Dispatch From the Querying Trenches (Part II): Shelving a Dream
I shelved a book last September. In my first dispatch from the trenches, I spoke about the difficult time I was having querying it. I spent more than four years refining that novel, sprucing it up to as close to perfection as I could manage.
I sent approximately 60 queries to agents who represent kidlit or whose wishlists I thought were a match. I got two partial requests, both of which eventually turned into rejections.
Shoot, that’s hard to type. That’s a <1 percent request rate. A 100 percent rejection rate. After four years? I feel so much shame writing that, honestly. But I believe it’s important to share.
Because while it is true that the book, Allie Mae Doesn’t Get the Guy, was unsuccessful in the query trenches, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer. It doesn’t mean I’ll never have a chance to publish my fiction. Nor does it mean I’m a failure.
It doesn’t mean I’m a failure.
I had to repeat that, mostly for myself, because it’s something that can be really hard to remember when faced with doors shutting in your face. Rejections can so easily feel like a value judgment, like you’ve been weighed and found wanting. And in the face of social media, which is often a highlight reel of achievements, it’s easy to forget that everyone deals with rejection. So that’s why I’m sharing my stats.
As for what I’m doing in the meantime, I’m focusing on the positive: I started grad school, and am pursuing my MFA in writing for children and young adults, because I recognized that I needed to work hard to improve my craft. I’m investing in my writer communities, both the ones I found through school and my pre-existing ones, because celebrating others and letting them uplift me when necessary is so good for my soul. And I’m working on new books!
Part of what made shelving Allie Mae so hard is that it was the only book I had completed in at least four years. So I felt like it was my only shot. Well, since querying that book, I’ve drafted two others and am in the midst of a third. I’ve even queried another book! I proved to myself that I could keep going.
I’ve also worked on my craft in other ways. I’ve poured myself into books, and in part thanks to grad school, I’m working on learning to evaluate them based on craft techniques and not just, you know, general vibes.
I also submitted to Pitch Wars and a handful of other mentorship contests. I’ve put my name down for contests, for writing retreats, for opportunities I wouldn’t have dreamed of going out for last year.
In some ways, shelving Allie Mae opened me up to believing in myself even more.
Which isn’t to say that the road is smooth. I have self-doubt on a daily, maybe even hourly basis. But I’m working on that. I’m working on my negative self-talk, and on believing in myself when I think I have something to offer.
I still hope that someday I’ll be able to share good news with the writing community. I’m coming to terms with the fact that my journey is going to take longer than I originally anticipated. And it’s okay if that’s the case.
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