Thursday, July 8, 2010

Leap of Faith

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

- Thomas Edison

“At work, I wrestled with the piles of paper flooding my desk every day, an endless stream of manuscripts that would never be published.”

- Katherine Darling, former employee at a literary agency, now author of, Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School

The second quote is from page 2 – PAGE 2 – of Darling's book. And just in time for my official query season too. What does she know? The line after that is about how she hates her job. Ms. Darling also admits to doodling recipes in the margins of writers’ beloved manuscripts. She doesn’t even say she was an agent. And if she wasn’t an agent, maybe she didn’t see a pattern of two rejections, or three, before the writer had blossomed. The woman left her career to go to cooking school.

She’s not even talking about me, so why am I so defensive?

Because querying is hard. We put our hearts on a plate to serve to cannibals. Well, it’s not really that bad. (Mostly.) While the agents and editors who receive our query are NOT cannibals, (probably) our imagination runs wild the moment we hit “Send” or slip that envelope in the slot, or wrestle with the postal worker when he tries to pry it from our death grip.

It’s a leap of faith.

We think we’re ready. Did we revise it a trillion times? Show it to our most trusted family members? Share it with our beta readers? Receive scorn, I mean, advice from our critique members? Get showered with praise from our cat? Did we read the guidelines on the agent site? Did we read the types of books that agent represented to make sure we were a good fit? Did we put our query through the same scrutiny as our manuscript?

Even if the answer for each one is YES,

It’s not a guarantee of anything.

Check my inbox, I’m weary.

Check my mailbox, it's scary.

Get a rejection, I may be teary.

(Depends on the rejection. The day. The agent. The editor.)

All the next day, I walk around dreary.

But deep inside, I always hold out a little hope.

I’ll check my phone messages:

Maybe, just maybe… a call.

What would that feel like?

One time I got a little envelope. My own SASE came back to me. Who sent me a rejection this time? It was actually a request for a full. So not all letters are rejections. Some agents and editors just love snail mail, I guess.

Most of my requests for partials and fulls have come via e-mail. So when I see that agent’s name under “New Messages” I can help but have a little hope.

When the rejections have come after requests for partials and fulls, I deflate.

This time, I have a new manuscript.

I tell myself, this time will be different.

Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I had learning experience manuscripts. Then I had a manuscript that came at the wrong time. Now I hope I have the right manuscript.

What if I don’t?

How many times do I try?


While I want to write forever, I don’t want to query forever. I haven’t been at this very long, but long enough to know:

Writing, editing, querying, submitting - each time…


Reading this post made me smile:

But then on Tuesday, I read another post. The author wrote the first idea - one sentence – thee years ago. Last year, in one month, she wrote the entire manuscript. Two months later she had an agent. Five months later, after an auction, she had a contract.


I have no idea how long she toiled as a writer. I have no right to be jealous. It’s not a race. Her success doesn’t mean my failure.

I remind myself some people never query. They write, revise, but they don’t submit. Yay for me because I’ve been brave. Their fear doesn’t mean my success.

Every agent site says the recipe for success is talent, hard work, and persistence.

Here are inspirational posts out there from yesterday when I considered giving up (Are they clairvoyant?):

Then there’s sobering news:

I’m obviously having a crisis of confidence. My last post, which had an excerpt from The Disappearances was a nice ego boost. I try not to self-sabotage with every complimentary comment left by thinking, Of course they write nice things. What else are they going to say? Instead of just enjoying the words, I liken the praise to my daughter’s statement, “You’re the best mom.” OBVIOUSLY I’m not the best mom. (Want a list of reasons?) But then I remind myself, when I leave comments on people’s writing I’m being sincere. Even if I don’t love everything about a person’s piece, I write what I do like. Why can’t I be as easy on myself as I am with other writers?

Because I want to be published. I love writing for the sake of writing, but I also want other people to read my writing. It’s my goal to be a good writer at worst, a great writer at best. Responses from my query seem like the ultimate assessment as to my writing savvy.

Just because I’ve received rejections before, doesn’t mean it will be the same this time. Sending query submissions is like blowing on a dandelion and making a wish.

Writers, what is the query process like for you?

How do you keep the faith?


  1. I have yet to go through the query process. I think I keep stalling on my MS because I'm afraid of it, actually. I'm terrified.

    But I force myself to push through it, because roads left untraveled... I'll never know if I don't try, and I'm not okay with not trying.

    And I totally was not just being nice yesterday :)

  2. I'm not yet at the stage where I have something to query--and I don't really envy those who are, even if it means they have a whole manuscript completed!
    All I can say is hang in there--don't give up now! I'm rooting for you.

  3. Yeah, I'm with Keri. Know that we are rooting for you, Theresa!

  4. My cat is a literary genius, thank you.

    I'm not saying this just to be nice (promise!), but you ARE a good writer, Theresa. I really believe that publication will happen for you; it's all about finding the right agent at the right time.

    For me, the query process is slow. I'm taking my time, but sometime this weekend I need to find some new agents to query.

    I keep the faith because I know that I can't NOT write. Besides acting, I'm really not interested in any other type of career, so to me, writing to be published feels like a NEED. That's ultimately what keeps me going.

  5. I haven't sent out any queries yet, but I have started sending out short stories and essays. It is hard to keep the faith sometimes, but I know that I have to keep trying; hopefully it'll be worth it eventually.

  6. @ Maybe Genius, it is terrifying. But they're not likely to find you otherwise, right?

    Thanks for not just being nice yesterday.

    @ Kari, I'm sure you'll get there. I'm rooting for you too.

    @ Barbra, thank you!

    @ Amanda, I wish for the both of us to find the right agents at the right time.

    You make a good point - I can't NOT write either. I just wonder at some point it just gets demoralizing.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, good luck with your short stories and essays. I agree, to keep trying is the key.

  7. .. and one of those dandelion seedlings find fertile soil, take root and then grow! :-)

    You just go for it.

    GOOD LUCK!!!!!! This is blood sweat and tears time and not for the faint-hearted (forget the writing side of you, get the business woman out!!! You have something to sell and you need a buyer! and you will find one!).

    I'll be cheering you on.. me and Charlie will for definite!!!!

    Take care

  8. I enjoyed reading this with your particular brand of quirky humor mixed with anxiety. Keep at it Teresa, you will get there! Are you entering my query contest?!! And if not, why not?!

  9. You're so close!! Your persistence is inspiring. Really. And when (not if) you get an agent, let us know! You have a bunch of fans here.

  10. Terrific post! The business of writing is hard. Sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I want everyone to just go away & leave me alone. When that happens, I try to take time to write for the joy of writing. And find a friend to read it just to read it--not to find something wrong with it. That helps me remember why I do it. ;) Critique groups help too. Makes the process come alive.

  11. Really nice post. I'm also querying now, and it's exhausting. I'm forever checking and rechecking my email. I got a request for a full today AND a form rejection. Remember it's so subjective--it's not you or your book, it's hitting the right agent at the right time with the right book.

    Keep the faith!

  12. Querying editors is oe of the first steps to getting published, and it is important to create a good first impression. So, I pass along ot other blogs and writers the following sample query letter, hoping to be helpful.

    Dear Editor:

    The iguana says your breath stinks, but I do not like the iguana and so I thought it would be a good idea to query yo with my 300,000 word autobiography about Aunt Marges alien abduction.

    I think the iguana is really an alien, but I do not know for sure. It is really a good liar. We a;was thought that Marge was the liar, always cracking those jokes about a talking lizard in her backyard and a spaceship in her barn. It turns out she kept a straight face because she was not joking.

    Whe she disappeared, I flew out to see if I could find anything. I have always been good about finding things, but finding Aunt Marge has been real hard. I have not found her yet, but I figured I would write all this down. Better if I did it all right away. I keep a note pad by my bed. So, there will be a sequel once I find her.

    It could really be aliens who got her, because of the spaceship in the barn and all the oil stains on the grass. I asked the police to test for radiation, but they were too busy. I suspect the police might not have an open mind about aliens. I think either the aliens left in the spaceship, or the iguana ate her.

    So, when you call me up with an offer on my book, I would like some advice: if I eat the iguana, is it cannibalism?



  13. On the one hand anything encouraging is like "Oh you're the best mom", on the other anything critical is "scorn". We can't win! ; j

    Joking set aside this querying business impressively trying!
    This dilettante can't say anything about it but voice bland (though heartfelt) encouragement.
    Keep at it! Ganbatte!

  14. It's a tough process, that's without a doubt. I guess we can keep the faith by finding the good in rejections, in comments, by building on any positivity. And yet, as challenging as it is, there's still an excitement with querying, at the possibility of moving another step forward. Sending the very best wishes for good news for you :)

  15. I'm getting closer to the querying stage and to be honest it terrifies me! I'm not a brave person, not outgoing in any sense. Just talking to people online took an enormous amount of courage. But I'm going to have to take the plunge some day! :)

  16. I have to wonder how many queries end up on desks like that of Ms. Darling...they'd have a much better chance with the guy aka 'the Man.' It sounds so hard and I only went through the process once about ten years ago. The rejection is devastating. But, like others said, you do have talent. And I'm not being nice. I'm being honest. Maybe we should have uniforms: chain mail, gauntlets, greaves, etc. and combat boots and boxing gloves...anyway-don't give up. We believe in you!

  17. Theresa - as usual your words are so honest and well constructed that I am left with a feeling of both devastation and hope. The Writer's journey is a toughie ... I admire your work ethic immensely ... I know you will become an 'overnight sensation' one day.... and I can say "I 'knew' her before she was famous."

    Now a question - how do you know whether to send a query as an email or snail mail? Are all queries first sent as emails? (OK - that's more that A question) ... And ... (last one I promise) - this is gonna come across as a bit daft .. but ... What is a 'beta' reader?


  18. Hang in there, girlfriend! Some days, even my cat doesn't give me praise.

    I haven't started querying yet, but it's coming soon. I have gone through a few rounds of short stories, though (all rejects, some nice). I think the best thing you can do is to keep distracted with other projects, always looking forward. At least, that's my plan!

    Hang in there! If it was easy, everyone would do it. :)

  19. @ Old Kitty, I like that - "blood sweat and tears time."

    Miss Snark's First Victim's book is about being a businessperson over a writer. I have to keep that in mind!

    @ KarenG, I entered, I entered! I'm glad I didn't miss it. Thanks for reminding me.

    @ Tiffany, I promise to keep you informed of all writing-related happenings. Have you continued with your manuscript?

  20. @ Edithspage, very good advice. Thank you. With the pressure to do something with the writing, it's easy to lose sight of the joy.

    @ Kris, you're querying too? And a request for a full? That's great! Good luck and keep me posted.

    @ Walter Knight, I appreciate your... um... attempt to help. If my query doesn't cut it, maybe I'll try your approach.

    @ Alesa, when I receive a comment compliment, I smile. I appreciate each and every one. They make me feel good. Then my mind tries to undo all the good feelings. And then I blog about it so my mind shuts up.

  21. @ Joanne, you're right. When we receive feedback it helps us move forward. There's always hope.

    @ Jemi, I wish you the best when you get to the querying stage. It's stressful, but it also provides a feeling of accomplishment.

    @ The Words Crafter, thanks for the support. We need to have thick skin (unless we have all the equipment you mention). But those moments of self-doubt creep in. As Chris Martin says, "But if you never try you'll never know just what you're worth."

  22. @ Clutterbug, and when I'm a famous, overnight success, I won't forget you!

    A beta reader is defined as a line-by-line reader. Someone who finds those grammar errors. But I've noticed loosening of the term. It seems anyone who has a manuscript exchange partner with whom you send manuscripts via e-mail.

    If an agent provides an e-mail address via the website or in a book of agents, then use e-mail. If they only provide a mailing address, do it that way. Most agents take e-mail submissions now. Editors are still mostly snail mail.

    Go to the website to submissions, and they'll let you know exactly what they require. It's more up-to-date than the books.

    Querytracker is a great resource. It's on my sidebar.

    I prefer e-mail submissions. It saves paper, it's easier for me not to miss something, and I think the responses are quicker overall. I'm also more likely to get a personalized message from the agent. Don't send attachments.

    Hope this helps!

    @ Susan Kaye Quinn, good luck with your future querying. Kate Di Camillo had all of her short stories rejected. Lots of 'em. Then her book Because of Winn Dixie sold quickly and is very successful.

  23. Oh it's awful. And I'm asking myself the same question: how many WIP's can I write before I start to give up. Right now I'm on my fifth.

  24. I'm not at the query stage yet, but I can relate to that awful feeling of not having enough confidence. A lot of the time I just ask myself what am I really doing (today was not a good day for me) and just how long do I plan to take to get there.

    And I know it's not a race, but sometimes I honestly wonder if I will ever finish. I really want to be published too.

    Don't worry - you're not alone and you will definitely get there :)

  25. I hate the query process. It is incredibly painful.
    In the end I have decided to try and sidestep it by self publishing.
    I can't decide whether that is courage or cowardice - or maybe a bit of both?

  26. I am cheering for you.

    I am not a writer who queries, but in reading about it from others, I equate it when I have been trying to find a job. Several years ago, I followed the Mrs. to her new job several states from home. Every day was about checking the want ads, making calls, staring at the inbox, and of course, receiving rejections.

    It was funny that I after I accepted a job, I got like 6 calls for interviews. When it rains it pours I guess.

  27. Keep up the faith, girl! When we submit, the worst that will happen is we get rejected. Yes, it's bad. But what if we gave up right before the "yes." Just like the quote at the beginning of you post, we must keep moving on!

  28. Hey, Theresa! Keep the faith, sweetheart. You are a writer and that means you're in it for the long haul. The experiences you're having now are par for the course. I think they test our mettle. The authors who are immediately signed are just lucky. That's all there is to it. They're the exception not the rule. I'm glad I've been rejected 57 times. Yes, you read that number correctly. I'm learning and improving and someday I'll sell my story. You will, too.

  29. Theresa))))))))))))))))) I have missed reading your posts my sweet sweet blogging bud....don't you go getting discouraged on me. You are too talented and smart for that!!!

    Have a terrific week-end!

  30. Theresa, excellent post, I liked the cannibalism analogy.
    We really have a different culture here, it seems to work on getting your name known through winning competitions and then the deals come.

    Just a thought, would it be worth sending your manuscript to European publishing houses, London maybe, as your work may stand out more in a different market? Just a thought.

  31. Another great post.

    Please do not give up! (I know you won't.) You have too much talent, great ideas, great manuscripts that are only getting better. You've had more success than many of us, just by getting that request. And if you stop sending queries, you won't be published. "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" ~ Wayne Gretzky.

    Besides, you are keeping a lot of us going, and me, well, I'm just getting started again because of your inspiration.

    The query process for me? Exactly as you described. How do I keep the faith? I don't have a clear answer for you, but when I do, I'll let you know!

  32. @ Aubrie, you'd better not give up. Your manuscript is getting interest, and I think it's ready to be published.

    I've written five, but the first three needed so much work, so they weren't ready. I see that now. Four, I'm querying in a saturated market. Five, is query-bound. Six is on chapter two.

    @ WritingNut, I've asked myself those same questions. We all do. Its one of the hardest parts of being a writer - the doubt.

    That's what's great about blogging - we realize we're not alone.

    @ Al, good luck with self-publishing. It's a viable path for some writers.

  33. I have no idea what the querying process is like as I've not done it before, but my heart aches for you and your crisis of confidence. I'm sure my experience will be just like yours when I begin that particular journey. And I'll remember you as a reason to keep going. :)

  34. @ Slamdunk, it is like applying for jobs. Sadly, that's not going well for me either.

    When it rains, it pours. I agree! Why is that?

    @ Julie, We do need to move on. Moving on from rejections is easier said than done, but what's the alternative? Gotta keep trying.

    @ Roxy, testing our mettle is a good way of looking at it. While I don't have 57 rejections for any one manuscript, I'm sure I have more in total.

  35. @ VKT, I've missed your comments and your posts. Good to have you back!

    @ Brigid, if any agents stumble upon this blog, I hope they find the humor in the cannibalism analogy.

    I used to focus on publishers, but now I send almost exclusively to agents. And it's all been US. If it's an international co, I even do the US branch. What resources do you use to find European companies?

    @ Selena, I like the Wayne Gretzky quote. Good to keep in mind. I'm so glad you're back in the game! I've missed you the last couple of years. Let's get a critique thing going!

    @ Sarahjayne, I'm glad I provide inspiration. Maybe it's like what NOT to do, and then what I think is working.

    Good luck on your journey!

  36. It must be the season for self-doubt! Very timely post, Theresa. The query process is awful. AWFUL. But it's also... wonderful. It's like sending your first kid to kindergarten. You put him on the big yellow school bus, the doors practically swallow him whole because he seems so small to you. You sit around all day, biting your nails and glancing at the clock, wondering how he's doing. And then...and then it's finally 3. You trudge to the bus stop with a brick in your gut, having no idea what kind of mess the school bus is going to deliver back to your home. You chat idly with the other kindergarten moms waiting for their babies to come back home safely, but no one is really listening to each other. You are all consumed with staring down the road, hoping your baby is going to come back home in one piece. And you worry and you wait and you stare until finally that bus comes around the corner and there is your baby...smiling, dirty, and happy as hell to be back at home.
    So yeah...kindergarteners on a school bus. That's what I think it's like. Staying motivated? Um...perhaps you can share that secret formula when you figure it out! It's been a tough week...

  37. @ Ant, I just went to your blog and commented that you should turn this into a post. Good analogy.

    If only I had a secret formula...

  38. The query process sucks, Theresa. In plain English. I feel like it is such an emotionally draining experience and it's so hard to know if you are literally and figuratively prepared for it. I have panic attacks when I check my e-mail and my mailbox. Requests are major highs and rejections become really depressing lows. It's kind of like being bi-polar ;-)
    That being said, I'm really proud of everyone who puts themselves out there. As they say, it only takes one. Good luck to you! Have faith :-)

  39. Oh weird! This post just came up in my reader today and I realized after I commented that this is from a really long time ago! haha. Oh well, maybe my comment is still relevant :-)

  40. @ Melissa, I was linking posts from here that had been on BlogHer. I didn't realize they would come up as separate posts so I deleted them.

    Your comment is still relevant. In fact, I'm going to use Veteran's Day to send out a few more. I feel the same way you do when I send out queries. It's horrid.