This summer, I announced to Facebook that I'm a writer. It was terrifying in an absurd way that should be reserved solely for spiders and presidential elections. The reasons for this fear were too many for one blog post, but I did address one of the causes in that Facebook post: querying.
The problem with querying... ha. The problem, like there's only one. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Cryyyyyyyyy. Well the biggest problem with querying, when it comes to explaining it to non-writing folk, is trying to express how miserable an experience it is. In my original post, I came up with a comparison that seemed to resonate with my writing fiends, so now I share it with all of you:
Querying is difficult to explain to someone who doesn't write, but I'll do my best. Imagine you built a house. You built this house all by yourself so it took a really long time - six months, a year, two years, maybe a decade. But now it's done and it is beautiful. The hallways are gorgeous with wainscoting on the walls, crown molding on the ceiling, and stunning, multi-genus wood floors that tie together every room perfectly. You didn't even know mult-genus was a real word, let alone a type of floor, but you did weeks of research on this little detail that only a few people will notice, but whatever, it's perfect. In the dining room, there is a wet bar that you spent an entire month debating which granite to use, and in the living room there is a built-in bench that took another month designing so that the sun would light it up throughout the day. The kitchen would make any chef drool, and the garage could make your average mechanic shed tears of joy. The bathrooms aren't anything super special, but they work, and after someone looks at the study, they won't even remember the bathrooms. You spent a total of three months picking out the perfect wood, measuring the precise spacing, and routing out all the intricate details of the trim for the built-in book cases and desk.
It's a work of art - the entire thing. And now it's done and ready to sell. You have two options: sell yourself, or call a real estate agent. Selling yourself could be great, but it's a lot of work and a lot less guarantee of success than if you had an agent, so you decide to get an agent. However, in this world, there are only a few hundred agents in the entire United States, so before they take you and your house on as a client, you have to convince them that your house will be sold. And the only way you can convince them of this is by writing a one page letter to them describing the functional aspects of the house, a couple highlights of the house, any qualifications you have to build a house, and then something personal directly to the agent, all in less than 250 words. You should also, of course, send them a picture of the house, but not actually of the house, just the front door - maybe the front door and the foyer, but definitely no further than that.
It could take up to six months for an agent to respond to your letter, so you want to make sure that the first group of letters are to people you really think will like your house. So you research the agent's likes and dislikes, what they've sold in the past, what they say they want to sell in the future. If you built a colonial and the agent only sells bungalows, then you are wasting your time writing to that agent, and when you're looking at months for a turn around, you don't want to waste any time.
So now you've spent a month or two researching agents, and writing, and rewriting, the letters, and you are ready to go to the post office and send them out - but wait. This agent accepts electronic-only submissions, and this other agent wants you to include a summary of your entire house, including the back patio and the plumbing, all in another separate page attached to the email, and then this other agent wants the same thing, except not as an attachment, but instead, pasted into the body of the email. And another agent, the agent you thought was best for your story - they are no longer accepting new clients for at least three months. So you take some more time to research the submission requirements, and finally, a few months after you finished the house, you send out the letters to agents.
Now you wait. The first agent responds back in a matter of minutes asking for pictures of the entire house. You're thrilled. You spent all this time on the house, time you should've spent sleeping, or eating, or playing with your kids since your time is already limited by work and ailments, but now an agent, someone who can make all the dreams you have for your house come true, wants to see your work. With shaky fingers, you click send and then do a victory dance. While in the middle of the Stanky Leg or Superman or Electric Slide, another email comes back from another agent, an agent you liked even more than the agent who already asked for the pictures. So with your confidence built up, you click on the email, already thinking of the reply message you'll type when you send out the pictures. The email reads: "Dear Builder, Thank you for thinking of me, but after careful review, we've decided your house is not right for us. Good luck with all your future building."
You are crushed. How could they make that sort of decision based just on the front door? Even if they don't like the color of the front door, they'd certainly love the study, and you could always paint the door. You want an explanation, but know you won't get one. So you try to let it go and continue to wait. More requests for photos come in, but twice as many rejections follow. Over the months, it becomes painful every time you hear the ding of a new email coming in. You know what it's going to say, and you don't want to read it. Six months later, everyone except the first agent who asked for your pictures has said no. You write the one agent left, saying you redid the downstairs bathroom and took some new pictures and wondered if they wanted to see the changes. They don't answer. Ever.
Three months more go by and you've sent out more letters and got more rejections, and now, you have to face facts. No one wants this house. But you have more land and more supplies and an idea for a ranch so you get back to building. And a year later, you start to research agents again.
That is querying. It is horrible. I built four houses before I was able to land an agent, and I know some who built even more and have yet to find their match. It's different for everyone, but it's very rarely some joyful experience where someone sends out one letter and a few months later they're an agented millionaire with a seven book deal. So if you don't write, but know someone who does, and they tell you they're querying, just give them a hug.