Note from Aimee: The following post has found a special place in my heart (as they all have, really) because it discusses some topics that are only now finding their way to the surface. The one that resonates most heavily with me being Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (“RSD”). For those unaware what RSD it is, it’s an extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by rejection and criticism (perceived or actual). It is commonly linked with neurodiversity. On a personal note, I had no idea what RSD was before Pitch Wars, until a fellow mentee mentioned I might be suffering from it. I vehemently denied this notion, but mentioned it to my mentor when it wouldn’t stop nagging at me, who sent me some information on it and said she thought my fellow mentee was correct. Despite being diagnosed with C-PTSD my entire adult life, and diagnosed with ADHD semi-recently, no one mentioned this. Not my therapists, not my psychiatrist. It took a fellow neurodiverse person to tell me what it even was. Because there are so many neurodiverse writers putting themselves through this process that essentially demands a near-constant onslaught of rejection, I think bringing this out of the shadows is important. I’m glad this next author was brave enough to write so candidly about it. If you’re looking for information on RSD, here’s an article to start. If ever querying gets too dark, know there’s help. If you live in the US, you can call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Content and Trigger Warnings: Mention of suicidal ideation; struggles with mental health; discussion of effects of rejection sensitive dysphoria; dark thoughts; query statistics.
When Your Brain Works Against You
“It is true that I am endowed with an absurd sensitiveness, what scratches others tears me to pieces.”
― Gustave Flaubert
Reader, I am struggling.
Since August 2021, I’ve been querying the book of my heart. The book I’m most proud of. The book I want more than anything to be my debut. And nothing I do seems to be working. I am really starting to think that I am never going to be what gatekeepers want. And that’s ok. Sort of.
Let’s talk about it.
92 queries. 61 form rejections. Too many CNRs to count. 13 fulls, 6 partials, and so, so much waiting. I am still waiting. Only I’m not convinced a response is ever coming.
Like many others, I’ve done everything you’re “supposed” to. I leveled up my craft. I did Pitch Wars. I read through the entire QueryShark archives. At risk of sounding arrogant, I know my shit. I’m an excellent writer with great stories to tell.
It doesn’t matter.
Right now, it feels like book Twitter is populated entirely by people getting agented or getting book deals. Everyone except me. And I am so, so tired of waiting. I’m tired of begging for the things that I want. When will it be my turn? When will all of my efforts and suffering be enough to deserve it?
Here, look. I’m following all of your rules. I’ve laid down my marginalizations at your feet in the prettiest package I can muster. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to. Love me.
I need to make sense of this, but there’s no sense to be found. I go days veering my thoughts frantically away from the open wound inside my skull that is querying. Other times, I go down the rabbit hole. I search for blog post after blog post, all the while seeking an answer to the same question: why is this so much harder for me than it seems to be for everyone else?
I struggle to drum up excitement for full requests, because they no longer seem like signs I am onto something. They end in form rejections, or even worse, ghosting, more often than not.
I struggle to engage in reading in my genre. Querying in 2022’s pandemic environment has sapped all the enjoyment out of a lifelong love of reading. While I used to gobble up book after book, enjoying each for its own merit while fantasizing about someday seeing my own book on the shelves, my time in the querying trenches with the book of my heart rendered each fantasy book I picked up proof of my own failure and inadequacy. Proof of someone else’s “yes” while all I’ve gotten is an unending string of “no. ”
I’ve become a shell of my once joyful reader-writer self.
The way that my brain works makes querying particularly difficult and traumatizing, and it wasn’t until I started to suspect I might be autistic that I fully began to understand why I seemed to struggle with this more than other people. My mind craves order and structure, clear expectations aligned to clear outcomes. If I’ve done something wrong, I need to know why and how to fix it going forward. I need clear stepping stones that outline the path to improvement. Without all of this, I’m left feeling lost, unsettled, and confused at best, and angry, depressed, and hopeless at worst.
So much of my life has (unknowingly) revolved around trying to make sense of arbitrary social norms that everyone else seems to understand and easily endure, and querying is all of that and more boiled down into a particularly painful microcosm that stands between me and my dreams. No wonder I’ve been so miserable, for so long.
Querying offers no order, no structure. No clear stepping stones. Querying demands that you continuously bang your head against what feels like a concrete wall, while hoping that an industry gatekeeper on the other side eventually decides they like the particular rhythm of your skull on the stone and extends a hand to guide you through. Some believe that voicing (totally justified!) complaints of the system makes you “negative” or “whiny” and means you “need to grow a thicker skin.” It’s just the price you have to pay. If you can’t handle it, don’t even try, and if you do try, well, just don’t let us hear you cry too loudly. It’s not a good look.
And Twitter is chock fucking full of well-meaning but (for me at least) ultimately useless advice surrounding querying. They’ll say, write through the wait! Write something else! Reader, I wrote TWO WHOLE something elses while querying!! And I was still waiting!! Still as head over heels with my querying MS as the day I sent it out! Writing something else didn’t distract me at all or help me move on from the project. It only made me more and more aware of the fact that this timeline, this process would not be kind to my brain.
Querying is the worst thing I’ve done for my mental health in over a decade. It has very nearly broken me. I still can’t fully articulate how difficult it is to endure. All I will say is this: the first time I seriously contemplated taking my own life, I was 14. The second time? This past year, while watching my dreams slip through my fingers, watching my number of red rejection smiley faces on QueryTracker grow.
It hurts to be told, however indirectly, that your best wasn’t good enough. Who you are isn’t interesting or marketable enough. It hurts so much that sometimes I am jealous of my recently-dead father, because he, at least, no longer has to endure any sort of pain.
I really was not expecting that simply trying to follow my dreams would make me hate myself this much.
My rejection sensitivity means that each rejection, no matter how couched in well-meaning platitudes like “I’ll be cheering from the sidelines!” or “It’s a subjective industry!” feels like a slap in the face. Even worse is the lack of actionable feedback. How am I meant to move forward and move on without knowing what I did wrong? My brain NEEDS that answer.
Why, exactly, would I put myself through that misery again?
It truly feels like a twisted game of Russian roulette. Only the gun is loaded with more live rounds than blanks. If you knew shooting your shot was more likely to hurt you than help you, would you even bother pulling the trigger?
Often, I hate how unfair this all is. I’m so angry I feel like I could spit acid. I see doors open for some people so easily, and yet here I am beating myself bloody against a closed door in the hopes of breaking through. I watch others from my Pitch Wars class get agents, sell books, and have those books near release while I am still sitting here waiting on query responses that feel like they will never come.
With nothing else concrete to point to, I am left to conclude that the problem is me.
I tell myself, this is my last try. If this book isn’t it, I’m done trying for traditional publishing. Since I started querying, my blood pressure spiked, I gained 20+ pounds from pure stress, and I experienced severe anxiety. I am just not made for this.
I hate what querying has turned me into. I hate how thoroughly that trying to claw my way into a place in this industry has warped and muddied my thoughts. I am a miserable, envious, bitter husk of a human. I’m so full of rage and jealousy and despair that it feels like I will simply explode.
I’m not particularly interested in the business aspect of self publishing, but I tell myself I’ll learn because it can’t possibly feel worse than querying. When I contemplate a future of querying book after book over the course of years just to try and finally hit that lightning strike of luck and timing, I feel nothing but dread. I know I won’t survive this process again. I am barely surviving the current round.
I hear stories of people who queried for 5, 10, 15, 20 years before getting an agent, stories that were meant to be inspiring. If that’s you, I admire your perseverance. But I personally fear that I cannot pour that much energy into a system that actively harms me. I worry that I don’t have it in me to endure that much suffering just for a shot at my dream. If trying to do this–the only thing I’ve ever really wanted or cared about–hurts this much and makes me this miserable, I don’t think I can try anymore. And I worry that I am not resilient enough to frequently participate in a system that very nearly killed me, and could, at any time in the future, before I manage to make any progress.
If given the choice between protecting my peace and repeatedly suffering the querying process that stands between my dreams, I don’t blame myself for dreaming smaller. I’m happy to content myself with less if the alternative is literally being suicidal.
But who knows if I can convince myself to stay away? One day, I’m done with it all. No more querying. The next, I come crawling back. I don’t know what to do, only that I can’t do this.
I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any advice. I can see no way through that is within my control. My hope with this is that maybe I can show one person who is suffering like me that they’re not alone in that pain.
Obviously I understand that the industry is on fire. Everyone is overwhelmed, overworked, and underpaid. I get it. So much of what makes querying downright unbearable for me and other neurodivergent writers is simply a business reality that is not likely to change anytime soon.
But I wonder at what point we ask ourselves: When does perseverance and resilience turn into downright insanity? How much are we willing to endure? How much is actually ethical to ask an aspiring writer to endure? And at what point does all of this suffering for the off chance of making your dreams come true stop being worth it?