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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Collecting Rejections

Stack of books

Some famous “rejects.”

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about dealing with criticism. Which is hard enough, but in some ways, dealing with rejection is worse.

I “collect” rejection stories. Carrie, by Stephen King, was rejected 30 times. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling, was rejected 12 times. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, was rejected 38 times. And on and on and on.

I pull these stories out whenever I need to remind myself that a rejection doesn’t mean the story is bad; it just means that it didn’t find its match. It’s kind of like dating that way. I’ve abandoned many books that other people loved, and loved books other people hate. Unless a book is actually poorly written, whether or not it’s “good” is more about the taste of the reader than the actual story. And even then, I like some “poorly written” stories.

Recently, I had a tough rejection. I have a goal to get a story into a particular online magazine. I read it, I follow it, and I know what type of stories they take. My story is better than some of the stories I read there. Not better than all of them, but better than some. (This is, of course, my extremely biased opinion.)

Usually, this magazine rejects within 30 days, so when a month came and went, my excitement built. And built. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t mean they’d accept my story, but of course, I didn’t listen.

When they had the story 75 days, I got a form rejection back with the usual, “Thank you but this wasn’t a good fit for us.” My heart plummeted. But on the bottom was a “PS,” the email equivalent of a handwritten note. It said: “PS We enjoyed this story, but it didn’t make our final cut.”

(insert screaming face)

Truthfully though, I really appreciated that feedback, because it told me what I believed; it was a good story. Just not quite good enough? Too similar to another story that’s being published soon? Drew the short straw? I don’t know. But since a publication I respect liked it (even if they didn’t publish it), someone else probably will too.

I recently read a story about how someone, inspired by Stephen King’s tale of collecting rejection slips on a nail on his wall, has made it a goal to get 100 rejections this year. Because, with rejections, come acceptances. I think that’s a pretty great attitude.

So, instead of being upset by this latest rejection, I’m just going to add it to my collection, and see how many I can get this year. Last year I got 15 rejections and 1 acceptance on short stories. This year, so far, I’m at 14 rejections and 1 acceptance. Considering we’re only at halfway through the year, I’ve done 100% better than last year.

Now I just need to keep up the good work.

Related posts: Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

When Writing Isn’t Going Well

IMG_9029I have this great novel idea. I’ve been nurturing and taking notes on it for months. I know my characters, I know where the story is going and how it gets there.

I sat down at my computer to start this novel recently. And suddenly, it’s like my brain is coated in molasses.

This will be my third (hopefully good) book. I wrote my first (bad) novel in high school. If I’m counting all the way back that far, when it’s complete, this will be book number seven (I think). So I’m no stranger to sitting down and writing 70,000 words or so.

But for some reason, this one is just fighting me, and it’s making me wonder: should I be writing something else right now?

For weeks, I’ve been sitting at my computer, forcing myself to write 500 words or so, and then when I felt battle-weary, I’d get up and do something else, hoping that physical activity, organizing, cleaning, would jar the words out of my brain.

It hasn’t worked though. Oh, I feel ready to sit down and write, but the minute I do, it all dries up again, and the molasses is back. I thought about taking a break from this new book, maybe starting something else. But abandoning a book is the reason I have approximately 1,356,791* unfinished novels on my computer.

So, with my last two books, I forced myself to finish, and I think they turned out pretty good. With this one, I’ve decided to abandon the beginning. I almost always rewrite my beginnings anyway. (Why are beginnings so hard?) I’ve skipped ahead to the first plot point, and am writing from there. It seems to be working at least somewhat better.

Sometimes writing is so much fun! Sometimes it’s easy! And the ideas flow! And the characters speak to me and we have tea parties and share secrets!

And sometimes writing feels like walking forward into a hailstorm when the wind blows you backward and turns your umbrella inside out. Sometimes the characters have locked me out and hung up a sign, “Fictional People Only.”

But I still love it.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Fellow writers, what do you do when the writing is not going according to plan?

*This number is slightly exaggerated.