How Querying is Like Online Dating

Back in 2000, I met my husband through an online dating service. Back then, people didn’t admit that they met their significant others online. I never saw the big deal. Was it really classier to say, “We met when he spilled his Miller Lite on me”?

I was lucky enough to have my husband be the first person I met in real life, though he had a different experience. He has many, many stories to tell about bad dates, and I have other friends with stories too.

All this to say that I know about online dating.

I also know about querying because I’ve been doing a lot of it. So, here we go…

Writing The Intro

Writing the intro online is nerve-wracking. Do I include my love of cats right away, or does that make me seem like a crazy cat lady? Should I talk about the scar on my chin where my best friend hit me with a golf club (true story… it was an accident), or leave that for a second date? The query letter is the same way. I really, really want to put in the subplot and some interesting parts, but the query is meant to get an agent interested. It’s a teaser. And with both, I can’t and shouldn’t include everything or it’s overwhelming.

Finding A Match

So I have the query letter (or my intro), and next, I need to find a match. Online, I put in my interests and some facts about me, and then an algorithm shows me who might be a good fit. For queries, I scour manuscript wishlist or query tracker or #mswl or a number of other websites. I find an agent who likes YA and horror or thrillers, and then I look closer. Does this agent like the same kinds of books I do? Does that agent seem approachable? I look at the photo of him or her and wonder, “Is this the kind of person I could really talk to?”

The Match

Once I find someone who might be a good fit, I take my basic query letter and personalize it based on what I know about the agent. Or maybe not. Some of them say they prefer just the pitch. Some want something signaling I’ve done my homework. Some don’t specify a preference, so I’m left to guess what they might want. When I pitch (or respond to someone’s profile), there’s that balance of how much to be myself and how much to be formal and distant. Query letters should be professional, but agents also say that if you can include voice in the query letter, it’s helpful. So, I have to be two things at the same time, and really, I’d rather be reading. But no success story ever started with, “And then I decided not to follow through.” So BOOM, I hit send!

The Wait

Luckily, as far as I know, agents have no weird rule about playing it cool and not responding to a query letter right away. I’ve gotten responses as quickly as hours later, and as slow as months later. Some agents never respond. This is a weird time. There’s all that possibility that maybe I’ll find THE ONE. Each time I send a query letter off, it’s a mix of excitement and nervousness. Will this agent (or potential date) like this first impression of me?

The Response

The response is always a moment where I don’t know how to feel. Most positive and negative responses start with “Thank you,” so I never know from the opening if it’s going to be, “I liked it, send pages,” or “Not for me.” The worst is probably no response, when I really, really thought an agent was THE ONE because they specifically said they wanted books that channeled Christopher Pike, and then nothing? I really thought we could have had a connection. Did the agent think my query was too long/ too short/ not enough voice/ a stupid premise? It’s like wondering if your potential date didn’t like the fact that you mentioned you hate red velvet cake.

Friend Zoning

In dating terms, this is when you think someone is cool, but you just want to hang out with them and not date them. Sometimes this is mutual, and sometimes not. I’ve had a few responses from agents who read my manuscript and gave a list of specific things they loved about it, BUT ultimately just didn’t connect to it. This confused me at first, until I realized that it’s like falling in love. Sometimes the chemistry is there, and sometimes it isn’t. We can’t make chemistry happen. I’ve read perfectly well-executed books that I hated and my friends loved. And they’ve read lovely books that I adored and they just didn’t. So I get it. And I appreciate the honesty up front that it wasn’t love. Because I want an agent who’s as enthusiastic about my book as I am.

Everyone’s Journey Is Different

Some people find true love on their first date, and some have to go through hundreds of horrible dates before they find THE ONE. Some people go through lots of perfectly okay dates that don’t go anywhere, and some people think they’ve found a connection, but then don’t. I know fellow writers who seemed to find their agents easily and some who went through hundreds of queries before they found a match. I’ve read stories of authors who thought they found THE ONE, only to later realize it wasn’t a good fit. But I truly believe that in any endeavor: love, writing, getting published, it’s about persevering, to keep trying, to believe that it will happen. Success and happiness aren’t easy, and they probably shouldn’t be. Because every step of the path teaches something wonderful, and I’m soaking up all that learning. Someday I’ll look back at every agent who rejected me, every agent who friend zoned me, and I’ll know that it had to happen exactly that way.

Did I miss any steps in the query/ love process? Do you agree or disagree that it feels like this?

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