I have to admit that I was surprised by some of the responses to last week’s discussion about queries. There’s so much angst out there as authors struggle to find agents that some writers adopt an ends-justify-the-means mindset and think there’s something wrong the entire process if their queries don’t work.
But as I said in the comments section of Thursday’s post, every successful debut book should be viewed on the order of a minor miracle. It’s like throwing a manuscript across a river of paper-eating snakes and crocodiles and hoping that all the pages reach the other side. Success is hard and rare, and there is an incredible array of obstacles along the way.
Success is not the default, and success does not come easily.
And yet so many aspiring authors don’t approach the business in this fashion. They expect success. They feel that they’ve earned success simply by completing a novel they think is good. And they feel that if they are not easily finding success something is wrong.
Then you start hearing things like agents don’t know what they’re doing, the query process is stupid, the publishing industry is going down the tubes because they won’t publish MY book, etc. etc.
The system is not perfect, but it’s also not broken. In fact it’s working precisely as it should: It’s winnowing tens of thousands of projects down to the few that are published. There are far more novels out there than can realistically be sold to publishers. Far, far, far, far more. To paraphrase Sean Lindsay, there are too many writers and not enough readers. Getting published is not supposed to be easy.
If there were a more effective system of winnowing down thousands of submissions than referrals and query letters I’d love love love nothing more than to find it and use it (and Jennifer Jackson agrees). But in order to decide if I’m interested in taking a look at a manuscript I need to know two things: what the book is about and whether the author can write well. And I need to know those things as quickly as possible because I have a million other things to do. That’s precisely the point and function of a query letter. If the query did not exist, God would have to invent it.
It’s not fun to be winnowed. But don’t blame the winnowers. Just keep at it. And while you’re at it, try and enjoy the process. Life’s too short.
Please respect the system. It’s there for a reason.