WARNING – hastily-written, unnecessarily-long, thought-streamy post ahead.
So I’ve started querying for my 57,000 word high-concept Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy (whew) novel. If you’ve never written a book, you couldn’t know what an emotional rollercoaster it is from start to finish, including the part where you pitch it to publishing professionals. Let me explain.
As you put words down for your first page, you’re filled with a mix of excitement and terror. I’m doing it… I’m really doing it… Oh, god, what am I doing? Up is down, left is right. You miss people, and picture them guessing whether or not you’ve lost your mind. Then one bad sentence makes you want to quit. I can’t do this. But the idea won’t die, so you type some more.
This is every day for the next month, three months, half a year, year.
Add to this the constant stream of ideas for unrelated books, the pestering, poking feeling that you’re missing out on some great party or TV show, a Hearthstone expansion (curse you, Blizzard, and your stupid-fun mechs), and every other type of distraction that life spams at you, and it’s easy to see why so many people never finish a first draft.
And then you look up, rub your eyes as if waking from a Rip Van Winkle-like slumber, and realize you’ve typed “The End”. Holy s#!+, I did it!
Yes, you did. You completed your first draft.
What. A. Feeling.
Wine tastes sweeter (especially since you’ve probably had nothing but coffee the whole time), food tastes fresher (see previous parenthesis and replace ‘coffee’ with ‘donuts’), the air smells cleaner, the sun shines brighter, and the people you love don’t seem quite as naggy. The weight is off. Until…
Editing. Back to the coffee and donuts.
For some, editing is more grating and torturous than writing. And with good reason. It’s where you turn a first draft into an OK manuscript, an OK manuscript into a decent book, a decent book into a good book, and, hopefully, a good book into a great one. You do this by, among other things, killing your darlings–cutting unnecessary words/sentences/paragraphs/chapters, which, I can promise you, will be some of your favorites. Some of the best writing you did. The guilt and doubt are oppressive, but you must fight through it so you can, eventually, have your ‘finished’ book.
Then you’ll show it to some folks, get their feedback, and edit it again. And again. And probably again. But eventually, you’ll declare it done.
I bet you think that’s the end of the ride, right? The rollovers, the loops, the g-forces are behind you. The car has stopped at the launch spot, and some teenager in a yellow shirt has pulled the shoulder harness up. You can get off now, right?
Wrong. Now it’s time to query.
If you don’t know what querying is, it’s the process of hiring a literary agent. You (please) research agents that might be interested in what you’ve written and (seriously, please) their submission guidelines, craft a one-page letter that introduces your book (yes, one page), send it off, and wait. BTW, the wait may be months because the agent has to work through the hundreds of other queries ahead of yours in their queue.
Now, you might think this is the easy part compared to writing and editing the book, but you’d be dead wrong. See, up to this point, all the emotion you’ve felt has been one-hundred-percent in your head. Sure, you might have had butterflies in your stomach showing your book to people and taking their feedback, but that’s nothing compared to the razor-winged pterodactyls that soar through your gut when you’re about to click ‘Send’ and show your work to a publishing professional. Did I follow all the submission guidelines? Did I spell her name right? OH NO, THE FONT WAS DIFFERENT! Did my query suck? It sucked. I’ll never get an agent. All of this crashes down on you as you think about querying, query, and wait to hear back.
But what else can you do? You’ve come so far, and you want to be published. To have a career as a writer.
Agents aren’t monsters. They don’t hate you. They’re not looking to reject you. They want you to be great. They want something to drop into their inbox that they love. Understand that and the pterodactyls turn back into butterflies.
In some ways, querying is the most emotional part of the writing process. It’s the only part where you can be rejected, and that’s terrifying to an artist. Think about what might happen if you find that agent who loves you and your book, and gets behind you, though. Have the courage to go out and look for that. For me, the could-have-been is a lot scarier than the ‘Send’ button.
tl:dnr – Writing is scary, editing is scary, querying is really scary.
Thanks for reading.