QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It means you're alive

My father tells a story about his childhood dentist in Brooklyn, a crusty old man from the Old World who'd come across the Atlantic with a sack of dentistry tools and the bedside manner of a tractor.

"Does it hurt?" the man would growl.

My dad would cringe away from him, whimpering. "Yes."

"Good." The dentist would just keep working, following him as he scrinched up the exam chair. "It means you are alive."

My own dentist is more responsive, even if he does use a blow-torch, but this isn't DentistryTracker, so let's talk queries.

Back when I was trying to land my agent, I occasionally still sent a snail-mail query. You know those things, printed on paper with an SASE tucked inside so they could return you a single sheet of paper, if you were lucky, telling you that life is pain and yeah, but no.

(If anyone can confirm the rumor that each agency has one intern brought on board specifically to steam the stamps off the SASEs and throw away the envelopes, let me know, otherwise I'll have to believe most SASEs just end up in the trash.)

(And here's another parenthetical, if you do send printed queries with an SASE tucked inside, the trick is to buy a package of size 9 envelopes instead of just the regular business-size envelopes. Size 9s are large enough to hold a sheet of 8.5x11 paper, but they're small enough to fit inside a regular business-size envelope without folding. This is sheer brilliance, and I have shamelessly stolen this idea from Miss Snark on her long-ago weblog.)

(I also bought some 24# paper to print those queries because the paper was just a tad bit heavier without being consciously noticeable. The idea was to trigger the reader's subconscious to think my query was weightier than the others. Aren't I brilliant?)

At any rate, one day my pilgrimage to the mailbox yielded one of my own envelopes -- one of my own unfolded envelopes -- with an agency's return address in the corner. Note: always put their return address because sometimes you'll get a rejection with no identifying information whatsoever. No agency name. No book title.

As I opened it and saw the expected "kiss off" letter, I thought, "Good, it means I'm alive."

For years I'd never submitted anything, and during that time I never got rejected. But I'd never gotten published, either. And that left me kind of dead inside.

Does rejection hurt? Good. It means you're alive. It means you're submitting.

Is this a whole lot of mental nonsense? Maybe it's a crutch to keep ourselves moving through a difficult process without feeling dehumanized, as if we're giving ourselves an edge. Did my 24-pound paper make a difference? Did those pristine unfolded size-9 envelopes?

I have no idea if it made a difference to the agency interns who sort the mail, but it made a difference to me because I felt I was doing my best, and it kept me going to know I was working every angle I could.

Even if it's a crutch, well, crutches are what you need when you're hurt and want to keep moving.

You're alive. You're writing. Keep querying.

Jane Lebak is the author of An Arrow In Flight . She has four kids, four books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day. You can like her on Facebook, but if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Outstanding article! I shared it on Facebook. :)

Jane Lebak said...

Thank you, Sharon!

Peter Hogenkamp said...

Nice post, enjoyed the parentheticals especially