Awhile back I shared a little bit about my foray into the publishing world. Yes, I’m in the querying trenches looking for an agent. It’s about as fun as it sounds. But since I’m just a newbie in this world I decided to pick the brains of those who’ve managed to enter the trenches and survive!
It’s no secret that I’m a fangirl of author Emmie Mears. She’s been a feature on several incarnations of my blog over the years. I adore her novels! If you haven’t read them, then go buy them. Seriously, go. I’ll wait.
Right, let’s move on.
Emmie kindly agreed to share her querying journey in this candid Q&A below. (Thank you!!) For more Emmie goodness, please visit her site here.
How many agents did you query before you were offered representation?
My story’s a bit complicated. I first queried my first novel to about five agents, who all said no. I then wrote my third novel (second was attached to the first one) and queried about eighty agents, 79 of whom said no. I accepted an offer from my first agent in January of 2013, and we sold four books in six months…and then the deals all went kaput within three weeks in the autumn of 2014. My imprint closed, we had to back out of another contract, and then less than a month later, my agent left the biz. I banged out novel #7 (yep) which was halfway done already and then dived into querying pretty much automatically. I was incredibly picky that time. I sent out exactly 34 queries, got 20 full requests, and 7 offers of representation. I’m very, very happy with my new agent. From first query to now, this journey has taken about five years.
Did you revise your novel in any way during the query process? If so, how did you decide when the time was right?
Only in Query Zone #2 with my third novel because I got a revise and resubmit from an agent. Generally if you have material out, it’s best not to revise it (even if it’s tempting) unless you’re doing it based on agent input that really resonates with you. Agents are super busy and read slush in their spare time (Job 1 for them is serving existing clients and selling/marketing/negotiating on clients’ behalf), so some don’t like being asked to reread unless they have specifically asked for revisions themselves. If you get an R&R from an agent and the suggestions resonate with you while you have other agents considering the unrevised MS, best practice is to do your revisions and then politely nudge other agents with your material letting them know specifically that you’ve revised due to agent feedback (that bit is important) and ask if they would like to be sent the new version.
Generally, you should have your manuscript in a state that you are proud to showcase before beginning to query. It’s totally normal to think of things you want to change, but unless they are really big (and if they are, it’s too early to query anyway) or suggested by an agent, revising during the query process creates more problems than it solves.
How did you stay motivated through the rejections?
This should be in present-tense. 😉
It’s hard. It is. Hearing the word no over and over again is not so fun. But it’s kind of like dating, honestly. You want to be with someone who wants to be with YOU. If someone says no, they’re not the right one or it’s not the right time or the right book. As I said before, there’s never One Book, so always be working on new ideas.
On the really bad days, there’s always pizza and Netflix. Cultivate relationships with other writers you can talk to about the struggles. Don’t air your frustrations on social media (seriously, DON’T DO THAT!!! *gets squirt bottle*). DO talk to trusted friends, look at cute animal videos, and live your life, having experiences so you’re constantly refilling your little inspiration tank.
Who is your agent?
My agent is Sara Megibow! On Twitter she’s @SaraMegibow, and the agency website is http://ktliterary.com. I cannot speak highly enough of her work ethic, her passion for diversity, and her absolute commitment to her clients. Also her husband is in a really rad a cappella group called FACE, and you should check them out.
How did you celebrate when the offer came in?
I honestly don’t remember about the first one. I think I flailed a lot. There was probably food involved. When I signed with my current agent, I was in a month-long state of hyperventilating and living in a car full of McDonald’s bags. I know everyone dreams of having multiple offers (which happened the last time I queried), but it’s seriously way, way more stressful than anyone wants to think. I was just really, really relieved when Sara offered because from the first five minutes of the phone call with her, I knew she was the one. She was the fourth agent to offer out of seven on this last jaunt, and not only did she absolutely GET my book, but her vision and strategy for the business of building my career was exactly in line with my own goals and plans.
Do you have any advice for newbies in the querying world?
Be professional. Publishing is a business, and as personal as it always feels to hear that our work didn’t connect with someone, remember that publishing is absolutely comprised of two big components: 1. The bottom line, which encompasses the market, what’s selling, the numbers game of publisher P&L (profit and loss) reports, and the stuff artists really don’t want to think about; 2. Human beings who are subjective creatures operating within the framework of a business.
The overwhelming majority of queries get rejected for one of the following reasons: they didn’t follow submission guidelines (queried an agent who didn’t rep the genre, etc.), the work isn’t submission-ready, or the agent isn’t the right fit. Agents sign clients and projects they absolutely love AND think they can sell. Agents sometimes pass on projects they really enjoyed because they don’t think they can sell it. If you follow the “be professional” advice, you can at least be sure you’re not getting passes because you did something wrong. The rest is either subjectivity or craft, and those are two things that can be mitigated by time, perseverance, and continuing to work.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you started querying?
Three things. 1. There’s almost never One Book. Very few authors write one book, get an agent, get a publisher, and rocket on to stardom. There are a lot of One Books. There might be the first you finish, the first that gets you an agent, the first that gets you a contract, the first you get to sign for someone, the first that hits a list, the first that….you name it. Very rarely are all of those things One Book. Which segues into the next…2. This is a long game. A long, long game. I have been agented for years now. I’ve signed contracts and seen them fall through. I self-published those books because I couldn’t just toss them aside, and that led to selling audio rights and getting to work with one of my heroes (Amber Benson) on the audiobooks. And finally, 3. This is probably the biggie, honestly: do not sign with any agent or publisher out of fear. Fear you won’t ever get another offer, fear you’ll fail without them — sign with an agent who can and will aggressively sell your work and who wants to work with you for your career. Sign with a publisher who understands your work, who won’t strip your rights away, and who brings something to the table.
Your work is worthy of champions who believe in it and you AND (the and is important) who can help you reach your audience. It’s not an either/or thing. It’s an and.
It’s really, really hard to say no to an offer, especially when this road is incredibly long, demoralising, and frustrating. I wish I’d known earlier in my career that sometimes it is absolutely necessary. I’ve said no to small presses and big ones because I refuse to feel like my work will be an experiment. At the querying stage, it can feel like you are the supplicant, and to an extent, you are competing for the attention and favour of agents. But once they offer to represent you, they are asking to be your partner and to work for you. You owe it to yourself to be discriminating (not discriminatory!) and make sure you and your work are in trusted hands.
Emmie Mears is an author, actor, and person of fannish pursuits. She speaks four languages and holds a degree in history, which means she can tell you her anteater is sick in German and rattle off Polish tongue twisters. Emmie is proudly queer, has a rather intricate gender identity, and is quite happy to be pronouned as she/her or they. Emmie is the author of five adult novels and is open to bribery in the form of sushi, bubble tea, and just about any variation of cheese on carbs.
She spends most of her time opening wormholes and something-something Hamilton.
P.S. Emmie’s newest book Eye of the Storm (Ayala Storme Series – book 4) is coming out June 21!