Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From the query trenches

This week I've started querying STUMPED in earnest.  And the rejections are trickling in.  By this stage, I'm used to it.  It's the 5th book I've queried.

My first, Assignment 9, I think of now as my training book.  It's the one I revised and revised and rewrote and changed obsessively.  The one I wrote horrible queries for because I wasn't 100% sure what a query even was.  I'm glad I went through the process, but I'm also glad that book never got picked up because it's actually pretty crap. It also got me primed for rejection because my abysmal query attempts got me a total of zero requests.

Then there was Chasing the Taillights which I still believe is one of my best books.  I queried it and entered contests and got requests alongside the rejections.  I got excited, thinking this was it, I'd get the agent of my dreams and become a best seller.  Then reality kicked in and the agents who requested the book wrote back to say that while they loved my writing, and thought the book packed an emotional punch, the story wasn't big enough to stand out in the current YA market.  All of them, variations on that same theme.

So I wrote The Boyfriend Plague and made sure I had a bigger story.  Friendships ending.  First love.  Coming out.  Euthanasia.  It was all in there.  I sent out my first handful of queries and got a lot of requests.  Again, excitement.  I was going to make it this time!  But no...  The requests ultimately became rejections.  The story was too heavy.  There was too much going on.  There wasn't enough happening. The pacing wasn't tight enough.  The main character wasn't engaging.  The main character was engaging, but the supporting characters didn't have enough to do.  The reasons for the rejections were amazingly broad.  And I had no idea what to do with these comments because they were all so incredibly different to each other.  I trunked the book.

I wrote The Sidewalk's Regrets which is probably the most personal book I've ever written.  I queried it widely, certain this one would be the one. It's a far simpler story than Boyfriend, but deals with some heavy themes.  It had to be the perfect balance between Taillights and Boyfriend.  But again, I got a lot of requests, but the rejections piled up.  A romance where the obstacle is heroin addiction is, apparently, not something people want to see....

There was also an historical romance I queried briefly, but at this stage, the less said about that one the better.  It's sitting there, rewritten as an NA, but needs so much work I haven't the energy to even look at it right now.

And now STUMPED.  I knew as soon as I'd written the first chapter it was going to be a tough one.  Frank and honest treatment of sex in YA is always going to be delicate.  When you add disability, it becomes even more tricky.  So I know I need a brave agent to take this one on.  I'm being incredibly selective in who I query because of this.  I believe in this book so much.  I love Ozzy and I want to share his journey with others.  I want this one to be the one.  I feel like all the books I've written before have been leading to me writing this one.  It's high concept.  It's funny.  It's heartbreaking.  It's unique.  It's gritty and edgy and dark.  So I'm holding onto hope, even if each query I send out feels like it takes a little piece of my heart with it.

What have your query experiences been like?  What have you learned from them?


  1. Best of luck with querying, I don't have much more than that, except that your writing is incredible and rich and beautiful and you tell fantastic stories and I've got my fingers crossed for you :-)

  2. I learned from my first books, too. I improved, but I feel I've taken a step back with my current WIP. It's an improvement in pacing, but not unique or high concept. I'm doubting I'm going to sell it, but it's fun to write, so WTH. :-)

    If your rejections are all over the map, it means there's nothing wrong with the book, it's just personal taste of the agents -- and they can be WRONG. Your STUMPED is awesome! Query edgy agents and male ones who'll understand Ozzy. Good luck!!!

    1. It's got to be fun. If you're not enjoying writing it, it's not worth doing....

  3. Good post, Kate. The first thing I learned from queries is that there are a lot of nice agents out there. Several have been kind and helpful. I also learned that good writing is a prerequisite but not the whole thing; you also have to write a book that will sell in today's market. And you also need a certain amount of luck to find the right agent at just the right time for that book. So hang in there--I'm sure you'll make it eventually! :-)

  4. It is so hard when you get rejections like that, because what is there to learn from it besides that everything is subjective?

  5. Good for you for still trying. I sent out queries for books that weren't even close to ready (the foolishness of youth) and I'm still reeling from the rejections. Good luck with this round of querying :)