I have been in the query trenches for a long time. A loooooong time. I started querying my first manuscript in 2014, my second in 2016, and will probably start querying my third here in 2018. Looking back over my manuscripts, I can see from one to the next how I’ve improved as a writer and grown in my craft. Along the way, I’ve met countless writer friends who have become critique partners, cheerleaders, and mentors. No, I still don’t have an agent. No, I’m still not published. But when I look at myself as a writer now compared to myself as a writer in 2014, I can honestly say I have improved.
None of this makes querying any less hard.
The waiting is still life-draining. The rejections still cut the heart. And the self-doubt is enough to make even the most confident person curl up in a closet with a bottle of wine.
It. Is. Brutal.
And, I will admit, there are times I ask myself “Is it worth it?” After a particularly harsh rejection or yet another “closed/no response,” I always have to take a step back. Is pursuing publication worth this heartache? Worth the feelings of inadequacy and invisibility, worth the agony of broken dreams?
Why am I doing this to myself?
I’m not sure what you believe in, but I believe that there is a purpose to everything in life, a reason for the suffering, a purpose for the pain, vindication for any trial. And I certainly hope the end result of all this torture is to one day hold a book baby in my hands. That is the reason I do it. The reason I persevere, even when it hurts. The reason I am still writing.
But querying has not only taught me a lot about writing. It has taught me a lot about myself.
I’ve learned I am an impatient control freak (I didn’t say all the things I learned about myself are good). I am used to being in charge of my own destiny, if you will. Yes, I know God plans my steps; that’s not what I mean here. I mean my entire life has been “put in the work, get the reward.” With school, with sports, with work–do your best and win. A + B always = C.
That is not the case with writing. Publishing is not a meritocracy. You can put your heart and soul into a book, and it can be really good…that does not mean it will be published. It is a game with many factors completely out of your control. A + B + any combination of CDE might = F. If you’re lucky. If you’re patient. If you persist.
It’s maddening. It’s frustrating. And it is simply how the game works. I fight the urge daily to send a million follow-up emails: “Did you read it yet? Do you like it? Is it any good? Talk to me, talk to me, talk to me!” I am not patient. I do not like things being out of my control. And, if I am to continue on this publishing journey, this will be a battle I fight every day for the rest of my life. But, thanks to the querying process, I am more aware of this part of my nature and am better able to smack in the face when it rears its ugly why-is-this-taking-so-long head.
I’ve also learned that I am a creative person. And while this might seem like the most obvious thing in the world, hear me out. I’ve always enjoyed writing. I was writing stories as soon as I could form letters and wrote my first “novel” in the eighth grade. It’s always been a part of my life. So much so, in fact, that I went to graduate school for journalism. By the time I’d framed that hard-earned piece of paper, I’d vowed never to write again. I was completely and totally burned out. And it was a vow I kept for a couple of years. But then I had a child and had a lot of extra downtime on my hands (do you know how much a newborn naps?!) So I started writing again.
The difference was, this time, I was writing fiction. I wrote my first novel and really expected to be “one and done.” And I was…for a couple months. But then an idea began to niggle in my brain. It grew and grew until it was practically leaking from my ears. So I wrote a second book. And then a third. I took varying degrees of breaks during these manuscripts but, even then, I was doing something creative. Photography. Playing music. Painting.
Being creative is not something I like to do. It’s something I need to do. If a week has gone by in which I have not created something, it’s as if there’s this thing inside of me. A gnawing, needling, haunting thing. I get irritable, moody, and stressed. There is something about the act of putting something into the world that wasn’t there before–whether it be my words or a few brush strokes on canvas–that calms my soul and releases any negativity clogging my heart. Being creative is not a choice for me. Even if my painting is garbage, my words are ugly, and my chords are out of tune, the arts will always be a part of my life because they are a part of who I am.
But, the most important thing querying has taught me is priorities and values. My dream is to be a published author. I wouldn’t be going through these trenches if it wasn’t. But being published will never take the place of my faith or my family.
I have an amazing God who sustains me even on the darkest days. I have a brave, supportive husband who risks his life on a daily basis for this country. I have two incredible kids who face challenges people twice their age couldn’t endure. We struggle with the same things millions of other American families struggle with in addition to the hardships that come from being a military family. And yet never once has any of them ever suggested I shelve my dreams while we live this life. They are at the root of everything I do.
I am willing to forego sleep. I am willing to bare my soul and risk rejection. I am willing to deal with the constant wait and never-ending doubt. And I am willing to fight with everything I have to bring my story to page.
Yes, I am willing to sacrifice almost everything in pursuit of my goals. Almost. My faith and my family will always come first. Without blinking an eye, without giving a backwards glance, they are above anything I could ever achieve with mere words. Because books are lovely and publication is a dream. But my faith and my family are my truth.
And I would never have learned any of this if not for the time I’ve spent in the query trenches. So yes, querying is the worst. The Worst with a capital W. I’m not the same person now as I was when I started.
And maybe that’s been the point all along.