To Query or Not to Query

I had an interesting exchange with author Sierra Godfrey (@sierragodfrey on Instagram) that got me thinking about the whole question of querying. Sierra posted a great “pep talk post” encouraging authors to get their work into the querying cue. I, too, am an advocate for querying, though I understand why many authors are reluctant to do so. After all, it’s scary – a soul suck, even – to put your work out there and receive rejections in return. The growth of self-publishing has made it even more tempting to avoid gatekeepers altogether.

I’m of a mind that authors who don’t query ultimately cheat themselves. You never know what opportunities you might miss if you don’t query. Querying also remains the single most important tool for answering two fundamental questions about your work: Is your manuscript ready to publish? If so, is it marketable?

True, many rejections are the simple result of a mismatch between what your manuscript offers and what the agent or editor is seeking. And no one has a crystal ball that can fully predict which ideas will sell and which ones won’t. But the gatekeepers have a lens we authors often do not; a lens that allows them to see with more acuity whether your manuscript is likely to be picked up by enough readers to make it profitable.

This, I think, is the scariest part of querying. Especially if you are a fiction author who just invested a year – or ten – in a story that carries part of your heart and soul. All of us want our stories to be published and read. Every time we finish a manuscript, we truly believe the world will be delighted to embrace it. Sometimes we’re right, but sometimes we aren’t.

The simple, yet difficult, truth is not every novel is meant to be published. I’ve written five novels and queried all of them. Two of my finished manuscripts were never picked up by agents or editors. As painful as those rejections were, I can say in hindsight not being published was a good thing. My very first novel was not well-written or even salvageable (beyond a few scenes I extracted for use in later works). I am quite happy that no one beyond my immediate group of friends ever saw that first attempt!

In the second case, while the manuscript had some important strengths, the novel needed serious reworking before becoming the story it was meant to be. Had I decided not to query or jumped into self-publishing at the time, I would have missed the chance to truly develop the narrative along all its possible dimensions. The process of querying helped me examine my own work with a larger, more critical lens. This, in turn, brought me to a better, more fulfilling place as an author.

This summer, I’ve completed a new manuscript. I’m starting the query journey all over. Just like every manuscript before, I believe in this novel with all my heart. I can’t help but imagine the excitement of readers when they dive into it. I indulge star-studded visions of making bestseller lists and doing book signings and earning praise from editorial magazines. I envision all the places this manuscript could lead, including a new book series. I craft my pitch and synopsis and send out my letters with joy and confidence.

At the same time, I prepare for the possibility, however unwelcome, that I’m wrong. If my novel is meant for the marketplace, I trust querying to lead me to an editor or agent who believes in this story as much as I do, just as it has in the past. If my novel is not meant for the marketplace, I trust the process to lead me to a better place as a writer, just as it has in the past.

As I said, not every novel is meant to be published. Every novel, however, is worth writing. Each manuscript we complete moves us forward in our journey as writers and perhaps more importantly, as human beings. It’s important for us to remember this; to recognize all our work has inherent value, regardless of its destiny with respect to the market.

I suspect this will not be the last time I talk about querying. I hope some of these reflections prove useful for you in your own writer’s journey. Thank you for stopping by, and I look forward to seeing you next time!

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