If you're reading this because you're ready to start querying and want to know what to expect, please know this is just my experience. Querying is different for everyone, so I suggest reading multiple examples (Anahita Karthik, Hali Hyland, and Morgan Forte have great posts). I will throw around some industry terms, so if you aren't familiar with those, check out Megan Murphy's Publishing Industry Lingo list; she breaks everything down.
If you're reading this because you're one of my friends or you know me from Twitter, hello. Querying was the most brutal experience of my life, and I know many of you feel the same, so I hope reading my journey's highs and lows makes you feel at least somewhat less alone. I've tacked my querying stats onto the end of this post, but there will be a Trigger Warning in case your anxiety, like mine, feeds off those.
All right, are you ready to retrace my steps? I hope so, because here we go.
CHAPTER ONE: GRAY
My querying journey began in August 2022, when I happened to download Twitter a few days before SFFpit. I had never even heard of pitch events, but my query was ready and my manuscript just needed one more line edit, so I decided to participate. I didn't expect anything, but I did really well, so the following day I sent off my first pitch like query. A few days later, that query turned into a full request...and I panicked.
It was my 21st birthday. I had planned to go to a bar with a friend and taste my first sip of alcohol, but I frantically texted her and cleared my schedule. (Bless her, she was nothing but supportive.) On my back porch surrounded by moths and yellow lamplight, I stayed up all night doing my line edit, then I sent off my manuscript the following morning.
"If this agent rejects me," I told that same friend a week later, as we sat in our favorite coffee shop, "I don't think I can keep going."
She rolled her eyes and laughed over her white mocha. "I'm sure you can."
I shook my head, but less than twenty minutes later, I checked my email and saw...
My first full rejection.
My fears had come to fruition. I fell silent. A few moments prior I had been vibrant, buzzing with a cocktail of anxiety and anticipation too well mixed to dissect, but looking at the email I faded. It was like watching a film turn from color to black and white. The grind of the espresso machines, my friend's comforting smile, the sunlight through the plant filled display windows... None of it penetrated the gray cloud of rejection.
For the next four months, that cloud never really lifted. Don't get me wrong; each full request was a beam of brightest sunlight, but less than 24-hours after I sent each request, the cloud would thicken again. I participated in two more pitch events, PitDark and MoodPitch, and I did well in both of them, but any of my friends will tell you that my paranoia never abated. My Google Docs is a minefield of "Untitled Document"s filled with slightly different renditions of my query. At one point, six versions were circulating simultaneously.
Still, my friend had been right in the coffee shop. I kept going, and the only reason for that is my friends. Without the writer friends I've made on Twitter, I would have shelved my book five times over. I'll admit, I had to delete the app several times because the waves of agent announcements threatened to drown me in comparison, but I always came back. I loved seeing my friends happy, and I was confident my time would come.
CHAPTER TWO: BLACK
If the first four months of querying were a thick gray cloud, January and February of 2023 were pitch black. At the beginning of January, I queried someone whose MSWL matched my manuscript perfectly. My query quickly turned into a full, and for the rest of the month our communication clearly indicated I would receive an offer of representation. When I say this, I mean I was told they would offer rep, they just needed to finalize their notes.
Buzzing with anticipation, I tweeted:
"I might not have an agent yet, but I think I finally understand that it’s better to wait—and wait—for the *right* agent rather than accept the first offer that comes my way, and if it took four months of querying to accept that, it wasn’t a waste."
That evening, I received a pitch like from Jenissa.
I kept my pitch pinned to my profile the entire time I was querying, so I had received pitch likes outside pitch events before, but this time felt different. I can't explain it. I saw Jenissa's Twitter icon, and I just knew she was going to offer me rep. You probably think I'm misremembering, but—unlike every pitch like before it—I didn't tell anyone about it because I was afraid of jinxing it. I was busy with homework that night, but the next morning I sat down at the kitchen table and, for the first time ever, sent off a query without any anxiety.
But emotions are fickle, and at the beginning of February a couple weeks later, I received a rejection from someone who had requested my manuscript back in October. By that point I expected a rejection, but I didn't expect a lengthy paragraph explaining that I had no understanding of pacing, needed to create a "detailed schema" of my chapters, and needed to solicit more beta readers before querying.
Basically, I needed to rewrite my book.
Well, I sobbed the whole drive to work. It's a miracle I didn't die in a car crash. At first, I didn't tell my friends about the rejection because I was terrified they would all secretly agree, but by the time I sat down at my desk, tasked with helping college students revise their essays (oh, the irony), I couldn't take it anymore. I texted my friends the rejection, and after they assured me it was ridiculous, I reminded myself it was fine. After all, in just a few days I would receive my promised offer of rep.
Except I didn't.
Instead, I received a request to undergo an R&R. I was wary, but I've always believed everyone can improve, so I decided to give it a go. They needed two weeks to get their edits in order, so I settled in to wait...but then two weeks went by, and I didn't hear back.
As with the rejection from January, at this point I expected the R&R to be rescinded, but I still emailed asking if they needed more time. A couple days later, I received a reply so long that I had to scroll (and scroll, and scroll) to read the whole email.
It was late evening, and I was curled on my basement's brown recliner like a cat. My anxiety was so high that I couldn't feel my shaking fingers, but in an act of pure self-destruction I skimmed the email.
It detailed why, after careful consideration, they had decided they would never offer me representation. In order for my book to be sellable, I needed to rewrite it in a different genre, create a new protagonist, add a new villain, and utilize a new narrative structure. There were even diagrams explaining how to write a plot and create characters.
I didn't cry. I just looked at it. I was filled with so much nothing it was like I didn't exist. For the second time in the span of a month, I had been told to start from scratch.
CHAPTER THREE: BLUE
I was pretty much done after that. I had already deleted Twitter in anticipation of focusing on my R&R, and now I had no intention of redownloading it. The few writing friends I still texted assured me these two rejections just proved that these people didn't understand my book, and I agreed with them, but that actually made it worse.
I knew the first half of my book read like a Fantasy novel while the second half read like a Literary novel. Because of that, it didn't meet all genre expectations. That's why I called it a Literary Fantasy in most versions of my query. But if the Literary aspect wasn't coming across, I had failed at my job.
That's why I stopped believing in myself. It wasn't because these people didn't like my book; after five months of querying, I was accustomed to that. The issue was, these two rejections proved I had epically failed to deliver what I had thought made my book special.
My friends tried to comfort me. They said they were furious at these rejections, but I almost entirely believed they were lying to me out of pity. I appreciated it when they sent me new agents to query, but I also resented it, because I thought they were just trying to forestall the inevitable death knell of my last rejection.
By the second half of February, most of my queries had been either rejected or CNR'd. Thanks to my friends, I sent roughly ten new queries, but I didn't expect anything. I sent these queries furtively, sporadically. When I sent them, I was trying to simultaneously protect myself from hoping and keep myself from giving hope. Jenissa's pitch like was still a secret, and in the wake of the two terrible rejections I held it closer, not because I was afraid of jinxing it but because I was embarrassed by the certainty of my past self.
Halfway through March, I was sitting at work, having just finished helping a freshman brainstorm her Intro to English essay, when I checked my email and saw a full request from an agent I had never queried. Apparently, I had queried one of their coworkers after a MoodPitch like back in November. That coworker had since been inundated with other projects, but they had sent my material to this other agent, who now wanted to see more.
I was so surprised that I honestly forgot to be excited. But, like those before it, this full request was a beam of sunlight piercing the pitch black cloud, letting me glimpse blue sky. I texted a screenshot to my writing friends, smiled when they texted back in all caps, and that evening when I got home sent off the manuscript.
Alas, I heard nothing for the rest of March.
CHAPTER THREE: YELLOW
Halfway through April, I was driving home from school, the golden 6pm sunlight pouring through my windshield, when at a stoplight I checked my email. I gasped when I saw Jenissa had requested my manuscript.
By this point, she had liked my pitch so long ago that I had almost buried the secret deep enough to forget it. The moment I saw the request, though, all my initial certainty returned. I know it sounds bizarre, but even as I was putting myself back together after being demolished by the two terrible rejections, I knew she would offer. This feeling was based only on instinct, however, and I no longer trusted myself, so when I sent off the manuscript that evening I tamped down my hope.
I didn't even let myself check Jenissa's QueryTracker timeline, but I knew even if my instincts were correct, it would probably be awhile before I heard back. I prepared myself for the long wait, but less than a week later...
I received an offer of representation from the agent I had never queried. In their email and on the call, it was clear they understood my book perfectly, Literary aspect and all.
My friends had been right. The two terrible rejections only proved that those people didn't understand my book, and nothing else. I could do my job.
After so long in the dark cloud, I can't describe how bright that knowledge made me feel.
For weeks afterward, nothing could bring me down. I returned to Twitter, tweeted a vague publishing tweet, and filled up with joy at all the positive responses from the writing friends I had deserted for the past three months. I sent out my nudges, and almost all those queries my friends had me send during the first half of March turned into fulls.
I was thrilled, but the only full I really cared about was Jenissa's. I still had the feeling I had had when she first liked my pitch, and now that I knew at least one person understood my book, I trusted my instincts again. I knew she would offer, and at 9:45am on Monday, May 15th, as I was sitting in my car after muscling through my 8am class, I checked my email and saw she had asked for a call.
I couldn't pick more perfect weather than the warm summer air and young yellow sunshine if I made up the story myself.
CHAPTER FOUR: GOLD
On our call the next day, I felt immediately understood. She was obsessed with the Literary aspect of my book, and we saw it going to exactly the same imprints. But after February's R&R debacle, I was determined not to be rash. That night, one of the other agents with my manuscript asked for a deadline extension, and I gave it. I reviewed the agency contract Jenissa had sent over, as did some of my friends, and the following day I had a second call with her to discuss my questions.
Her answers only cemented my initial feelings, but I didn't let the rest of the extension go to waste. Over the next few days, my friends helped me research both offering agents, and I had conversations with many, many people comparing and contrasting both offers. I can't overemphasize how intensely I considered this decision, until...
At noon on Monday, May 22nd, while sitting in front of the floor-to-ceiling display window in one of my favorite coffee shops, I signed with Jenissa.
She is my absolute dream agent, and just like I tweeted back in January, if nine months of querying, two rejections that told me to rewrite my book, and nearly giving up is what it took to end up with her, I wouldn't change any step of my journey. No matter how many revisions I have to do or how long I'm on submission, I know I've got someone in my corner who I can wholeheartedly trust, and that's what matters most.
If I told my querying self all this, she would probably scoff. Querying made me tired, angry, sad, and resentful, and even though I'm overjoyed to have climbed out of the gray cloud, often I'm still terrified everything will somehow come crashing down. I have literally no reason for feeling this way, at all; I have an amazing agent, but after so many months of rejection, it's difficult to comprehend that it's all over.
I don't have to be afraid to check my email anymore.
Signing with the right agent is the most golden light there is, but I'm sure I'm not the only agented author who feels residual fear. When I do, I have to tell myself to, "Choose trust," again and again. Querying stole my trust in myself, in my friends, in the process, and in pretty much everything and everyone, but now it's my responsibility and privilege to take it back.
I'm sure other querying authors have experiences much worse than my own, but no matter what those experiences are, I choose to trust that there is an agent out there for you. I trust with all my heart there is, and if you keep going, you will find them—or they'll find you.
The hard part is, in the meantime you have to believe so hard, and some days the rejections and comparisons are all you can see. But on those days, you have to choose trust. When you can't believe in yourself, you have to believe the people who say they believe in you.
I wouldn't be here without those people, and there are...a lot of them. They know who they are, so I won't bore you with an Oscars speech, but in summary: thank you to my family, my professors, my fellow Creative Writing majors, my friends from Twitter and elsewhere (especially the coffee shop friend), and everyone who's ever supported one of my Twitter pitches. I might be a writer, but my gratitude is too big for words.
If you'd like to see my querying stats, they're below, and if you've read this far, thank you. I am glowing with joy, but I know this is only the start of the publishing process, so wish me luck—the good kind, as always—and I wish the same for you.
TW: QUERYING STATS
Pitch Likes: 28 (14 SFFpit, 7 PitDark, 7 MoodPitch)
Referrals: 12 (2 clients, 10 agents)
Partial Requests: 2 (1 into a full)
Full Requests: 15
Request Rate: 19%