You Have a Question? I Have an Answer: What Do I Do When I’m Stuck in Query Hell?

“You Have a Question?  I Have an Answer” is a feature that answers real questions from real writers.

Q:  Hi Ricki,

I have written a book that has received the highest praise from readers all over the world. It even came first in the UKAuthors contest in the Historical category.

In the last 10 years, I have had two agents, both of whom were extremely impressed with my work but could not find a publisher for it. Now even agents shy away from it. I am not giving up hope nor will I stop plugging it. I am writing to ask if you can figure out why a work that garners so much praise should face constant rejection.

—E.J.

A: Thank you for your e-mail!

The (somewhat frustrating) answer is that it could simply be the subjective nature of this business.

We have heard it time and time again: not everything we write is publishable.  Particularly if it’s a first book.  As unsettling as that is to think or hear about one’s “baby,” it’s true.

However, you have a lot going in your favor on this one.  While I am not familiar with most of the reviewers you listed in your e-mail, you certainly do have a lot of them.  And they don’t seem to be your mom/your brother/your best friend since high school praising your book.  It seems you have a wide array of people who see the merit in it.

Another thing you have going for you is that you have had two agents.  Of course, I don’t know the circumstances of why you no longer have them or how long ago that was, but that in itself says you are a good writer—and certainly capable of getting an agent.  In an industry where it’s a painful process to even get one, you’ve had two.  So, you’re that much farther ahead of the game.

As I’m sure you know, getting an agent interested in your book and then getting a publishing house interested in it can be an arduous task because these people need to fall in love with your work—and love it as much as you do.  It could be that you just haven’t found that “right person” yet who “gets” your writing yet.

All that said, there are a couple of things you can do; however, unfortunately, none of them will offer immediate results (but as a writer, I’m sure you know that already).

YOUR OPTIONS

1.  Self-publish it. This isn’t the best option for everyone; however, depending on what you want to do with your career or how well you think you’d be able to sell your book on your own (for instance, if you do a lot of speaking engagements, you could peddle it at those, etc.), you might want to go that route.  If you sell a lot of books and build up your platform a bit, you might even have publishing companies approaching you to re-pub at one of their houses.  This is rare, but it does happen.

Just keep swimming . . .

2.  Keep doing what you’re doing: query, query, query. Look at where in the query process your book seems to be falling short.  Is it the query itself?  Is it after you send in a partial or a full?  Research the heck out of agents, and keep looking for that special (agent) someone who will connect with your manuscript.

3.  Appeal to others. Send the manuscript through a round of critiques with your critique group or a few of your trusted writer friends.  Have each person give you an overall critique, and perhaps give them a few things to be on the lookout for specifically (i.e., characterization, setting, etc.).  Take the feedback you’ve gotten in agent rejections as well as the criticism your crit partners offer and consider having another go at the editing before you query again.  Perhaps the manuscript wasn’t as “ready” as you thought.

4.  Put this manuscript away and write something else. This one makes a lot of sense, but it’s also one that no one wants to hear.  You’ve obviously proven you can write, so write something else and hook an agent with that manuscript instead.  Once you’ve shown you can deliver a marketable product, agents and editors are much more likely to be interested in something they might have shied away from at first.  I’m not saying to sell out or write to trends, but get your juices a-flowing with something else.  Getting your mind off the first one is most likely going to be a welcome distraction when you’re stuck in the depths of query hell.

Thank you very much for the question, and I wish you luck—however you decide to move forward.

Dante forgot to add writers to his ninth circle of hell in his INFERNO.

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1 comment so far

  1. Kathy Collier-Mehl on

    Dear Ricki:
    Your advice was the absolute best. By getting something else published along the way would be awesome, and then try with the first novel. I was very impressed with your response to a very huge dilemma.

    Writing is the most fun part of it all.

    Kathy M.


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