QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Day I Got Tired Of Failure

Back in 2004, I decided I was tired of being a failed writer.

I didn't really know how to turn it around, but for years I'd been a has-been writer, one novel published when I was a wee bairn and then a few scattered short stories since then. Editor-orphaned. Still writing, but everything sitting in a drawer. I was attending a writing group, but I'd kind of gotten used to failure as a steady state.

In 2005, when the new year hit, I decided I was done with that. I'd gotten good at failure, but it didn't have any appeal. Yes, I was a mom with small kids and sure, it was understandable, and of course the market was tough blah blah blah. I was tired of making excuses. I was tired of failure. Time to change things.

So I set myself a goal, and I made sure it was possible to achive through sheer effort. Ready?

I had one year to make my goal. I had to get either 12 acceptances or 100 rejections.

That was it. Either I had to get twelve pieces accepted, and it didn't matter how or where, or I had to get enough rejections that I could accept that I was not and never would be a successful writer. Period. There was no middle ground, and the glory here was that if I worked hard enough, I was going to make either one or the other.

Do the math: if I submitted 111 times, one or the other condition had to be reached.

The grind of publishing is that you cannot force success. You have no idea if you're really writing at peak performance, and you can always do better. You can't control whether your work gets accepted. You can't control how well your work will sell. You can't control your reviews. You can't control whether an agent will request sample pages or whether an editor will send your book to the acquisitions committee.

You can control you.

You can control the number of words you write every week (within limits -- build in a cushion for things like illness and unexpected emergencies.)  You can control what kind of pieces you're working on. You can control how much you learn about the business. You can control how often you submit your work.

In my case, I decided that was the way to go. I knew my writing was good enough, and I knew just barely enough of the business to get started freelancing. (I read two books to learn more about it so I stood a chance of hitting the twelve rather than the hundred.)

My overall goal was to earn a living via novels. I knew that wouldn't happen right out of the gate, though. I'd already done fabulously with one novel, but that had been ages ago, and then nothing. It was more realistic to send out small pieces. So I started scanning calls for submission and looking at what I already had. I worked on short pieces. I looked at the guidelines for magazines I read on a regular basis. And I learned how to write an awesome query.

From a career point, it was probably laughable. I queried a novel to agents and another to editors while simultaneously pitching nonfiction articles, poems, satire, and how-to pieces. It was a flurry of literary activity with no discipline. That's not how you build a career. Careers require focus. They require intense knowledge of one area.

But you know? Along with the rejections, the acceptances started coming in. I even got a couple of checks out of it.

I went to a writer's conference and pitched a magazine editor, and instead of being nervous, I realized I didn't care if she rejected me because even if she rejected me, her rejection got me one step closer to my goal.  (She didn't like that, by the way. I think I was supposed to simper, and I was all out of the need to simper.)

Sometime in November, I hit my goal. I'd made contacts and had money coming in, and I had my first two pieces with a magazine that eventually would list me on their masthead, and I had short stories awaiting publication. Twelve acceptances. I don't remember now how many rejections. Maybe seventy? It didn't kill me.

So for 2017, set yourself a goal. Make it something you can reach without having to control anyone else. Don't worry about doing it wrong. If you need to get yourself started, do something that will get you started and correct your course later on, once you're in motion.

I was tired of being a failed writer, so I changed it. As the year draws to a close, what are you tired of? What can you do to change it?


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Great Holiday Query Dilemma

With the holidays soon upon us, many agents are taking the month off and closing to queries. Still others will remain open, but probably won’t be doing much reading. But some will stay open and active.

So, as a querying author, what do you do? 

Do you hold off querying until January when the agent’s inboxes are exploding? Or do you query in December and hope you’ll stand out in a (hopefully) diminished crowd?

What’s the answer? Sorry, I can’t help you much there. It’s a judgement call. But QueryTracker can provide you with a little helpful information. As we learn of agents closing for the holidays, we’ll add them to our update list at querytracker.net/updates.php#updates so at least you’ll know who not to query. 

What’s your Holiday Query Plan? Let me know in the comments below.

Patrick McDonald is the founder and creator of QueryTracker. Though maintaining QueryTracker keeps him too busy to write anymore, back when he did he tended to write in many different genres. Not because he was eclectic, but because he was still trying to find his niche. Though he never discovered his genre of choice, he did find his home at QueryTracker, a place where he could spend time in his two favorite worlds: writing and programming.