Maintaining mental health while querying

I hear lots of talk about throwing in the towel on one’s manuscript after X number of rejections. The numbers are all over the board. Some say 30-50 rejections, and you should hang it up. Others say 600. EEEK.

I want to know where people come up with these numbers. Personally, I think 30-50 rejections is miles too low. While it’s impossible to know what’s going on in an agent’s [or editor’s] head,  throwing in the towel after so few rejections is foolhardy. I’ve bought works that the author’s agent had been pitching for four years. It only takes one fall in lurve.

Research = confidence

Rather than trying to come up with some magic, arbitrary number that signifies THE END, authors can ensure their mental stability by understanding the business. Knowledge is power.

  • Understand the trends of what’s hot and what’s not – if you’re writing in a current trend genre, be aware that you’re not getting in at the ground level, which means you have to be ten times better/unique than your competition.
  • Understand your competition – how many Eat, Pray, Love clones have crossed my desk? Too many to count. Out of the dozens, I’ve bought one – Charting the Unknown – because, well, Kim Petersen’s writing stands up to serious scrutiny and is every bit as powerful [if not more so] than her competition. While the theme has been done in E,P,L and A House in Fez, Kim’s story is unique. Me lurves unique.
  • Be very well-read in your genre – this should be tattooed on everyone’s forehead because this is the single biggest problem with the queries that crosses my desk. Authors well-versed in their genre. I had a guy send me a lawyer story that was very reminiscent to John Grisham’s The Rainmaker. I told the author this. He wrote back – “Who’s John Grisham?” Ok, maybe the guy was pulling my leg, but I wasn’t laughing. Chances are I’m going to ask you how your book stands out in your genre. And even if I don’t, you should know because it gives you the confidence to know that you are a viable fit.
  • Read a book that your intended agents/editors have sold/published – analyze the quality of the writing, the plot, the pacing and see how your work compares. Yes, you’ll be doing a lot of reading, but chances are that if you’ve done your homework, you’ll have already chanced upon a book they repped. If you’re querying an editor, read a book that you feel closely relates to yours and analyze the quality of the story. It could turn out that your story is wrong for their lineup.

My point with all this is that querying blind isn’t conducive to one’s mental health because you’re leaving too much to chance. You should be querying with the confidence that comes from being properly educated about the industry in which you hope to be a part.

Being savvy to the industry is what tells you when it’s time to drop the book and start on something new. It’s that all-vital element that would never allow you to punish yourself with 600 rejections.

Yah, but I get rejected time and time again

I know, it feels personal, and there’s a grieving process. There is no magic bullet to avoid feeling pain. I submit that if you can’t handle the heat, don’t turn on the stove. There is nothing in life that guarantees we’ll win. Life is a gamble – some days you win, some days you lose. And some days you lose a lot more often than you win. But look at your options; if you never try, you’ll never understand a sense of creating balance so that you can deal with the low points.

That’s why I always recommend that authors begin writing a new book during the query phase. It takes your mind off the process and gets you thinking about your future, rather than focusing on things that are out of your control. And to help redirect your focus, the beagle is considering a side business – a bar strictly for authors. She’s considering names at this juncture. Query Hell, Rancid Rejections, and Damn the Adverbs have been summarily tossed out.

Regardless of your mood, it helps to look at your writing as a business and not a reflection on your self worth. An agent or editor rejects your book, not you.

For us, it really is business, it’s never personal. Well, almost never…

4 Responses to Maintaining mental health while querying

  1. Oh my, that guy’s nostrils are seriously scary. I have never understood why so many writers dwell on rejections. Okay, they’re not much fun but they’re par for the course. Besides, I can’t count as far as 600 and wouldn’t even try.

  2. Sarah says:

    Damn the Adverbs may not work for the name of a bar, but it would be an great name for one of the drinks that the beagle whips up.

  3. Allen Parker says:

    I worry less about the number of rejections, but I confess to worrying about the quality of the rejections. I have worked hard to attain a level of rejection known to few people and I plan to remain at that top level of being rejected. If I can’t at least garner a personal rejection every ten or so letters, I feel like I am slipping and need to boost my level of unacceptable material. 🙂

  4. […] Okay, in Irish mythology, but still! Different and interesting. This, however, is not mythology: how to stay sane while querying. Full of terrific advice about research and persistence – very […]

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