Friday, 6 May 2011

Guest Post - Querying

Today's post has kindly been written by Patti Larsen. Patti is a writer and independent filmmaker on the East Coast of Canada. She has a passion for Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction that drives her to write full time and sometimes even through the night. Her YA novel Fresco (Etopia Press) is due for release this summer and her Middle Grade novel (Acorn Press) is due for publication Spring 2012. You can find Patti all over the Internet (at least it feels that way to her):

It’s Nothing Personal

I tried my hand at querying for the first time when I was in my fresh-faced twenties, all innocence and naivet√©. I had a fantasy novel I was certain was The One every publisher would just die for. Knowing nothing and without much in the way of internet support on the ins and outs of the process, I managed to pull together a list of agents and dutifully sent off my letters to them.

Needless to say, I was crushed. Absolutely shattered. Not one nibble. Only endless rejection. And it did me in for years. In fact, until my early thirties. I kid you not.

The second time I was no wiser. In fact by that point I had internet access to lots of information, but did I do my homework? Not so much. Instead, I set myself up yet again for heartbreak and the conviction that I would never, ever, be a published author.


Worse, I came to believe agents and publishers were heartless jerks who not only didn’t recognize great talent when they read it but neither did they care one little bit about writers. I took every single ‘not what we’re looking for’ to heart and quit with the taste of defeat in my mouth.

This time, I stopped writing all together. That’s how horrible I felt about myself and my work. And no amount of encouragement from my friends and family could convince me otherwise. I was a deluded failure.

Fast forward to two years ago (um… late thirties, let’s leave it at that). I simply couldn’t shut off the compulsion forever. The agony of defeat faded to a soft memory. Inevitably, I started writing again. My new novel was my first stab at Young Adult. Nervous, I shared it with people around me because I loved it. To my delight, everyone who read it loved it. And I knew it was time to try again.

It’s amazing what time can do to help you forget the pain.

This time I was smart. I did my homework. Read up on the process. Researched agents rather than randomly sending out to whomever I could find. Got betas to read and critique my book. Did my proofreading. Wrote and rewrote my query until it shone like a sparkling star. Then, I slowly and carefully built a list of agents who not only represent what I write but whose philosophies and character I admired.

Breath bated, I copied and pasted my queries and hit send.

For the first time ever, I got nibbles. Then bites. And while that book has yet to sell, the encouragement I felt from the attention was groundbreaking. I kept writing, new books, new series, and I kept querying. Now, every time I tackle the job, I refine my process even further. I have my favorite agents (who may or may not be sick of seeing my name attached to yet another book and yet another query email), as well as a secondary and tertiary list. I’m organized. I have a spreadsheet. Imagine.

Do the no’s hurt? They did at first. I suffered from the excited pitter-pat of full manuscript request and the plunging stomach when a bite turned into a no. Still, I managed to work it out so I wasn’t so emotionally attached.

My most recent attempt means the most to me because I’ve committed myself to writing for a living. Which means I have to sell something. So, rather than treat personally, I’ve instead chosen to look at it like a business. While the writing of the books is still intimately creative, the process of finding an agent and a publisher has turned into work. It’s actually made it easier to hear the rejections; first because I want to be sure whomever I partner with loves my writing as much as I do. I don’t want to be attached to someone who is only half-hearted. And second, because it’s not so much about my books anymore as it is about my job. It makes the no’s less personal and more professional.

Which, by the way, is exactly the truth. It’s just business, folks. Nothing against my work or anyone else’s. And I’ve accepted that at last. It’s pretty liberating.

I’m still seeking the right agent, the one who understands my vision. The sting of ‘no thanks’ doesn’t really bother me anymore. In fact, I’m so used to it I think a ‘yes’ will take a while to process. The biggest difference this time is that I refuse to quit. Refuse. I know that I’m a great writer. Two publishers agree with me. But I have plans for world literary domination and I can’t do that without an agent.

You can find Patti in the following places;

Thank you Patti for your time and your insight into the world of querying. I wish you all the luck in the world with it. 


  1. Thanks so much for having me, Rebecca!

  2. Oh Patti, you are a superstar. This is such a great post, and you are a superb writer.

    My mentor, multi-published author, Kate Austin, shared the following words with me when I was feeling really low because I had received my umpteenth rejection letter.

    I’ll never forget her words, and I think they apply to you as well. She said, “Sometimes persistence is even more important than talent and you’ve got both.”

    That’s how I feel about you Patti, and you are well on your way to world literary domination.

    Thanks Rebecca for hosting Patti!

  3. Patti - Thank you so so much for taking the time to compile this great article for me. It's an insight I can't give people. But It's an important part for people to know before they commence on it.

    Eden - Eden, I can tell you a re a huge fan of Patti and who can blame you. She's given a great interview with honesty and intergrity.

    I' have Patti as a guest poster any time so fancied it.

  4. Patti, I like how you differentiate between the creative and business aspects of the serious writer. Without that separation our trampled emotions can suffocate our ability to keep writing... as yours did at the start. Great post, thanks!

  5. Patti, thanks for sharing your journey. I submitted too early and gained polite, personal rejections. I have spent the past two years rewriting. Yesterday my main beta♥reader gave me the hugest boost ever. Only ten small comments have meant my rewrite is over! However, now comes the synopsis and query. I read your post and you inspired me to have more faith in myself. To believe I can write them and face the rejections. That I must focus on the overall goal. Thank you.

    Thanks for sharing Patti, Rebecca. :)

  6. WOW you guys are so nice... :)
    Rebecca, I'm also a huge fan of Eden! She's amazing...

    I have a quote taped to my monitor:

    Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. -- Calvin Coolidge.

    I read it every day and believe it.

    Carol, it's the key to staying on this crazy horse...

    And Glynis, good luck--just remember every no is one closer to yes.

  7. Carol - I'm glad you liked the post :)

    Glynis - I'm wishing you so much luck with your submissions!

    Patti - I love your favourite quote.

  8. Great post! You inspired me to change the way I look at querying. Now it doesn't feel quite as scary any more. I hope you get your dream agent soon, Patti!