, “YOU SUCK YOUR BOOK SUCKS QUIT NOW.” Just kidding on that last one, but really, with all an agent does it’s nice that we even get responses at all. If I were an agent, I’d probably just have a standard response gif like the one below:
Hopefully, you’ve started working on another project so the rejections don’t burn quiet as badly. Only spf 15 needed now that you’re so used to them. And as you reach the end of querying your list of agents, you, like a child who encounters death for the first time, begin to realize that it’s really only going to go one of two ways for you…
7) YOU GET AN AGENT OR KEEP F*&%ING GOING
Maybe the agent who read your full loved it and offers you representation! Maybe Barack Obama himself calls you and says he’ll represent your book for 0% commission! Either way, you’ve done it. If all goes well between you and your agent, you have finally and fully escaped the hells of querying once and for all. Congratulations!
BUT, if this particular book didn’t work out for whatever reason, you’ve now got a blank slate. Take some time to give your sweet manuscript a proper burial, vowing to unearth its mangled corpse one day when the time is right, but then you get back on the horse. You might be wondering why any sane person would VOLUNTARILY repeat this process, but that’s what we do as writers. We keep freaking going. If we can kill our character’s mothers and fathers and dogs and cats and force them to have a gluten allergy and get dumped right before prom, then we can sure as hell keep going, too.
We are compulsive masochists. We are wayward warriors. We are likely over caffeinated or slightly intoxicated, but either way, we refuse to give up. Did Hermione give up on Harry in book 5 when he was filled with teenage angst and was annoying as hell? You know she didn’t. Did that little rat in Ratatouille give up when his human friend abandoned him for a girl and kicked him out of the restaurant? Not a chance. Did that Hungry Caterpillar give up after he’d already eaten through three pieces of cheese and five apples and like ten watermelons? HELL NO. He kept right on eating.
So keep right on writing, and one day, you too will escape Query Hell once and for all.