Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Query Journey—A Choose Your Own Adventure

So the prompt for the blog post is for me to describe my querying journey. That’s easy. It went something like this:
scary
exhilarating
painful
rock-bottom
scary
heartbreaking
scary
exhilarating
BEST DAY EVER.

Well, close enough. But to get more specific, I queried two novels before signing with my agent, although I wrote a total of five.

Like a lot of writers (more like 99.8% of them), I queried way too soon. The first novel I queried was actually my second book. I wrote it, revised it myself with no feedback from other writers, and then sent it off with a half-cocked query letter.  And while I did receive a couple of partials and one full request on the book, all the queries ended in rejection, and I quit submitting after the first round.

But I kept on writing. The third book I didn’t submit at all (for various reasons) but the one after I did. This one I spent more time revising, including some feedback from beta readers, and then sent it off. Again, I received a couple of partials and one full request, but all 59 queries eventually ended in rejection and heartbreak.

And so I started on the next book, the fifth if you’re keeping count. This one, The Nightmare Affair, I took my time writing and revising, I located some awesome critique partners and beta readers and then revised again. Then once it was finished I spent nearly a month writing a query letter. Then after all that, I submitted to a grand total of seven agents before receiving an offer of representation. I’m not going to lie—the query process this time was short and utterly awesome. But it never would’ve ended in success if not for the journey that came before it.

The best analogy I can give you is that the writer’s journey, from story creation to finding an agent, is best approached like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, from the 80s and 90s. In these books the reader gets to make decisions on what happens next in the tale. For example, the main characters might be trapped in a cave filling up with water and the scene will end with this choice:

To climb the slippery wall on the left to escape, turn to page 93
To swim down into the underground river to find an escape tunnel, turn to page 102.

Then you, the reader, decide which one, turn to the page, and read on. For me, pretty much every Choose Your Own Adventure Book ended in a quick, painful death, a lot like those early rounds of querying. I don’t believe I ever solved one of the books correctly.

To solve one, you had to go back to the beginning and make different choices. Oh, you could go to page 93 instead of 102, and I did try this occasionally, but doing that rarely ever resulted in a better ending.  I never had the patience to go back and make different decisions and so set the book aside and gave it up as a bad job.

But in the face of rejection, a writer must go back and make different decisions. Sometimes you only have to go as far back as the query letter, rewriting it with input from other writers. If so, then your next round of queries should result in an improvement in response. If not, then you need to go further back, maybe even to the beginning.

The beginning can be either a serious rewrite of your current novel in which you make significant changes, or the beginning can be a new novel where you start fresh. That varies by writer and book, of course. The solution for me was always to move on to the next story once the current one had gotten too old and too full of painful memories of failure for me to want to play in that world anymore.

But the key is to keep going and to keep learning from those mistakes and wrong decisions. If you do, you’re bound to find that happy ending after all. 

If you’re interested, you can view my query letter for The Nightmare Affair as well as some of tips here.
 
Happy Writing.

Mindee Arnett is the debut author of The Nightmare Affair, a YA contempory fantasy coming March 2013 from Tor Teen (Macmillan), and Finding Eden, a YA sci-fi thriller coming 2014 from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins). She lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats.  She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outerspace.  She blogs and tweets, and is hard at work on her next novel in the Arkwell Academy series.  Find her online at MindeeArnett.com.

8 comments:

  1. Awesome post, Mindee, and totally spot on :)

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    1. Thanks, Lori! Someday you and I should write a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Egads, could you imagine how hard it would be?

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  2. Thanks for sharing. I'm in the throws of query rejections, which lead to rewrite, which will hopefully lead to another round of queries and then requests. :) I enjoy reading about success stories and how the writer persevered.

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    1. Best of luck to you, Rachel. Sounds like you're already making good decisions. Good for you!

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  3. Just read your query! Extra excited for The Nightmare Affair now!

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  4. I love this post! From now on, when people ask me why I'm not published yet and if I'm still writing ... I'm going to send them a link to this exact post. The road to publishing is different for everyone, and sometimes it takes some restarts and new choices. Thanks for sharing, Mindee!

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  5. I loved this post, although I now have a stomachache remembering my own long and painful process to finally landing an agent and a deal. Ugh!

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