By Lydia Kang
For some reason, I've been secretive about the intricate details of my querying quest. I think it's time to come clean. Even with an agent and a great book deal, I'm still embarrassed that I got so many rejections. I'm afraid I'll be judged by them, that I'm not one of these "I queried 10 agents and got 8 offers, voila!" kind of people.
So here's the nitty gritty, down the very last numbers and request rate percentages. Hold on to your hats!
2009June: Decide to write a YA urban fantasy novel, after writing mostly non-fiction and poetry. In a manic 4 weeks, it's done, all 90K words of it.
July: Start querying. Meet Querytracker and its lovely forum peeps. Get a few partials and a full. I'm overjoyed.
August: Start getting rejections on partials and fulls. Revise the novel lightly. Revise the query heavily. Send out more queries. More fulls and partials; more rejections. Learn a lot about the publishing business. Learn about writing. Inhale Steven King's On Writing. Realize that my UF novel is pretty amateur, but not horrible.
September: Decide that writing a historical YA is the way to go. Start researching (fun!). Continue querying the UF; more rejections pile in. Reread every forum post that says "Rejection means you're that much closer to success." Refresh email box 1000x per day.
October-November: Continue writing the historical novel; decide I'm going to query the heck out of the UF. I exhaust the agents in the U.S. Decide I don't have to be that patriotic. Start querying in Canada and the UK.
December: A bite! FISH ON! (Sorry, I've been watching too many episodes of River Monsters.) Have phone call with UK agent. She wants to pass my MS around to her agent mates. Two weeks later, she rejects me. She offers a R & R, but I've lost faith in the novel and I sense that the agent is not a good fit for me. Meanwhile, the historical novel is written. Send it out to my precious crit partners that I've found via Querytracker and close friends.
January: Stop querying the UF. Crits come back. They are not pretty. Start major revision #1. Continue to read voraciously online about revision and the craft of writing.
February/March: Voraciousness continues. Start blogging, because I vaguely hear I need it for platform. Start meeting lots of blogger/writers who teach me what I don't know about writing, such as arcs (not the gold ones from the first Indiana Jones movie.) Continue revisions.
April: Revision is done; start querying historical YA. I select my agents better this time and refrain from using the spaghetti method. Get better at writing my query. Get lots of rejections. Realize that the historical needs yet another huge revision #2. Hold of on sending full to Very Interested Agent. She graciously agrees to wait.
July: Send full to Very Interested Agent. She loves it. Requests an R & R.
August: Send back revised MS to Very Interested Agent. Start outlining a dystopian.
September: Dystopian outline is 35 single spaced pages. Toss dystopian as certain elements have been done too much, but learn a ton about plotting in the process. Very Interested Agent doesn't offer, but wants more revisions. We email back and forth...
October:...and she stops replying to my emails. Tear out some precious hair. Start outlining a YA sci-fi.
November-December: Write YA sci-fi (AKA CONTROL!). Stop querying the historical, just wait for more rejections on old queries to pour in. Surprise of surprises: I get an R & R from Big League Agent. Realize that to do the R & R correctly, I'd need to completely rewrite historical all over again. But am currently in love with my sci-fi. I stress out and decide the sci-fi would have a larger audience and might be a better debut novel anyway.
January: Feedback rolls in from crit partners on CONTROL. It's great feedback. CPs enthusiastically tell me this is "the one." Start working on revisions but they are less humongous than the revisions needed on the historical. Plotting skills are much better this time around! I email Big League Agent and tell her I need more time on the R & R because I'm working on the sci-fi. She doesn't respond. (I was hoping she would nibble on the sci-fi; she didn't.)
May: Start querying the sci-fi. Get a good request rate, about 1/4.
June: Start writing a fantasy/dystopian MG. Get one near miss by an agent. Query some more.
July: Get two more near misses by agents. Both said they loved it but had enough issues that they didn't want to offer. I query the R & R Big League agent from January, but she rejects my query. :(
Early August: Get R & R from great, interested agent. I don't agree with the R & R, but sit on them for a while, to see if I'll agree with them after a period of time.
Mid August: Seriously consider self publishing.
Late August: Get offer from agent! She's stoked about my novel. We have a phone call where I bounce around a room a lot. I let the R & R agent from early August know I have an offer, and that I stand by my novel as is; she declines to offer rep. We part ways very amicably.
Early September: After notifying the other agents who have my full, get another offer from awesome agent who's also super enthusiastic.
I accept the second agent's offer...Eric Myers of the Spieler agency.
And now, the deets. I dug them up from Querytracker, which compiled the stats for me. And the highlights, in case the above synopsis was a blur.
YA Urban Fantasy
Queries sent: 155
Request rate: 11%
1 Agent phone call with R & R. I decline to do R & R. No offer.
Queries sent: 54
Request rate: 18%
2 R & R's (one I revised, one I didn't). No offers.
YA Sci-Fi (CONTROL)
Queries sent: 101
Request Rate: 24%
Three near misses
One R & R (I declined to do it)
Two offers of rep!
Total rejections: Umm. A lot.
So there you have it. I've learned plenty along the way, but with regard to querying, these rules always applied:
1) Work on the next WIP while you query. Never stop writing.
2) Be your own best critic and trust your instinct. I rejected one R & R because it didn't feel right; and another because the agent didn't feel right, and yet another because that novel wasn't meant to be the one I wanted to debut with.
3) Never stop trying to perfect your craft (first and foremost) and your query writing skills. My query writing got better and better, and my request rate reflected that, I think. And my third novel reflected that my craft improved a great deal from June of 2009.
4) Understand that there will be practice novels that you will have to shelf. Personally? I am glad that my first two novels didn't find an agent. I am much, much happier with my third novel being the one.
5) Find friends who will celebrate the good news and listen when you're down, because it's no lie when they say querying is an emotional roller coaster.
6) There are certain laws of the universe you can't change. The earth will spin dizzily, vinegar will perpetually remind me of stinky feet...and rejections will always happen to a writer. Don't fester in them or you'll get soggy. Just keep writing.
Lydia Kang is a writer, part-time doctor, and salt-addicted gal with a near-pathological need to doodle. Her YA sci-fi book, CONTROL, is coming Summer 2013 (Dial Books for Young Readers).
Find her on Twitter, her blog The Word Is My Oyster, Goodreads, Facebook, and Pinterest.