Note from Aimee: Today’s author really hit me in the gut with the story of shelving a heart book, something near and dear to my own heart because shelving my heart book was the thing that made me quit writing not once but twice, and it’s something we don’t talk about nearly enough. All of these stories are so brave, and I continue to be so humbled with everyone who shares them whether it be here or on Twitter, in comments or emails, in Discords or elsewhere. You are all leading conversations that are bringing hard topics out of the dark and into the light. A beautiful, powerful thing for your beautiful, powerful words.
Content warning: There are some (very minor) query statistics interspersed throughout this post. Emphasis on the very.
Confessions of a Long-Time Querier
When I started writing in elementary school, like many of us do, I guess I thought that becoming an author was something that just happened after you wrote a book. I was one of those “gifted kids,” constantly lauded by teachers for my incredible performance in every subject, my above-average reading and writing abilities. I see you rolling your eyes, but the point is, perfectionism and achievement were values I internalized throughout my entire childhood, and I can’t shake the feeling of failure and inadequacy even now.
Flash-forward to ten years later. I gave up on writing for a long time, because I was too focused on pursuing a career in the sciences. By the time I finished undergrad, I decided to jump back into it – 15 minutes a day to start – because literature had always been something I was passionate about. I remember talking to a fellow lab-mate, who said something along the lines of “The dream you had when you were 12 is probably your truest dream.” And for me, that was becoming an author.
I spent the next year writing a book (“New Adult Romance” – it did not have a HEA), edited it to the best of my abilities, did my research, and started sending it off to agents in 2016. I somehow ended up with two requests after a year of obstinate determination, but I’m honestly glad that first book never saw the light of day. In hindsight, it was full of telling language, the query letters (I had multiple versions) read more like synopses than an actual pitch, and every time I open the document to reread it, I cringe. On the bright side, I can certainly see my growth as a writer since then.
The next few years, I started my first professional career, and I was unwell both mentally and physically. All the while, I was working on another book, a YA Contemporary retelling of something I loved that incorporated a lot of my professional knowledge. I thought it was amazing, and for the most part, I had great beta feedback, as well as a stellar query letter. There was a big time gap between querying books one and two. I jumped into the trenches with that second book in early 2020, certain that “this was the one.” It was technically my fifth book drafted, so I fell prey to the myth of “Oh, I hear your 5th novel is usually the one that makes it!” Reader, it bombed. One request, and the feedback I received on that full made me question everything I believed about my writing. They didn’t think my craft was where it needed to be, which really hurt.
Between books two and three is where my craft really levelled up. I queried book three in 2021, a YA Contemporary with light speculative elements. Written in third past, it got a few requests, but at one point I received an R&R which suggested “this might work better in first present.” So I set off to rewrite the entire thing, and the final product sparkled. I finally found my “voice,” and ever since then, writing in first present has been my preferred POV and tense.
Here is something nobody tells you about querying. You can get close. You can have requests and significant interest from publishing professionals. You can receive encouraging emails that tell you your writing is impressive, that you have a great voice for YA, that you did an excellent job on your R&R… and then a year and a half later you can be sitting at the same desk, still unagented and unpublished.
So you think, okay, great, that one didn’t work out. I can do this again. I’m almost there. Late 2020, I quit my professional job to go back to school. During that time, I rewrote my first queried book, one I considered “the book of my heart.” I sent out a couple of queries, but it didn’t garner any interest. After getting consistent beta feedback, I decided to do another full rewrite, and this time I was confident in the final product. This is the greatest book I’ve ever written. This one will definitely make it. I put so much of myself in that book that I already suspected querying it would be tough. I started querying book 4 (Adult Contemporary) in Summer 2022. I did not expect to have zero interest. Zero. Not a single agent request after pouring time and effort and emotion into a book I thought was the most beautiful piece of art I’d ever written. Even the agents who considered my previous book told me “it wasn’t the right fit.” When I decided to shelve this book after exhausting my query list, I cried for a week straight. I couldn’t write a single word. I’m sorry if it sounds dramatic, but it really felt like my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.
So this is where I’m at now. Four trunked manuscripts later, over 200 agent rejections (I don’t count small presses or short story submissions, but there are probably ~100 of those too), and no concrete proof that I’ve ever written a book. Oh, and I forgot to mention that all the above books apart from the first were submitted to mentorship contests and I never got chosen for a single one.
Frankly, I don’t know where I’m going from here. I don’t know what will happen for me and my writing career. I lost hope a long time ago. I am actively working on two other WIPs, I have several more ideas beyond that, but there are no guarantees whatsoever. There isn’t some magical crystal ball that can say “well if you keep doing this for ten more years, you will have a book deal.”
I don’t really have any advice. I just hope this resonates with others. You’re not the only one struggling, despite what the algorithms seem to suggest. I’ve become so bitter and jaded by this whole process that sometimes I forget that my love of writing is how this journey started. I struggle to connect with other writers because professional jealousy devours me whole. I’m twiddling my thumbs at the starting line while everyone else has lapped me several times over. I’ve stepped back from twitter, I can’t check reddit, and so I sit in my isolated bubble and write my next manuscript and try to ignore all the things I can’t control.