It's been 5 months since I started querying. I freely admit that it's been just as hard as my fellow writers warned it would be.
To date, I've sent out 41 queries. Of these:
- 8 no response; deadline for reply has passed
- 2 no longer accepting YA
- 13 non-specific "sorry, not for me" replies
- 1 helpful reply admitting how competitive epic fantasy has become
- 4 requested fulls (entire manuscript)
- 5 requested partials (first 50 pages)
- 8 cold queries; awaiting response
You might wonder, "What's the average success rate in querying?" Sci-fi/fantasy author Dan Koboldt tallied some numbers on this very subject. His findings: the average rejection rate was about 87%, with a range of 70-98% for all agents. So the average positive response rate is only about 13%... so I'm happy with my 29% positive response rate. That doesn't count the 11 agents I successfully pitched at conferences, who later rejected my partial/full submission. If I counted them, my response rate would be 56%; a skewed percentage which would fall dramatically once the number of my cold queries increase.
It would have been foolish to start this process with the expectation of failure, but it was also ambitious of me to hope for success. Most authors query their first book—their first love, their much-loved baby, only to learn the harsh realities of this industry, and emerge either jaded and defeated, or thicker-skinned and better equipped to write a better book. Most agents offer to represent only 2% of manuscripts they read.
I don't like doing things unless I have a reasonably high margin of success. Knowing this about myself, I predicted from the beginning that querying would not be easy.
The worst part?
Knowing that you're not good enough, but not knowing how you can improve. Yes, each agent's opinion is subjective. Yes, it's completely understandable that they wouldn't want to work with me unless they LOVED my book. But they don't have time to write and explain why it didn't "click" for them. Sometimes, they can't even put it into words. It's just a feeling.
Yes. This industry, made up entirely of words, actually runs on feelings.
So where does that leave me?
I enjoy the feeling of failure and rejection about as much as the next person, but I also like to do things well. If I'm going to be unsuccessful at securing a lit agent and a traditional publishing contract, I don't want to quit halfway. I don't want to get discouraged and not give this effort a full run. I intend to finish well.
I've been telling people that I will query until December. That will complete a 9-month period, a respectable time frame to give busy agents enough time to respond. Some writers choose to query for 2 years—but I don't have that kind of wistful optimism.
Part of me wants to pull the plug and immediately activate Plan B: self-publishing. I have several writer friends who have preceded me in this journey, and have done admirably well. Self-publishing no longer has the stigma it once did: poor quality writing from desperate, egotistical authors. (FYI, recent self-pub authors who wish to separate themselves from this old stigma now refer to their book as "independently published", which means exactly the same thing as "self-published", except that they are aware of the new distinction) No, the "indie pub" market has grown enough that it is a viable and wonderful option for many talented writers who weren't able to secure traditional publishing, or who chose not to pursue it in the first place.
Several reasons why I think The Paper Throne would be a good fit for indie pub:
- I'm losing the "kingdom" window: when I started writing this story, Season 2 of Game of Thrones aired on HBO. That was FIVE years ago, but it was the PERFECT time to write about daring princesses, to capitalize on Daenerys and epic fantasy. Now, publishing is trending towards a lot of space opera (because Star Wars), contemporary fantasy (because Dr. Strange), etc. I'm not saying readers are kingdomed-out, but publishers aren't really buying it anymore.
- My personality needs progress. I'm not the cheerful hard worker who can do the same, day in, day out. I love tackling a project from start to finish, because I can see the steps I've gained, and the final product. That's why I picked up knitting this year. And soapmaking. I love to MAKE things.
- I have the skill set for indie pub. Yes, starting down that road would present a whole new box of challenges, but I could do it, and hopefully well. Marketing, online channels, event promotion, marketing, design, and project management are in my wheelhouse.
- I like being in control. It's difficult to depend on others; to have one's progress depend on others. Querying has been a good experience for character growth, definitely. I've had to learn to be okay with feeling like the small fish, the newbie, the less-than-best. Indie pub would allow me to drive my book forward. Could it be a better book with others involved? Could it be a better book traditionally published? Absolutely. I intend to involve as many external advisors as possible, to avoid myopia and thinking my way is the best way. That's where other editors, designers, and a publicist come in handy.
- Life is short. My husband and I are now in the stage of life where we're thinking about family planning. And should that double-line-on-the-stick appear, I'd only have about 6 months before our lives changed indefinitely. Writing becomes statistically unlikely with a newborn babe, so I'm also thinking about how I can finish this trilogy before the next season of life. This trilogy isn't the best story I have in me—I'd like to give it my best, finish it, and find freedom for telling new ones.
In glassmaking or blacksmithing, you purposely heat and cool your material in order to increase its strength. Sometimes, you mix it with another material. This process well describes my emotions these past 5 months: the roller coaster of emotions when I receive an agent's request for the full manuscript...only to receive their one-sentence rejection 24 hours later.
But my heart's gotten stronger. Hopefully a little wiser, too. I'm still optimistic, and I'm still committed to seeing this querying process through. But I'm also realistic, and eyeing with increasing interest the second phase of storytelling: indie pub.
I may bump up my kill date. October holds the Surrey International Writers Conference. There will be many agents there, and it would probably be wise to pitch them.
Though my fingers are itching to grab the control switch and shift into "indie" gear, I'm holding back.
And I'm trying to fuel my energy into Book 2.