If a writer wishes to break into mainstream publishing, they need an agent, and the way to get an agent is the dreaded query. There are countless websites, courses, books, blogs, and other resources out there to assist writers who are querying. It's a process involving a query letter with a hook, often a few pages that sample your book, and a LOT of angst. There are entire databases like QueryTracker.net, entire paid services with agents such as Manuscript Academy, and lists of agents who might be interested through sites like ManuscriptWishlist. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the subject, and just as many blogs and services.
Yet, I've never once encountered this piece of querying advice, possibly the most important of all: Let it Go, and Move On. Everyone focuses on the mechanics of the query, the people to approach, or even the methods or timing of querying. But no one discusses the psyche of the author during the process.
I've been querying one project or another for years and years. Ultimately, Elsa is right.
At it's best, querying is a slog. In a BEST-case scenario, after spending months, or possibly years on a manuscript, you've finally gotten the nerve to send it to a few agents. These gatekeepers are going to love it, you hope. Maybe you get requests for your full manuscript right away. You STILL have to wait months to hear back. Then even IF you find that agent, there's another break while it's out on submission, and then even more time before that book is released. All too many writers can't stop checking the inbox, or staring at the phone hoping it will ring.
It's hard not to query and think about your project. It's a part of you, a project you've poured your soul and time into, and now you're helpless as you just wait. For most, the requests and offers come only after mountains of rejections. Agent after agent closing the door on your project. And let's face it, for better or worse, rejections during this godawful year of pandemic and turmoil sting even more bitterly.
But there IS a solution.
The key to querying is to prepare your query, and then throw yourself in an entirely different direction. Find a new project. One that is exciting on every level. You might want to start drafting, or outlining, or whatever your process entails. The key is you have to let the NEW project CONSUME you. It's the project you eat, sleep, and breathe. The more you focus on the new work, the less you even notice the rejections. Maybe you're getting requests, but even then you're not worrying about that interminable wait. You're happy and excited about something completely different.
That's the best querying advice I can possibly give. And it's the way I query myself.
Six years ago today I took a trip to Tintagel. I've shared about the experience many times, which inspired The Scythe Wielder's Secret, and my subsequent writing career. To celebrate I'd like to share some photos, and a never-before-released video of the very moment that led to my writing career.
I was already in an inspiring environment, studying at Oxford. Every week, at least once a week I traveled somewhere I'd never been before. One of the most amazing experiences was a trip to Tintagel, Cornwall. I became stranded there, and the following morning, I struggled against fierce winds to the edge of Barras Nose, the peninsula pictured above. I stood on a cliff, at dawn, fighting fierce winds from every direction. It was the moment that The Scythe Wielder's Secret was born, as well as its main character who is completely alone, fighting opponents in every direction.
Tintagel was truly inspiring. Here is the original blog post, which has the full story, including getting stranding and discovering some of the origins of King Arthur. Yet, the entire four months I spent abroad were equally inspiring. This was less than a month after Rachel came to Rome and Oxford with me, and I'd realized that she was the "one". And even after my studies, I traveled a bit more in Europe, continuing to feel constantly inspired.
As amazing as my experiences abroad were, I can't help feeling that I'm on the edge of something far great and far more exciting. I'm standing on the cliff, overlooking a world of possibilities I have dreamed of my entire writing life. And now, as I take that leap into the unknown, I can only hope that inspiration and wonder follow where I go...
Throwing my hat into the ring...
With The Scythe Wielder's Secret behind me, I'm moving away from YA into the big scary world of books for grown ups (insert audience gasp here). As such, I've decided to enter the annual #PitchWars contest as a prospective mentee. This is my first attempt at PW, so here's a fun look at me and my writing.
Five Facts about Me
1. I teach high school theatre. With 6 drama classes, over 200 students, and 4-5 shows a year, it's one of the most active theatre programs in the Washington DC area. While many authors dream of seeing their works in film, my personal dream is to one day see an adaptation of my books on stage. (Cursed Child looks amazing by the way!)
2. I'm married to fabulous romance author Rachel Mannino (who's also doing PitchWars), and any day now we are going to be having our first BABY!
3. I never drank coffee or alcohol until I met my wife.
4. I've wanted to be a full time writer since I was ten. My series The Scythe Wielder's Secret is a YA Fantasy trilogy traditionally published by small press MuseItUp, with book three releasing this September.
5. I sing all the time. I sing while writing, driving, even while teaching.
But what's he doing now??
My entry for PitchWars is a polished adult sci-fi thriller.
PILLARS OF CHAOS
After a noted geneticist is crucified in front of the White House, his protegee is thrown into a tangled web of riddles and lies, hoping to uncover the dangerous truth about his research. Strange half-visible towers emerge across the entire world, and a group of scientists threaten to bring nations to their knees. The future of humanity lies encoded in our DNA.
If you enjoy Dan Brown
or Michael Crichton
then you'll love PILLARS OF CHAOS.
Amazon is generally considered to be responsible for the demise of hundreds of brick and mortar bookstores. The mega-retailer helped drive dozens of independent bookstores into bankruptcy, and pushed the former chain Borders into oblivion.
Then, last fall, Amazon surprised many by opening a physical bookstore in its home town Seattle.
The bookstore is built on a different model than large bookstores of the past, such as Barnes and Noble, Borders, or Books A Million. With most chain bookstores, books are stocked by the publisher's demands. These demands are issued by the so-called "big five" traditional publishers such as HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin. The publishers sign an author, and release a set number of books to the stores.
A new author, for example, might get offered a 10,000 book run. All of the bookstores would be sent copies of the novel, totalling 10,000 copies, and the author hopes they sell. The bookstores are given a time limit, usually about three weeks, and then any books that are unsold are destroyed and sent back to the publisher. If the author had an advance, he can be docked the cost of returned books. If he didn't have an advance, he still knows he likely won't get another contract if the books sold poorly. With this model, the big five establish what books are in stores, and all books are either "make it or break it" novels for an author. If you don't succeed big, you fail, and there's little room in between.
However, all of that might change. On Tuesday Feb 2nd, the announcement was released that Amazon will open HUNDREDS of physical bookstores. CNBC shared the announcement, citing up to 400 brick and mortar stores to open. Amazon retracted the statement shortly after, and while not denying that it plans to increase its number of physical stores, it is backing away from specific numbers. Only TWO days after the announcement originally aired, Barnes and Noble stocks had plummeted 14%, showing the real fear of the mega-retailer's possible entry into the chain bookstore venue.
If Amazon does open hundreds of physical bookstores, the entire publishing industry could change. Amazon has publicly stated that its physical bookstore's selections are based entirely off of sales and ratings of books on Amazon.com. A quick look through the online store and many of the bestsellers are NOT published by the big five publishers. Many bestsellers are self-published books offered at Amazon only. If these then become the books seen in physical bookstore chains, how will the big five respond?
In 2012, Houghton Mifflin filed for bankruptcy to help erase debt. The big publishers are facing increasing financial hardhips, and with the oncoming Amazon phyiscal chain, they NEED to shift their focus if they hope to survive. One model that may gain in popularity is Print on Demand, or POD. Many books, including The Scythe Wielder's Secret, are currently offered as POD, and since books are only printed when they're ordered, there are far fewer financial risks. If a national bookstore chain is filled with POD books, will old model publishers even be relevant? Could the big five focus on print on demand publishing, instead of enormous gamble-based runs? Could the older publishers focus on marketing, or other mechanisms not necessarily available to smaller presses, so that they still have something unique to offer? Or will the older publishers crumble, like Borders did? The only thing certain in the publishing industry is that the business is changing rapidly, and the old rules don't necessarily work any more.