A note on revenge queries

Filed under: For Writers,The Technical Stuff,Writing |

What are revenge queries?

I am in the process of querying for my second agent. It feels a little like walking across the gym to ask someone to dance, plus a job interview, plus being covered in honey and being left out in the hot sun to be eaten up by ravenous ants. Bad, is what I’m saying.

For writers who have done it, you know what I mean. For the uninitiated, trying to get an agent basically involves sending an email (the dreaded “query”) and trying to be clever and cool and amazing and totally not too needy, but desperately RIGHT, but also just effortless and brilliant. I’ve sat in the audience where agents have said from the stage that they’ve deleted queries over a misplaced comma (and later sat on panels and laughed about it) without paying any mind to the content whatsoever.

No pressure, though.

Mathematically, querying exposes writers to rejection en masse. It’s just statistics. It’s like applying to Harvard… since some crazy percentage of applicants are valedictorians, at a certain point it takes on something of a lottery feel. Even if all agents see is amazing, they can’t represent it all. Agents get hundreds of queries a week. They depend on their intuition, what they sold last week, what they had for breakfast, and whether the writer’s name just happens to remind them of the girl who broke their heart. Also, the errant comma thing. It’s subjective and messy.

I was fooled into thinking this applied only to other mere mortals, because, you see, I queried only one agent last time, and landed that one,at one of the best agencies in the business. She sold my book in the first round of submissions to multiple offers. So I knew about this “querying is hell” thing, but I thought it didn’t apply to me. But, oh, it does. When it became apparent that my first agent and I had irreconcilable creative differences and I had to go “back out there,” I was somewhat unprepared for what came next, even though I’m not a publishing newbie.

I know my writing hasn’t gotten worse. I know I am not less worthy than I was three years ago, before I had kind reviews and a few publishing chops to mention. Who knows why it was so effortless last time – timing, the breakfast thing, and I magically somehow landed all my commas. It couldn’t have hurt that I was writing about a topical subject, and there was new stirrings in publishing about giving “marginalized voices” a chance. My undocumented immigrant story happened to fit that moment. And fooled me into thinking the fluke was the norm.

By all objective measures, I have not been “out there” very long. I started querying in May, after finishing my novel and rewriting it based on beta reader feedback. It feels like dragging my naked body over hot coals, but that’s actually a miniscule amount of time in the glacial pace of publishing. I’ve got a tracking spreadsheet of everywhere I’ve submitted, and many of my “follow-up” dates are a month or two away. Most of my submissions have yet to meet with rejection… just silence at this point. Ask any writer – even the uber-successful ones – and they’ll tell you this is par for the course.

Which helps not at all, by the way.

Anyway, but here’s what I’ve learned about “revenge queries.” Every rejection (and I’ve got a handful by now) stings like lemon juice on a cut. No, more than that. Like a hippo gnawing off your foot (would they do such a thing?). Bad. Even when you get a form letter, and your rational mind says, “They can’t possibly be saying anything personal about your merit as a writer, because they BCC’ed you and 20 other people. This is about what fits their list right now,” it’s still the munching hippo. But there’s one thing that makes it feel better, and that’s action.

Revenge queries.

“Revenge query” is a term that’s tossed about by writers, but it’s not actually accurate, because it’s not like you’re getting revenge on anyone. The agent who sends you the form letter never thinks of you again, as much as you might hope that they eat their heart out when you land your seven-figure, Rowling-esque deal, complete with merchandising rights. But it feels a little like revenge, in the way that putting on a slinky dress and red lipstick and heading out to a bar feels like revenge on a man who has wronged you and will never see you in that sexy dress. It’s an “on to the next” kind of revenge. And it feels damn good.

Revenge queries work like this: when you get a rejection from an agent, you send out another query, or a certain multiple of the number of rejections you got. It turns the grief into action. It refocuses you.

The one caveat about revenge queries is that rejections mean nothing, but sometimes… they do mean something. If you’ve gotten the same feedback after 10 queries, it may be time to heed the advice. If you’ve gotten no requests for full manuscripts after 10 queries, it may be time to revisit your query. So while revenge queries feel good, they should not be used willy-nilly. Revenge query if you must, but do it judiciously.

And, remember, even if you discover that it’s time to pull your book (I’ve heard 100 queries and 1 year is a good measure, but only you can decide for yourself), it says nothing about your worthiness as a writer and certainly not as a human. There are two kinds of writers: the ones who succeed, and the ones that stop trying.

You know the kind you want to be. So when the going gets tough, the tough get to revenge querying. Good luck. And watch this space for updates on my journey.

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