Choose Your Own Adventure: Two Stories About the Querying Process

This week for The Debutante Ball, we’re sharing our journey to getting a literary agent, so I dug through the archives of my email outbox so you can experience truly and authentically the real realness of my querying process, before I landed the book deal for THEY COULD HAVE NAMED HER ANYTHING.

WARNING: THERE ARE TWO PARTS OF THIS BLOG POST. THIS IS STORY #1. Read this story to be taken on the emotional journey of querying in real time, via unedited transcripts of emails sent to patient, compassionate friends. STORY #1 is, like the querying process, confused, raw, extremely self-indulgent, and lacking in context and reason. Alternatively, scroll past to STORY #2 to read a recap of the querying process in hindsight, from the perspective of my agented self. STORY #2 is recommended for readers that enjoy things that are coherent, digestible, even slightly bland, like something cooked well past the point of al dente.

Me, when I first started querying my novel. Note how my face shimmers with hope.

STORY 1: QUERYING, IN REAL TIME

Jan. 8, 2016, 1:30pm 
[THE BEGINNING: CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM]
“maybe I jumped the gun! Maybe my MS needs some more revision. i understand rejection is a part of the process. it just never feels….. good.”

April 22, 2016, 7:53am
[ACT II: DISAPPOINTMENT]
“I think im actually at the point where i’m kinda done. I’m going to do one more round of querying, i think, and if i fail, i’m gonna move on for a bit.

May 20, 2016, 10:47am
[ACT III: INDIGNATION]
“He said I was trying too hard! this is worse than any other rejection! (though I might say this about every rejection)”

August 17, 2016, 5:53pm
[ACT IV: BLIND, STUBBORN HOPE]
“WE WILL BE PUBLISHED.”

Dec. 21, 2016, 3:55pm
[11 MONTHS OF QUERYING: CYNICISM]
this is the thing about querying. it sucks.”

Jan. 9, 2017, 3:51PM
[1 YEAR: URGENT NEED TO BE JOINED BY OTHERS, MANY OTHERS, IN QUERY HELL]
“Lets throw a party? I envision it like people coming together writing or working on a piece they want to submit or query.”

Feb 24, 2017, 4:53pm
[13 MONTHS: LOSING SIGHT OF ALL PURPOSE]
“I honestly tho am having doubts about my first MS. I mean, I still think it’s important but maybe it reads as gimmicky? An agent recently told me that she’d be happy to brainstorm more high concept ideas with me.”

March 30, 2017, 5:01pm
[15 MONTHS: UNBRIDLED RAGE]
“dude, i hate that guy you queried. he should just die.”

April 23, 2017, 10:26pm
[?!?! MONTHS: COMING FULL-CIRCLE]
“i think i queried her like a year ago, but its changed enough and she never answered, so ill try again”

BUT HERE’S WHERE EVERYTHING CHANGED. In that same silly email where I decided to re-query someone I already queried (you should probably not do this), my relationship with my current agent was already blooming. Later in that same message to my friend, I gushed about how my agent-to-be had been social media crushing: “She wrote back this weekend asking for the full. lol and today she liked my tweet.”

Shortly afterwards, we were contractually obligated to one another. <3

Me, at the end of querying. I know it aged me a lot and you say there’s a dead look in my eye, but I’m a better person after it all.

STORY 2: QUERYING, IN HINDSIGHT

OK, I want to share a different querying story now–this one is also gleaned from the depths of my email outbox, but it’s written in hindsight, after I was signed. It’s from a single email I sent to a fellow writer in which I tried to summarize the gruesome process above. I annotated this email with bold text, because as you can see, some of it is insightful and sweet, but other parts are clearly dishonest. As a whole, though, it paints a fuller picture of what a person can expect while querying.

Subject: your overdue note!
[September 25, 2017, 2:28pm]

Hi Amanda – I’m sorry for the delay. I realized this was an email that would take longer than usual to write, so I wanted to take my time (grab your bibles, I’m about to start preaching…)

I was seriously looking for an agent for about a year and a half, probably a little more (actually nope, just a month under that) when I finally found mine. I had been trying to identify agents from the books I was reading, or from announcements that I saw go up on Writers Digest, or sometimes from consulting Publishers Weekly – they highlight publishing rising stars and include rising agents (my current editor is actually a 2018 rising star!!!). I queried both very established and very new agents alike – and the results were always surprising. Sometimes, the older, established agents were the first to respond to me. I suspect that this is because less people are querying them (out of intimidation? or maybe just because their info is less likely to be found on the internet).

But even though I was sending out queries, getting pretty consistent responses asking for the full manuscript, nothing really materialized for a while. Agents wrote me things like “I didnt fully connect” or “I like it, but I can’t place my finger on what I want revised” (or like, “you’re trying too hard” but I guess I’d forgotten that gem). Others gave better, more constructive feedback. Whenever I got a response that I thought was constructive, I would look at the manuscript again, keeping in mind what the agent had said, and try to revise. This was a pretty excruciating process though, especially since agents can take so long to get back to you (or never get back to you at all!)

I do remember, at one point, thinking that I was getting really close. Agents were sending me more detailed rejection notes, and I had gotten lots of positive reinforcement from people I had shown the MS to. On Twitter, lots of younger agents look for “diverse writers” using hashtag #DVPit on certain designated days. By using the hashtag, you can pitch your book in a sentence. And if an agent likes your tweet, it means you have the greenlight to pitch them your book.

The homie says: “Have hope, young unpubbed.”

My agent was participating in #DVPit, on a day that was scheduled for #DVPit day. She didn’t like my tweet, and she probably didnt see my tweet at all, but I saw the kinds of books she wanted on her manuscript wishlist, #MSWL on Twitter (heres the website: http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/), and I knew my book fit the bill. So I sent her my query, and she responded within two weeks saying she wanted to see more. I sent her the full manuscript and the weird part was that I sort of had a feeling she would make an offer. I was losing sleep from checking my email all the time. When she got back to me, she asked if I’d be willing to revise some things, and if I wanted to meet in person. We met in person at her office downtown (THE LOBBY WALLS WERE LINED IN GOLD), and afterwards, she sent me a formal offer via email. It was all very surreal and wonderful. 

It’s interesting, because as my process illuminates, (lol, illuminate? that’s a cute way to describe endless dark nights of despair) I partly wrote my book in response to the feedback I was receiving from agents. They played a big role in how I started to understand how my book would be read, what titles it would be compared to, and whether or not it would “sell”.

I do think that finding an agent is just a matter of persistence (uff, that sounds noble as long as you don’t remember how you once wished one of out existence). I remember thinking I’d never get an agent, and that I was wasting my time as a wannabe. I still feel like that all the time. (🙁 sad!). I feel so grateful that my agent loved the book as much as she did, and was willing to see it through my edits. When I think of the book being picked up now by an editor, I’m only hoping for the same. 

I’d love to talk more if you want. If you ever want to meet up one of these days, please let me know.

 

Warmly (I’m so nice, sometimes 🙂 ),
Stephanie

 

And that’s how it all happened for me & my upcoming novel! But of course, it’s not the same for everyone. If this was helpful, let me know in the comments. And if you want to share your own querying story, have questions, or anything else, tweet at us @DebutanteBall!

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Stephanie Jimenez

Stephanie Jimenez is a former Fulbright recipient and Prep for Prep alumna. She is based in Queens, New York, and her work has appeared in The Guardian, O! the Oprah Magazine, Entropy, and more. Her debut novel, THEY COULD HAVE NAMED HER ANYTHING, will be published in the summer of 2019 (Little A). Follow her @estefsays.

This article has 1 Comment

  1. I love this! Hilarious. I loved reading your journey through emails—I never wrote these to people. I have no real record of the whole process, although mine was about the same length as yours.

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