Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Querying Journey


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!

2009  
June: 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.

2010

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.

2011

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
Partials: 7
Fulls: 11
Request rate: 11%
1 Agent phone call with R & R. I decline to do R & R. No offer.

YA Historical
Queries sent: 54
Partials: 6
Fulls: 4
Request rate: 18%
2 R & R's (one I revised, one I didn't). No offers.

YA Sci-Fi (CONTROL)
Queries sent: 101
Partials: 11
Fulls: 13
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





91 comments:

  1. It doesn't matter how many times we fail. When we hit success, it negates and erases all the failure.
    Very happy for you Lydia!

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  2. Lydia, you are awesome. I'm about to reveal my rejection stats in all their bloody glory (in a presentation on dealing with rejection, no less!), but I've been like you, hesitant to talk about exactly how it was. However--I think there's real value in showing how things unfold over time for many of us. It's not always a quick, easy success, but that means we get to learn a ton about writing and publishing as we go!

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  3. Quite a journey, and though tough, very inspiring to see you made it to publication. I'm just in awe that you kept stats. And I see that Sarah did too. Impressive. Me? I just go into denial.

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  4. Nice post. I FB'd and tweeted it for my writer peeps. And as I teach middle school, I will keep an eye out for your book. Congratulations!

    www.jessicalahey.com

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  5. I enjoyed reading your journey and it brings hope. I'm writing my third novel now, knowing the first two weren't ready.

    I'm more confident my skills are improving.

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  6. Very brave of you to share and congratulations! And yeah, the stats are impressive. I'm not nearly that organized! : )

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  7. Thanks for posting the history involved here. There are some writers who make that right move at the right moment with the right story and get their agent within 5 to 10 queries.

    Then there is the reality for the most of us.

    That * = the moments of despair. And those moments tend to be plentiful between one great book, then another and another until after XXX number of rejections, someone finally says, "Hey, I love it. Let's do lunch. No, really, I mean it!"

    Your journey is a realistic one and it is helpful to those of us still struggling, revising, editing, revising, crying our eyes out, revising, struggling - wait...sorry, I think you get my drift :-)

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  8. Thanks for sharing your experiences so far, Lydia. It makes me feel much better about my own rejections and endless cycle of revising and waiting.

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  9. You deserve all your success lovely Lydia! Look at your stats! My goodness! All those querying and you persistent and continued on writing and persisted some more and et voila!!! Jackpot!! I don't know, maybe it's my old age cynicism but having bounced around writerly blogs for nearly 3 years now, I get the feeling of a tendency to be really impatient with rejections and the process of querying but you've shown just how much hard work and determination and patience are needed and put in to get that magical connection with the right agent for the right book! Well done you and thanks for sharing! Take care
    x

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  10. Thanks for sharing this! It's fascinating. Sometimes I think the #1 trait of a successful writer is being able to let go of an old project and keep trying new ones until "the one" comes along.

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  11. Thanks for sharing, Lydia. It really is fascinating how different everyone's path to getting an agent can be. It gives us query trenchers some hope. :) Much luck with your book deals and I can't wait to read them!!

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  12. Hi Lydia!

    I can totally relate to being hesitant to disclose your "stats." I'm still not comfortable saying how many query rejections I got before landing Eric, lol. Thank you for sharing your experience. I think this post will inspire a lot of people. It gives writers hope and shows them that hard work does pay off!

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  13. Wow, I had no idea your journey was so action packed. So glad you shared this; it's encouraging to see how you stayed with it. I am excited for you! :)

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  14. Very fascinating path to representation. You learned as you went, trusted your instincts, and kept on writing and striving. I have sent out many more queries than your number and never have been accepted ... but then neither was Emily Dickinson. I am very happy that you have found not only an agent, but a publisher. Roland

    Am I the only one who hates proving I am not a robot?

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  15. "Don't fester on them or you'll get soggy." Best advice ever! What a great story, Lydia! Thanks for sharing your journey, and SO proud of your success! Can't wait to read CONTROL~ :o)

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  16. Love your tenacity and approach. Working on that next novel is great advice! :) Can't wait to read your book!

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  17. Thank you for being brave. Inspiring!

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  18. Very happy for you, Lydia. Glad that you didn't give up. This post inspires me to keep querying and writing. Thanks for sharing this post. Hugs.

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  19. Thanks for sharing your stats. I can't wait to read the novel!!

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  20. I love stories like this!! You did everything you needed to to do succeed.
    1. You never gave up.
    2. You learned and got better along the way.

    So inspiring! (Even authors who have ten books out love to be inspired!!)

    Shelley

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  21. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm always curious about others query process. Writing forward seems to be the key :)

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  22. Thanks Lydia for sharing your journey with us and I'm looking forward to your novel! I grew weary of the emotional roller coaster ride. Maybe I'll try again this fall.

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  23. Loved this post, Lydia. Thank you for sharing with us! Very inspiring.

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  24. Wonderful post, Lydia! I am so glad you decided to share it. There are a lot of lessons to be learned in your journey -- persistence, flexibility, hard work at the craft, and making hard decisions that you worry about regretting later (even if you don't).

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  25. Thanks for sharing your journey. It's really inspiring to those of us who haven't gotten an agent to see that persistence and working on craft will result in success some day. Can't wait to read your book.

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  26. Oh my gosh, Lydia. I can relate to this post on so many levels. So glad you didn't give up! I can't wait to read your book.

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  27. Awesome post, Lydia! As I was reading it, I remember those feelings all too well. They never quite go away :) Thanks for sharing!

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  28. I love the honesty in this! And this is a great example of why it's important to just keep writing.

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  29. Great share, Lydia. Thanks for sharing your journey. I'm so happy for you that you got an agent you like for the book you want to be discovered.

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  30. Yay!!! I LOVE posts like this! It makes me feel much better about my querying and the requests i get and also the lenght of time it took you.
    I definitely agree with all your points, especially writing another MS while you're querying. It helps so much!

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  31. What a great timeline Lydia. Lots of interesting numbers too!

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  32. Lydia you are truly amazing and Im glad I got to read your querying journeys,

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  33. "Decide I don't have to be that patriotic. Start querying in Canada and the UK."

    Okay, that completely cracked me up.

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  34. Your honesty and humility are inspiring, Lydia. I remember first "meeting" you. We started blogging around the same time. Your story is awesome. I wish I could write 95,000 words in four weeks.

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  35. Brilliant! I absolutely love hearing the breakdown of how other writers got their agents. It makes everything seem so much less impossible. Thanks for sharing all this!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  36. Thank you so much for sharing! I love writer's success stories, but the ones who have queried a ton and kept on going, those are the ones I connect with. I'm querying my second novel which is garnering lots of rejections. I'm also working on writing my third. So, thank you for telling it like it is. :)

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  37. I love this Lydia--timeline and all! It paints a very realistic picture of a writer's path to publication. It also gives us hope that all our hard work will someday amoutn to something like yours did. Thanks for this great post!

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  38. I'm so glad you posted this! I'm about to start querying my first manuscript late this summer, and it's actually encouraging to hear stories like this, even if they involve a lot of rejections. It makes me feel like it'll be okay when I get them, as long as I keep writing and improving my craft. :)

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  39. Thank you so much for sharing your querying journey with us, Lydia! Reading your story gives me hopes -- that perseverance will eventually pay off. :)

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  40. Thank you for sharing this. It gives me such inspiration. I don't feel alone and I know there will be those times and I hope people don't think I'm whining, I'm in a moment like we all get at some point. I can't thank you enough for this because I think we don't get to see the whole story on some folks' paths and it can make one feel a little small.
    I can't wait to read CONTROL!!!
    Thanks again!

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  41. You completely RAWK! But you already know I think that; glad everyone else does now, too. ;D

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  42. Wow, what a journey. Thanks for this in-depth timeline. I hope a lot of new writers see this and decide not to send their work in until major revisions are done first. Your rules are spot on.

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  43. What an awesome, honest post. Thanks for sharing it and congrats again!

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  44. Thanks for sharing this information. It's easy to see how much you improved along the way. Can't wait to see what happens next.

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  45. Lydia - I am so in love with this post, I think I might do a similar one of my own experiences on my blog. This is fantastic. There really needs to be more specific information like this out there. You = my hero. :)

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  46. Thanks, Lydia, for being so honest. This heartens me and makes me less depressed about my own work. THANK YOU!!!

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  47. Your querying story actually makes me feel A LOT better. I'm an infant where the stats are concerned! So HAPPY for you!! :)

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  48. Thanks for sharing your road to representation. I love how every crook in the road has a moment of despair. Those are the moments that are hard to share.

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  49. Wow. That is a saga!
    Here's to querying *holds glass of apple juice high*

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  50. For one moment Lydia, right after you said hold onto your hats, I saw the number 2009 and I was like WOW! That's a crazy amount of effort and queries, I definitely took my hat off then. I still take my hat off to you though.

    Still, I'm very happy that you shared this with all of us! It is a great reminder to keep the interest of your novel at heart and to do what feels right. And I especially love the keep writing advice even whilst querying.

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  51. Your time line is so organized, which shows how much you really learned along the way. Thank you very much for sharing this. Your stats, your journey is definitely not one to be ashamed of. Your number 1 rule shines through: keep writing through it all. Your journey is inspirational. Congrats to you and your hard earned, much deserved success! christy

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  52. Thanks so much for posting that! Well I bet I could beat your numbers lady and I still don't have an agent. You made it plain to see that this is a 'sales' game. Yes, sales. Many of us just want somebody to 'get' what we write, but at the end of the day and agent, a publisher, a bookseller wants a product they can sell.

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  53. Posts like these make me so proud to know you! :)

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  54. A great and inspiring post! Those are quite the stats - you've had an amazing journey.

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  55. What a great story... so glad you shared your journey with us. After all the learnings, it worked out for you... so perseverance is a must.

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  56. It is great to hear the full querying story of a very respected blogger. Thank you for being so honest Lydia. What perseverence you have! Interesting what you say about the first two novels. I think the best way to learn how to write a novel is to write one, or two. Only the genius ones hit pay dirt with No 1.

    Denise

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  57. That is crazy persistence! Thanks for sharing!

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  58. Man, trust a doc to be so precise! I always love query stories - thank you for sharing and reminding us to keep going.

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  59. I enjoyed reading about your journey toward publication, Lydia, and I really liked your advice about keeping writing and trusting your gut instinct.

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  60. How incredibly kind of you to share this journey with us.
    I feel better knowing that I'm not crazy, I'm one of many who want this goal fulfilled and seeing what it takes to get it may make my head spin but gives me hope.
    Thank you and best of luck.
    Heather

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  61. This was immensely fascinating to me and just the kind of thing I like to pass on to my students. Thank you for taking the time to put it all down~

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  62. Hi Lydia. Glad I followed you over from your blog. It's good to know about someone else's journey while we're on our own.

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  63. Thank you SO much for sharing your process. It's disheartening and encouraging at the same weird time to read people's "easy" success stories, but like you said, I think your path is the more common one. Your talent is obvious, but your persistence and pluck is downright inspiring!

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  64. Thank you for sharing this journey with us in such detail! It's always fascinating to peek behind the curtain as it were, and this was very educational (and heartening)!

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  65. Awesome Lydia. It shows perseverance and determination really pays off. Congratulations.

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  66. Lydia - I'm sending you virtual hugs for this validation.

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  67. Good for you to stick it out and succeed. None of those rejections matter now. Your novel is going to be published!

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  68. Lydia,
    You've had quite a journey. It speaks to being persistent and keeping your focus. Well done.

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  69. Great advice, Lydia. You've inspired a lot of people. I'm glad you found the right agent for you, and am excited to welcome CONTROL into the world.

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  70. Inspiring you remained standing and in the game with all those near misses. Never stop writing---this is my main mantra too. When one story is out for reading or editing I go to work on another. Plus, I loved that you kept your humor. This got a big laugh out of me: "Decide I don't have to be that patriotic." Thanks for sharing Lydia!

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  71. Lydia, I teared up as I read this. You are amazing. You deserve your success! You are inspiring a lot of people. You are inspiring me and things are really dark on the querying front for me, right now.

    Thank you.

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  72. Thank you for sharing your journey. Stories like yours inspire the rest of us and make us realize it's not impossible to get an agent and a book contract. :-)

    Congratulations on your upcoming novel!

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  73. This is just awesome. I'm so happy for you. You exemplify what it means to never give up. Congratulations!!!

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  74. This is great to see. I am just starting the query process with my first novel that I feel is good enough to be queried. I have a few that are sitting in a folder on my computer that will never see the light of day. If I don't get a bite, I move on to the next one. I have already begun my outlines for my next book and hope that when the time comes I will feel a lot better about querying that one!

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  75. I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! And rejections are more like cool battle wounds. I like to think they'll make us all the bad-ass writers we'll be eventually when we get that offer.

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  76. Congrats!! I'm really happy for you. And thanks for sharing your experience!! I can't wait to read your book.

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  77. Thanks so much for sharing your stats, Lydia! I wish more writers would, because I find stories like yours INCREDIBLY inspirational :) Sometimes it seems like the only stories I read are the ones like you described (10 queries, 8 offers, blah, blah, blah), and while I'm happy for those people and their amazing stories, they don't exactly make me feel good about my mounting pile of rejections, lol ;) So again, THANK YOU!

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  78. Aw, I love this Lydia! Wonderful story and it really helps those of us still in the query trenches!

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  79. This is great! Thanks for being brave enough to share your stats. I don't think anyone will judge you. So many super famous authors got tons and tons of rejections. Laurell K Hamilton sent out over 200 queries for the Anita Blake series, which is now on like the 20th book.

    I'm about to jump on the query bandwagon for my third book... hopefully the third's the charm!

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  80. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! I needed it. :)

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  81. A fantastic post. You have helped countless of us working on manuscripts and queries. Thank you!

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  82. You have the best outlook. I just love it!

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  83. Holy crap, I don't know if I have the guts or organization skills to go back and look at querying stats! But its sort of fun to look back, as if from a mountain top looking back at all the steep terrain, hungry bears, and poison ivy along the way. Too dramatic? haha :)

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  85. It's amazing how hard it is to share our failures but how encouraging it is for others, esp. when you've reached the big milestones of agent and book deal! yay!

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  86. I am SO VERY happy for you. Thank you for sharing the story of your journey with us! :)

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  87. So glad it all turned out so well! I bet you learned so much on your journey! :)

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  88. Fun to read! I think posts like this will show other struggling writers that it's not all instant success, and that will be encouraging. :) And I TOTALLY agree about "practice" novels. Yay for the publication of your 3rd novel!

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