Hi there! Hope you’re having a delightful holiday season and that you’ve enjoyed at LEAST one mug of hot cocoa. December is always a reflective month for me — looking back at the lessons I’ve learned along the way, the good moments and the not-so-good ones, and thinking about the year ahead.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been actively querying a YA fantasy adventure novel, and it’s a story I absolutely love. In the spring, I finally found what this story was missing, and I became a better writer to make this story the best I possibly can. I am so, so proud, no matter what happens with it.
In the summer, I wrote a blog post about knowing when the right time to query is, and now I’m going to address the opposite side of the coin: knowing when not to query, or at least, when to hold.
First, a clear time to not query is if your book isn’t ready. If it isn’t polished to the best of your ability, if you haven’t brought in beta readers or critique partners, if your query hasn’t gone through rounds of revisions to make your story pop in a single-page pitch, etc. Sometimes the fear of rejection can hold us back when we actually are ready, but in time, and partly in gut instinct, you’ll start to know when you’re ready to query. Having those extra sets of eyes on your work will be utterly invaluable in helping you make sure your work is the best it can be, so I highly, highly recommend you get those beta readers involved! The above blog link goes into this topic more.
Now, let’s say you know your book is totally ready, your first 10 pages are stellar, the voice is excellent, and the stakes are clear. Your query has gone through a bunch of rounds, and it’s really showcasing your story. You’ve had your beta readers, your critique partners; you’ve read the craft books, you’ve made the edits. You’ve had readers, writer friends, and maybe even editors or agents tell you you’re ready to query.
Well, it still might not be time for your story.
What? Why? But I’m ready, you might wonder!
That’s fantastic, and you should be very proud. But the industry might not be ready for you.
I say this as I’m living the above scenario, and it’s been months of figuring out what the hell is happening and why I’m not seeing the results I’m looking for. I’m not calling myself an expert on the industry, but I’ve learned so much in these last few months that I think it’s really important to touch upon some big points.
For context, I’ve received so much feedback on my story, and I’ve been told by editors, agents and writer friends that it’s ready to query. It took about two years, and I poured my heart and soul into this book and into becoming a better writer. I hope I don’t come off arrogant, but I’m really, really proud of this story and of how far I’ve come with my writing and discipline as a writer.
So when I began my querying journey in the late summer, I expected things would go pretty well, though I had reasonable expectations. My goal was 1 request in 10, and I knew rejections would come despite my confidence in my story and query.
Spoiler: things did not go well.
My first question was why. I’m a perfectionist and I often overthink things, so I immediately questioned if I was actually ready to query like I thought I was. Was it my query letter itself? My first pages? My synopsis? I had gone through all of these materials more times than I can count, and I had very encouraging feedback, so I wasn’t sure what to do. And the rejection feedback I was getting was simply “not the right fit for me/my list” with the occasional mention that I had a strong plot/voice, so I couldn’t exactly take much from that in terms of what to possibly fix. I’ve kept a very careful query list, so this was a bit surprising, but still, I was trying to find the why.
In time, I felt perhaps my query letter could be improved more. Maybe I’d revised it so many times that I was too close to the situation, or maybe it was like patching a blanket that had been mended too many times. I started totally fresh, worked with several writers and agented writers, and printed out successful queries and studied them. Eventually with weeks of diligent effort, I wrote a dynamite new query letter, if I do say so myself. And in the fall, I went back out with a new round of queries, thinking this would make the difference.
It didn’t change anything.
I must have asked myself this a thousand times. The instinct is to assume I’m a horrible writer who will never get published and thinks her work is good, when in actuality it’s garbage.
The answer I’ve come to is simple: timing/industry trends, and yeah, I’m not currently trending.
I’ve taken months to come to this conclusion. I’ve watched the Twitter pitch contests, I’ve watched who’s getting agents and what books are currently getting deals. I’ve combed through Manuscript Wishlist and agent profiles. I’ve talked with agented authors and editors who have experienced this exact scenario in the past. I’ve watched what agents request on Twitter, and how those requests have changed in the last year.
So, what does all this mean? Basically, the trends are dictating what stories are getting picked up right now at a level far beyond me, and it determines what agents are looking for. At the time I’m writing this, the current hotnesses are: paranormal/witches, contemporary/contemporary fantasy, and romance/books that are on the lighter side or aren’t so heavy. You may remember when vampires were all the rage, along with dystopias. There are always trends, though some might be more subtle. I’m positive there are exceptions to those who break through the trends, but for these purposes, it’s important to understand what the current trends are, and how they might help or hurt your efforts.
As for the current trends, my book is none of these things. Remember when I said the responses I’m getting from agents is not the right fit? Well, there you go.
So…what the hell do I do now?
Another simple answer: hold.
This doesn’t come naturally to me, and I can’t say I love it. The book is ready, the query is ready, so why can’t I just keep trying? Truth is, I did keep trying. I did several rounds of querying and I got the same results each time. I worked so hard to get around the trends, but despite everything, I couldn’t break through. If I keep querying when I’m not what agents are looking for right now, I’ll burn all my chances.
At every step, I’ve asked myself, “Should I hold?” Eventually, I found this incredible Twitter post that made me realize I needed to trust my gut. I knew the answer; I just didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want to feel like I failed, or like I was giving up. Like I was shelving it for good, which would break my heart.
But I’m not. I’m not failing, or giving up, or shelving anything. I’m simply looking at this with a clear head and thinking strategically based on everything I’ve experienced. If I’m mocha ice cream and everyone wants peppermint right now, then it doesn’t matter how good my mocha is. I’ll still get turned down. And honestly, I’m the exact same way about how I choose what books to read: I go through moods and phases of what I like to read, and some books therefore end up by the wayside. I’m sure I’m passing excellent books because, to quote those agents, they’re “not the right fit” for me. At least not right now.
So, how long am I holding querying for?
I wish I knew. I’d like to think 4-6 months, but that’s not based on anything beyond hope. That’s the hard part about trends — you can’t really predict them. It’s possible my genre/type of story won’t swing back into the trends at all, though generally speaking, trends do tend to come back around. And if/when it does, I’ll be ready. Granted, even if I hit at the exact right time and my story is hot on the trends, I might still not break through. Hitting at your moment doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least gives you more of a fighting chance. I’ve heard from so many writers this year that querying has been brutal, regardless of whether they were a trending genre or hotter topic. I do still have some queries out, and I’m not pulling them, but I’m managing my expectations.
So… what do I do in the meantime?
Write something else.
I once wrote a post about how we write because we love to write. We write because, despite the rejections, despite the heartache, despite the uncertainty, we love writing more than any of the hard parts. That’s still absolutely true for me. I loved, loved, loved writing my last book. Yes, it hurts that things haven’t gone exactly as I hoped. It hurts not knowing if this story will get the shot I wholly believe it deserves. But I know I’m giving it the best chance I can if I put it aside for now, and pour my heart into something new.
Will this new book I’m working on go anywhere? No clue. Maybe I’ll be in the same position a year from now, hearing the new story is “not the right fit.” Or maybe I’ll come back to querying my previous story in a few months and land an agent. To quote my lovely critique partner, in publishing, it’s usually a matter of when, not if.
If this year has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no way to know what’ll happen next. All we can do is be prepared for when the door opens and boldly walk through it. I’ll be watching the industry very closely in the new year, seeing what agents are looking for and how the industry swings. Maybe it’ll be my time after all. Maybe it won’t. But I’ll still have loved writing that book, and I’ve learned so much about writing craft and the industry that are invaluable as I keep pursuing this dream. And I’m loving writing this new story. Some days, that has to be enough.
If you’re in a similar spot with your writing or are having a tough go on the query road, I’d love to hear from you. ❤
Sending holiday vibes,