Into the Querying Trenches

Something we don’t always talk about here at borrowed solace is querying. While we are all (including you, reading this) writers and often quite familiar with the painstaking process of submitting to journals (we try to make it as painless and simple as possible here, I promise) not everyone has jumped into what many writers refer to as the querying trenches.

If the phrase, “querying trenches” automatically brings images of fighting in the trenches of a big battle to mind, that’s because it’s an apt comparison. While obviously nowhere near what it is like to truly fight in a battle (and much less gruesome), querying is to writers what the trenches are to soldiers. It’s a long, frustrating, and difficult slog to the finish line, with a lot of waiting, anxiety, and unfruitful returns.

What is querying?

For those who are unfamiliar, querying is when writers who have written a complete book (at least for fiction) or a book proposal (for nonfiction) start the long process of reaching out to literary agents in hopes of getting representation. With a literary agent, a writer’s work can be submitted to traditional publishing houses and (hopefully) accepted and published.

Why go through querying?

If it’s so bad, why do authors even go through querying? The answer is simple: to be traditionally published. While not every writer wants to be traditionally published (some choose the self-publishing route or simply stick to short stories and poems in literary journals), you really can’t be traditionally published without querying literary agents.

Most, if not all, of the traditional big five publishers (which could soon become big four and includes Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, Harper Collins, and Macmillan) require a literary agent in order to submit. So in order to even have a chance at traditional publishing through one of the big five or their imprints, you need a literary agent.

What, exactly, does it mean to go into the query trenches?

So now that you know what querying is and why writers do it, let’s go into a bit more about the actual process of querying.

To query, you need a query letter. This letter is a one-page summary of your book that you are querying written in the form of a letter to an agent and includes biographical information about the author and stats about the book. Writing a query letter itself can be challenging, and it can truly make or break your querying experience (which is terrifying and what makes querying so hard.)

Armed with your query letter, and the first few chapters of your book, writers who are ready to query head into the trenches. This means finding literary agents who are interested in the type of book you’ve written online, following their submissions guidelines (much like the submissions guidelines we have here at borrowed solace), and sending along both your query letter and any other requested materials.

And then waiting.

Waiting is the hard part, and it’s made more difficult by the fact that the publishing industry as a whole right now is experiencing an immense amount of backlog and overwhelm due to staffing shortages, supply chain issues, and burnout. Just like with the rest of the world, COVID has taken its toll on the publishing industry, including all those involved in the querying process.

What’s so bad about querying?

Nothing. And everything. Querying is necessary to get your book published. It is the primary way to start the process of one day seeing your book on the shelves of your local Barnes & Noble. But it’s also a very tedious process, full of rejection.

May writers query close to a hundred agents with no success. Or find success early on that ultimately results in even more waiting (or even ghosting from agents, which is truly painful to experience as a writer–trust me, I’ve been there.)

Querying is a painstaking process that takes a lot of patience, resilience, and re-writing to survive. For many, though, all of this works out in the long run and results in a published book at the end of the years-long querying and publishing journey.

Are you querying?

I’m curious, are you in the query trenches? I dove into the querying process in mid-2021, and I’m still living in the trenches. While not exactly the same as submitting to literary journals, which I’ve also done my fair share of over the years, querying is similarly difficult.

If you’re querying, how’s it going? If you’re preparing to query, how’s it going? I want to know! Share your thoughts in the comments below. Or if you are unfamiliar with querying, or simply a ways away from venturing into the trenches yourself, comment what questions or concerns you have about the process.

Let’s support each other through this convoluted, messy process known as querying!