For a wordsmith, language is important. Words maybe the most important tool that we have and so it surprises me that so many authors describe the unique and painful experience of querying potential agents as being, “in the trenches.”
Since World War One, the words most associated with trench warfare are futile and conflict. Something to be endured over a long period of time with a capable adversary determined to stop our progress. A task in which we do the same thing over and over again with little or no prospect of success.
Querying can feel like this. I sent my book out over a hundred times to agents and publishers with no success. The majority of gave no response at all. A year of writing and editing, weeks to prepare a brilliant and charismatic query letter customised to each individual agent, days agonising over the right comp titles that were relevant, interesting and quirky enough to demonstrate my breadth of reading to be met with silence. It is a peculiar pain that only writers will understand. The daily (hourly?) opening of query manager to see that no responses have come in, occasionally punctuated with a form pass - a kind of template sent out to authors to decline a manuscript.
So, yes, I get it. It’s tough. It can be really heartbreaking, and all we have to respond with are our words. Words are important, to us more than anyone, and words shape behaviour.
Describing this process as being, 'in the trenches' has the potential to encourage habits that are not optimal to a successful outcome. Things like sending out the same query over and over, sending out queries in volume rather than picking specific agents and having a mindset of expecting failure, thinking that agents do not want your work.
Agents need to sign writers, they are all looking to represent the next Stephen King, J.K. Rowling or John Grisham. Your manuscript may well be the one that they are looking for, it may only need a little development to catch their attention. Publishers need to have new material to release, they see trends in the market, they need to deliver on diversity goals set by their boards, they are hunting for the next hit.
The process of getting published is a journey. Like any journey, we start with a destination in mind, for me, it was to become a traditionally published author. For the lucky few, the journey will be straightforward, for most of us, there will be detours, delays, road closures, fuel strikes and car breakdowns. We may finish the journey in a different car altogether and even in a different location. I see so many stories of authors finally selling their second, third, fifth, or tenth manuscript. Others who have found their success with self-publishing, or flash fiction.
Journeys have destinations and hope, journeys require movement and flexibility. At every stage of the process, there are ways in which the traditional process can be hacked. There are shortcuts, things that I wish I had known at the start. Ways to improve the query, using the right beta readers and how to find them, how and when to use a professional editor, non-traditional ways to find an agent (neither of my agents came from a standard query) and more. Future posts will cover all these areas.
For today, my writing hack is simple, delete all references to being in the query trenches because language matters. Instead, get on your querying journey. Good luck. I believe in you.
Hamish Morjaria is the author of the Harveen Gill Mysteries which was acquired by Pan Macmillan in October 2023. The first book in the series is The Muziris Empire and will be released in Summer 2024