Carrots and Sticks to Keep You Querying

For some writers, querying their work and finding an agent or publisher is a quick and easy process. If you sent out twenty or fewer queries before getting your agent, congratulations, this post is not for you. But the majority of us spend quite some time in the “query trenches.” 

I’ve read that a writer should send out at least 100 queries before they shelve a project. Myself? I’ve been querying my current project for the past six months. Responses, when they come, are slow and often just form rejections. Of course, the enthusiastic requests to see more make the process sting a little less. 

Unfortunately, you cannot control when you will get a request for a full or an offer of representation. But you can control how you approach querying and make sure you put yourself out there fully before you start self-rejecting. Below are some methods for getting through the querying process that have worked for myself and other writers.

The Carrots

Carrots are little rewards you give yourself along the way to make the process more fun and less painful. Some fun examples include:

  • The Rejection Jar. Every time you receive a rejection, put a small amount of money in a jar. How much? It depends on what you can afford. Even a quarter will work. Once you finally get signed, you can bust open your jar and use the money inside to celebrate your hard work. If you only queried for a month, you might end up with a piece of cake. But you queried for two or three years (different manuscripts, please!)? Then you’ll be treating yourself to a fancy dinner. 
  • The Rejection Support Group. Some authors find a critique group who support each other through the querying process. When you get a rejection, you share it with the group and they congratulate you on putting yourself out there and trying to advance your career. It can take the sting out of the rejection. 
  • Immediate Gratification. A bit of chocolate, a new pair of shoes. Sometimes, you may need to pamper yourself when a rejection comes in. 
  • A Writer’s Retreat or Conference. Consider setting a goal for yourself and have a writing related reward when you reach it. For example, if you research and query fifty agents, you can treat yourself to a writing retreat because you have shown you are serious about your writing career. 

The key with query-carrots is to turn rejection and the tedious process of querying into something positive. Re-frame it so that each rejection reminds you that you are working towards publication. Over time, the rejections will start to feel less like something negative and more like what they are: stepping stones to advancing your writing career. 

The Sticks

Little rewards are not always appropriate, though. Some people prefer “sticks” to get their butt in gear and keep them querying. Self-imposed acts of discipline can be an efficient way to make sure you query regularly and effectively. Here are some examples: 

  • Query Before Creativity. As a writer, you should continue improving your craft by working on something new while you are querying your completed manuscript. Writing something new can be incredibly fun, which is why I tend to set a querying goal before I allow myself to dive into my WIP. For example, five queries a week before I can concentrate on my latest short story or new novel. 
  • Research Before Querying. When I send off a query letter, I get a rush of adrenaline at the mere possibility within it. But it’s important to take the time to research the agents I’m sending to rather than just chasing that rush. So I force myself to spend a week researching agents before I am allowed to send off a batch of queries. 
  • Finish Querying One MS Before Starting the Next. This is a rule I didn’t follow. I queried my first MS lightly, then switched to a second MS before fully querying the first. Now I am in a query mess. Don’t be like me. Make sure you have fully exhausted your options before starting in on your second. 

The trick to using sticks in your querying process is to not berate yourself but to entice yourself into a smarter, stronger querying process. If you start to feel unmotivated and bad about your writing, perhaps it is time to switch to some carrots. 

While motivation to keep querying is important, it is also important to realize that sometimes rejection means that you should look at your material and make sure it is query-ready. You may decide to revise your query letter, your sample pages, or your full manuscript, and that is okay. You may even decide to shelve a project and work on a new manuscript. That is also okay. The point is to be aware of your process and make healthy decisions for your writing. 

Koji Dae
Co-Founder, Lead Developer
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