Deb Dana on Queries, and Dating

My first thought upon seeing this week’s theme was queries was, “UGH. Queries.”

The thing is, if I had to put money on it, I’d bet no one out there likes queries — not writers, not agents. No one. Sure, a lot of people like the outcome of a successful query (a new agent! the potential for a publishing contract! the potential for a blockbuster client!), but my guess is that most people don’t much enjoy the querying process itself.

And who would? No matter how amazing your manuscript is, and no matter how well you pitch it in a query letter, you will face rejection. That is a guarantee. Sometimes agents already have a full list; other times they are looking for something very specific, and if your book isn’t that “something,” no matter how good it is, they aren’t going to want to represent it. Some authors will receive multiple requests for partial and full manuscripts, but even those authors will face rejection at some point. I’ve never heard of an author receiving offers of representation from every agent he or she queried. And frankly, if such a person exists, I think we all have a right to hate him or her just a little bit.

And here’s a newsflash: rejection sucks. Even if you know the rejection is down to a poor fit between you and an agent, it still hurts to hear you didn’t quite make the cut. It’s sort of like having someone break up with you using the whole “it’s not you, it’s me” line. The bottom line is still the same: you’re not interested in me. And that can be hard on the old ego.

But in the same way that you probably need to meet and date a number of people before you meet your perfect match, you need to query a lot of agents before you find the right agent for you. I probably queried 10-15 agents for THE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO LOVE AND SUPPER CLUBS. I received a few rejections right out of the gate (“Sorry, not interested in even going on a date with you”), a few requests for partial manuscripts (“Meet for a drink?”), and a few requests for full manuscripts (“How about dinner on Friday night?”).

Once the full manuscript was out in the world, that’s when the real dating began. In the end, I received a few passes (“It’s not you, it’s me”), two letters of interest pending revisions to the manuscript (“Maybe we could try this again…over Sunday brunch…”), and a firm offer of representation (“Marry me”). There was also a full manuscript out in the world, and when I let her know about my offer of representation, she read the book over the weekend and decided to step aside in favor of the offering agent (“I will forever hold my peace”).

I didn’t choose to sign with my agent because she was the only one who proposed. I signed with her because she seemed like the best fit. If I’d felt more comfortable with one of the two agents expressing tentative interest, I would have gone with one of them. But I wouldn’t have known what constituted a “good fit” if I hadn’t queried a number of agents, listened to their thoughts and advice, and kept going until I found the agent who not only loved my story but with whom I felt a real connection.

And so, in the end, my agent and I found each other, rode off into the sunset, and lived happily ever after.

Wait. No. That isn’t what happened at all. But that’s a story for another time…


6 Replies to “Deb Dana on Queries, and Dating”

  1. hah–so true! And don’t forget the date who never calls back or calls back months later with some lame excuse (I’m sorry, we seem to have misplaced your submission…). I had a client once who got three pass letters AFTER we’d sold her book. That took the sting out of the rejection somewhat.

    1. Hahaha, yes, I forgot about the dates who never call back! I definitely had a few of those. I love that your former client received passes after the book was sold. Apparently those agents don’t read Publishers Marketplace!

  2. Great take on the dating … er, querying … process, Dana! I’ve always said that finding the right agent is finding a long-term business partner, and that rushing the process results in a bad match that can rival a bad marriage in terms of stress and regret. It’s definitely worth the time to find exactly the right match!

  3. The strange part of it all to me is looking back…it was so all encompassing for me to query and it’s just one small part of the journey.

    And frankly, it’s much better than dating, in my opinion. You can do it at home, in your pajamas.

  4. Great post. Querying is a lot like dating, and in either cases rejections sucks. I’m glad it worked out for you in the end 🙂 I’m currently in-between querying projects. But then there’s the “story for another time” bit that makes me ever so interested in hearing that story… hopefully in a future post (and hopefully it’s a happy one!).

  5. Amy – I snortled about at home in your pajamas. This, at least, is true!
    As for the agent relationship being like a marriage – Deidre made that analogy and then actually asked me to marry her. Which was one of the moments when I knew I loved her, lol

Comments are closed.