Note from Aimee: Good morning all! A content warning for this post is that it does contain query stats throughout. But this is another critical perspective that we really don’t talk about enough. The offer that ends in querying. Thank you to the author who was brave enough to submit it!
How I Got an Offer on My First Book… and Am Still Querying 5 Years Later
I hope one day this post will form the backbone of a “How I Got My Agent” or “How I Got Published” post…but today is not that day. I’ve queried 5 books since 2017, and here’s a summary of the ups and downs of that experience, from an offer on my first book to querying crickets on my most recent.
Book 1: Dual timeline vampire story (yikes)
I wrote this book without any thought of getting published, until my boyfriend at the time (now fiancé) read it and said he thought I should try to publish it. That sparked a flurry of learning about agents and queries and synopses. I paid for QueryTracker and trawled Manuscript Wish List. I signed up for Twitter and learned about pitch contests. I pulled my hair out writing a good query. I sent about 100 queries and got 3 full requests…which honestly wasn’t bad, looking back.
And then…I got an offer! Wow, an offer on my first book! I’m doing great! What could go wrong?
Well, by the time I got that offer, I was ~10 months into querying. I’d emotionally detached from that book, and moved onto writing something else I thought was better. I’d also learned a lot about the industry, and came to the conclusion that this agent was a “schmagent.” So, I declined the offer, and shelved that book. No regrets.
Book 2: Gilded Age historical fiction
This is when I started to figure out things like “genre” and “reader expectations.” I’d written something that read like a historical romance, except for the fact that the MMC was married and there was a lot of drama relating to that. When posting my query for critique, I learned that that wasn’t going to fly in romance, so I pitched it as historical fiction with romantic elements. I sent about 70 queries, and got 3 full requests.
And then…an agent called me to talk about my book! Wow, I must have done it now! It was a reputable agent with a track record of sales, but…she wasn’t sure she could sell it. She wanted to talk to some editor connections and see what they thought. She got back to me a few weeks later and said she had to pass as she didn’t think it was sellable. But, she was effusive in her praise for my writing and told me she thought I had “it.”
Book 3: Historical romance (if Lisa Kleypas wrote Pirates of the Caribbean)
By now, I’d learned a lot about genre and figured out that historical romance was where I wanted to be. So, I wrote something more “traditional” (no married protagonists), and was sure this was my best work yet. I sent about 70 queries and got 5 requests, which was the best I’d done so far. I was sure this was the one.
And then…an agent wanted to set up a call! Wow! I knew this just had to be it. I compiled a list of questions, made up an excuse to get out of work, and anxiously awaited the call.
The call opened with, “I know you probably thought I was calling you to make an offer, but…”
She was calling to nicely reject me, and that was crushing. She was only interested in representing series, and I’d written something that was firmly standalone (which I had conveyed via email before the call).
Book 4 (not queried): Ancient Roman time travel story
I love this story, but I never queried it because I learned that time travel was a tough sell, and I also recognized some issues with the story.
Book 5: Book 2 rewritten without the married MMC
I loved Book 2 so much and thought it might have better success if I rewrote it to be more in line with romance genre conventions. My writing had also improved a great deal by this time. I sent about 70 queries and got 15 requests! That was triple my best prior request rate. I was sure this book was the one.
And then…it wasn’t. None of those requests panned out. It sucked.
Book 6 (not queried): Ancient Roman historical romance
This book was a weird combination of historical fiction (involving real historical figures) and romance, with a dash of alternate history. It’s my bonkers pandemic book. I love it, but decided not to query it.
Book 7 (querying, about to shelve): Ancient Roman historical romance (yes, another one)
The idea for this book came about when I was reading a Regency romance and was like “Wouldn’t this be cooler if it was set in Ancient Rome?” You can tell from books 4 and 6 that I was really digging the Ancient Rome thing. I was enjoying showing off all the useless bits of knowledge I’d gained through 11 years of Latin classes. I love this book, and I was sure it was the one (sound familiar??).
I sent about 70 queries, and got 4 requests. After the over 20% request rate from my previous experience, this felt extra crushing. I thought things were supposed to get better, after all. I mean, my writing had only improved since 2017. Didn’t that mean I should be getting closer to my goal? Apparently not.
The handful of personalized rejections I got were along the lines of “love the premise, love the characters, but that setting is not marketable.” I guess no one but me wants to read Ancient Roman historical romance. I still have 1 full outstanding and a couple of queries, but I have mentally moved on.
Book 8 (revising): Ancient Roman historical romance (when will I learn my lesson)
I wrote this one while querying Book 7. I now know it’s not going to go anywhere, given that the setting was such a sticking point for Book 7. I’m thinking of maybe submitting to a couple of reputable small presses.
Book 9 (drafting): Gilded Age historical romance
I’m returning to the setting of books 2 and 5, but with different characters. I love this book, and like every book before it, I’m convinced it will be “the one.” Lol. We’ll see.
So, with all of the above in my rearview mirror, what have I learned?
- My writing has gotten much better and much cleaner. My drafts require much less editing now.
- I’ve found my genre (historical romance), and love it. I understand it more, and read almost exclusively in it, when before ~2018 I hadn’t read a single romance novel. It brings me a lot of joy.
- I’ve come to terms with the fact that publishing is not a meritocracy. I see it as the business that it is.
- While I don’t get upset by rejections, I’ve emotionally numbed myself to the process so much that I can’t even celebrate the small wins. My mind jumps immediately to the next place I’ll fail.
- I’m jealous of others’ successes. I hate seeing agent or publishing announcements. They make me feel bad about myself.
With all that said, I’m still optimistic. Looking back at this run-down (it was cathartic to write), I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished over the past few years. I know my writing and my stories are more than good enough. Even though it’s clear by now that I’m not a publishing darling, I do believe I’ll find success in this industry in some form. It just seems to be taking a while. 🙂