For my advanced narrative course, I have to submit two short stories to two different literary journals. I have not written a query letter in years. Not since my attempt to have my first novel published back in 2012. To say the querying process is frightening would be an understatement. It is terrifying. To get the format correct is one thing, but the crippling anxiety that comes with possible rejection is what I really fear.
I had at least 50 rejection letters. No one wanted to publish my book which was sad, but what I hated most about the process was the fact these people had taken the time to read my letter and through just a few paragraphs decided whether I was worth it or not. Let's just say that rejection is hard, but being rejected for writing a letter that's not even on the story is worse. I remember having a response sent to me saying that my query lacked but my story was good. However, since my query sucked, she wouldn't take me on as a client. I had a differing view from someone else, who said my query was good but my story was bad. Mixed responses did not help my self-esteem and confused me to the point where I just didn't know what to do anymore.
Though I've had experience with writing queries in the past, writing them presently is a whole other ordeal. The problem I see is not really writing the letter, but making sure it appeals to those I'm sending it to. Confusing or conflicting directions do not help. For instance, one place as a form for it, but it says that it wants a bio and yet, no header on the document because the document is read blindly. Confusing right? What exactly am I supposed to do? Some are less confusing, like email queries. I write a short query letter and attach my document to it. However, it still does not note whether I should have a cover page attached to the document.
I feel so conflicted with how I am supposed to go about these things that I've been putting off submitting my stories for over a week. At first, I felt like it was all in my head. I was overthinking things, however, it is the lack of direct direction that really is the problem.
I remember when I first sent a query out and I was so nervous about what I wrote that I did not realize I had misspelled the agent's name. This is also a fear that I have about query letters because agents are very particular about things (not just their names which is understandable). Agents today are more like rock stars. They have tons of followers on twitter and are bombarded with queries constantly. It's highly likely they'll never actually get to yours and will just send out a form response. This is one of the reasons I self published my first novel. I was so terrified of rejection again and again that I just wanted it to be over with and not have to deal with it.
I regret self-publishing though, because I feel like I could have done better. I could have written the letter better and possibly been published. Though I find it ridiculous that a letter is the reason why an agent did not consider me, I understand why it would matter. The letter represents me as a writer. I am asking someone to accept my story and have to make an argument for it. I understand now how important it is, however, it still irks me.
Though I fear querying, I know that I'll have to do it sooner or later because that's what writers do. They query. They fight for their story and a query letter is the battle a writer has to overcome to reach victory.