Scenario: You sacrificed months of your time slaving over a novel. Weeks slaving over a query letter and synopsis. And months querying and losing sleep over the crickets chirping in your inbox. Now, you’re exhausted. You’ve garnered a bunch of rejections! Got a bit a interest (or NONE!), but ultimately, you find yourself still without representation. What do you do now?
There are a few options. You can edit and keep trying. You can not edit and keep trying. You can re-evaluate some things and see if you’d like to go with a small press. You can re-evaluate and see if you’d like to self-publish. You can just throw yer crap up on the internet somewhere for free. Or you can do what I always do: Give up and shelve that sucker in a special file on your computer covered in dust because it is so rarely opened.
This is the thing folks, the cold Yeti truth, if you insist on going the traditional route, you are going to have to shelf perfectly good stories. Maybe they’ll get another looksie one day, but they might not, and this might break you. There are words like, heartbreaking and soul-crushing and melancholia that can describe how it feels to shelve story after story. You have to be able to get back on your feet again. If you can’t, this route isn’t for you.
Of course you might think, “If it’s a perfectly good story, would I have to be shelving it right now? Wouldn’t SOMEONE have taken notice?!” The sad truth remains: sometimes it really is the market, but sometimes, you just can’t convince someone that working on your crap for no pay will be worth it one day.
The first thing I ask myself when I feel like the biggest failure and wish to crawl into a hole and sleep forever: Do I want to keep trying? The answer to this question will determine if I’m going to ask myself any more questions. If the answer is I don’t know, that’s the equivalent of me saying no, so I just move on.
If the answer is “Yes” and honestly, this happens less than half of the time, I move on to these questions:
1) What do I think is wrong with the story? What can be better? How can I fix it?
1a) Do I even want to make these changes?
2) Do I want to keep querying? After all, I have NEVER actually exhausted my query list.
3) Do I want to look at publishers that take unagented submissions?
3a) Who am I comfortable submitting to if I do?
4) Do I want to do more research on self-publishing?
I have broken down completely a couple of times. The second time, I picked myself up by telling myself that I ONLY had to try “one more time.” Then I did and a little something good actually happened. So now I can try “one more time” again. When I broke that first time, though, it was really bad, and some people said,”Why even bother with agents, they’re just the middleman, why don’t you self-publish?”
Why don’t I, indeed? After all, on a good day I think I’m a really great writer. But the short answer is, I don’t think self-publishing should be my backup plan when I don’t get what I want – especially when it’s something I didn’t want to do with the story in the first place. I have a friend who has been trying to talk me into self-publishing for two years because she thinks querying agents is a lost cause. Isn’t that a nice anthem to go to bed to?
Having queried 7 different stories and going into the query trenches no less than 10 times between all of them, I am now running the risk of being considered insane for continuing on this path. I can’t say I’ve read too many success stories with people who had to query more than three or four different novels. A lot of times it’s even less. Sometimes I feel like I’m not trying hard enough – like when I read a story about someone who sent out 90 queries or a 100 or queried for a year. Because of this, I sent out about 40 more queries for DISCORD than I wanted, and waited several months longer than normal to give up. But it’s like, would sending out 10 more queries make that big of a difference? I don’t think so. People look at me like I’m giving up. “Don’t you want to fight for it? Don’t you want to be published? Don’t you care?”
It doesn’t mean you don’t care, it means you had a vision for that story that involved getting an agent and that didn’t happen. There are only so many queries you can send out before you’re crazy. I think for me to move forward after querying 70 agents is crazy. To be honest, keeping hope alive for this story is the very last thing I want to do. The whole experience of writing and querying it was exhausting. Sometimes you really just want to move on. It’s probably hard to believe, I know my sister doesn’t believe me, but candles can only burn so long before they go out.
So after all this, what do I when I know it’s over? I move the story in question to the story graveyard with the rest of my crap and move on with my life. Because I have to keep writing, don’t I? I have a pie-in-the-sky dream to chase. You can’t fly if you let another story keep you tethered to the ground.