Surviving Query Hell Part 1 of 4

So one of the blog topics proposed in the comments section of my 100 Followers post was How to Survive Querying.  Cassie Mae suggested this topic and as I said in my last post, once I began to write, it became clear that this was a multi-post topic.  Cassie, this one's for you!

As some of you know from having followed my blog, it took me a very, very, very long time to find an agent.  Four years, 177 days, 2 books and 238 rejections to be exact.  That's not counting the rejections that trickled in after I had already signed with my agent . . . six months after I had signed with her! (Add one more, as per my previous post!)


Before I go any further, I want to say that my story is probably the worst-case scenario.  If you're right on the doorstep of querying, this is not meant to discourage you.  Far from it.  I hope, instead, that you'll learn from my mistakes.  I also hope that you'll take heart and be encouraged because I strongly, strongly, strongly doubt that anyone reading this will have to wait as long as I had to wait.  In fact, the point I am trying to make is not to give up.  At least not without a knock-down-drag-out fight.

Speaking of mistakes, my biggest one was simply sending my book out before it was really ready which I'll address in tip #1. 

Also, these posts assume you've already written a kick-ass query and that you are either already in the throes of querying or that you are going to start sometime very soon.  Therefore, this series of posts will not address writing the perfect query letter.  Also this is not necessarily about how to snag an agent.  This is about how to survive the process of snagging an agent. 

So assuming you are in the throes of querying (or at least know someone who is) I don't have to tell you that querying is exhausting, exasperating, stressful and downright demoralizing at times.  It's a roller coaster ride of emotion from the giddy high of having an agent request a full or partial to the abject horror of logging one rejection after another.  So how does one survive? 

Well, everyone is different.  I can only tell you how I survived although most of what I'm going to say is out there in the online writing community already in some form or another.  Universal truths of surviving the query period, I suppose. 

Anyway, here are my suggestions for surviving query hell.  Because that's what they should call it.  Not querying.  Query Hell.  Because come on people, that's what it is! 

1.  Have a Really Good Book.  This one may seem so obvious as to not warrant mentioning but you would be shocked and confused by how many aspiring authors disregard this.  No one can really tell you when your book is ready.  That's an authorial decision you have to make all by yourself.  But before you step through the fiery gates of Query Hell, you should make sure that your book is darn good.  Not okay.  Not it-still-needs-some-work-but-it's-passable.  Not well-my-mom-and-best-friend-loved-it.  Your book should be one that can be enjoyed by someone who doesn't know you.  It's hard to remain objective about your own work though so if you haven't made the rounds of critique partners or writing groups or beta readers and the like, get moving.  Don't send your poor, vulnerable book down into flaming depths of query hell without having engaged the services of some objective readers.  Revise, revise, revise!

2.  Get a Life.  Although the urge to sit staring at your email inbox every second of the day waiting for a new email to pop up and hoping it is from an agent is nearly irresistable (yes, I've done it!), don't do it.  Close your laptop.  Put down your phone.  Walk away.  Spend time with your family and friends.  Go out.  Plan an adventure.  Have a baby, get married.  Take up a hobby.  Go back to school.  But do something.  You've got to do something besides writing/querying.  You will never survive otherwise.  You will go crazy.  You need to have other things in your life besides this.  You don't want all your eggs in this basket, believe me.  (Feel free to peruse my post on things that went on in my life while I was looking for an agent.)

3.  Keep Copies of the Close Calls.  Hopefully somewhere along the line you'll get a personalized rejection from an agent who really liked your book and had some nice things to say about it but didn't love it enough to offer representation.  If this happens, hold onto that letter or email.  Use it to bolster morale when you feel like throwing in the towel.  It is a good sign.  It means you're on the right track.  Be encouraged.  I still have an email from an agent who passed on my book where he said some really nice things about Finding Claire Fletcher.  I have it taped above my desk where I can see it all the time.  Even now, after I've landed an agent, I keep that email posted.  (Subs isn't much more fun than query hell, I must say).  Those words got me through some pretty dark times.  So if you have had some close calls, keep them near to remind you that you shouldn't give up.  If you haven't had any close calls with agents, then use the positive feedback you get from critique partners or beta readers.  Someone who has said something glowing about your book.  Post that sh*t on your bathroom mirror if you must but use it.  You're going to need it when you're logging form rejections #39, #102 and possibly #179 (although I hope you never get that far; hope you land an agent well before #179).  Trust me.

This agent later passed but to be fair, my book still needed a lot of work at that time!
Come back tomorrow for more on surviving Query Hell!


  1. Thank you for writing this, and I can't wait to hear whatever else you have to say! I am JUST ABOUT to the point of querying-- I *think* I have my query letter down pretty solid, and I'm waiting for my last beta reader to send her critiques, at which point I'll do one more (hopefully brief) overhaul of the book... Which will be my 7th full revision.

    I am absolutely TERRIFIED of querying, though at the same time I am looking forward to it... like a masochist.... It is good to hear your perspective on everything!

  2. "Have a baby, get married"

    My wife objects on both counts.

    In all seriousness, thanks for posting on this topic, and for reliving the pain of rejection. As encouraging as it must be to get a rejection like that one that called CLAIRE FLETCHER a 'home run', it's got to be heartbreaking at the same time. I'll be out there soon, I hope, depending on how fast I can revise, and then maybe I'll be able to experience the 'joy' myself!

    Looking forward to the next installment in this series.

    1. I just got that. Hah hah hah. Wow, totally sleep deprived!

    2. Having a four-year-old can do that to you!

  3. Lauren: you're revisions will be worth it! It is kind of masochistic in its way. But it's the process. Don't be terrified. Good luck!

    Jeff: I meant that have a baby, get married tongue-in-cheek of course. One hopes you wouldn't have time to do either one of those things between your first query and the contract! LOL. Yes, the glowing rejections could be very heartbreaking. Hard to fathom how something could be a home run but not worthy of representation. But as I said in the caption to that photo, my book had a lot of problems and really was not ready at that time.

  4. Lauren: I mean "your revisions" not "you're revisions". Sorry, lack of sleep prevails!

  5. I am following this series of posts with great interest, as I have just plunged into querying myself. I look forward to tips how to survive the next week/month/year(s).

  6. Hell is the right word. And I think I need to pay more attention to step one. Always forget about that one and try and jump ahead. :P

  7. I love this post! It couldn't have come at a better time. (As you know, I'm standing so close to the gates of Query Hell, my hair is getting singed.) The "real life" examples (photos) really helped drive your points home. Thanks for sharing everything! :)

  8. Thank you for posting this, Lisa. It's very inspiring. I have been writing for five years now, and I'm still seeking out an agent. Your story is very inspirational. Please post more :)


  9. My query must have sucked. I didn't get one positive reply until Jeanie. I sent out over a hundred queries.

  10. I've been in & out of the depths of query hell for a long time now. I've become quite resilient actually, but I worry now that I'm so close to diving back in. I don't know if I can last 4 years, but I'll give the next 15 months or so a good try. And I'll start writing my next book while the flames of hell lick at my feet. *sigh*

  11. Oh my goodness this is so what I need right now! I don't even remember writing that question for you. (I must've been in one of those... 'how do people do this????' moments, lol) I've got a folder that's labeled 'Read me when you feel like poo!' containing all encouraging emails and notes from my cp's. So when I see that dreaded form, I open that sucker right up!

    And I'm working on getting a life outside of this query hell I'm in. (I have a good book darn it! Polished, shiny and ready for them, so step one down!) But step two is hard for me. (Working on that baby though. ;) )

  12. Damn threaded comments are not working for me today! Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for reading.

    Otin: You may not have gotten a positive reply but you got something better--an agent! Your book rocks.

    Nancy: I really think this next plunge is going to do it for you. I don't think it will take very long this time around!

    Cassie: Step two is always hard when you're a writer! No matter what stage you're at.

    Lindsey: Thanks for reading!

    Carrie: I predict it won't take you very long to get an agent!

    L.G.: I know, I had the biggest problem there. I was way ahead of myself. It was not good.

    Ellis: Thanks for stopping by!


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