The Four Psychological Stages Of #amquerying.
For the past year and a half or so I have had the pleasure of participating in this social experiment known as #amquerying.
For those who haven’t spent the last few years of their life refreshing their email inboxes and swimming through waves of rejections, the querying process is when writers place their literary children on the alter of agent representation and await a thumbs up or thumbs down. A thumbs up (which is the golden ticket of our Willy Wonka writing kingdom) looks like this:
But it feels like this:
And this thumbs up comes in many forms. It could be like, “Sure I will read a chapter!” Or it could be the Adam Levine of all thumbs up:
Sounds freaking amazing right?! Yes! Yes it is!
The problem is that the Law of Polarity dictates that if there is this amazingness known as a thumbs up, then there must also be a polar opposite. Here is where we discover the maddening abyss of thumbs down.
Yes. What goes up, must come down. I didn’t make the rules. Thumb down feels like:
And this is where this post and my intersection as a therapist and querying writer come in handy. Trust me, I have researched hours and hours of Twitter feed to come to this very sound scientific conclusion….
There are Four Psychological Stages of #AMQUERYING, and I have been through all four, multiple times…so, yeah, I get it…
Here we go!
STAGE ONE: BLIND OPTIMISM
List of agents from online resource available to millions of aspiring writers…Check!
First draft of MS…..Check!
Quote from favorite author taped to computer screen for the “difficult” moments…Check!
The hard part is behind you, right? I mean, geez! Do you know how long it took to get that word count to an acceptable number? But you have it in your hands now! A product. A book. Now all you need is someone who believes in your baby as much as you do! Yes! You got this!
You are in this phase if you:
- Have already begun designing your book cover.
- Can tell which agents will “feel” you by their profile pic.
- Have saved the first or second draft of your MS as FINAL.
- Obsessive email checking (also found in other stages).
- Strong emotional responses to rejections (also found in other stages).
- Denial about the realities of querying.
- Fixed attachment to this draft of your MS.
Unfortunately, the only cure for STAGE ONE, is STAGE TWO.
STAGE TWO: PANIC
A mountain of rejections later, after you realize that the feeling from that dream agent’s profile pic was only gas, blind optimism is replaced with a soul crushing panic attack.
Maybe I am not as good as I thought? Maybe my MS is shit? Why don’t they like me? Is it my profile pic? Am I wrong about my destiny to be a writer?
The answer is yes and no. You are not wrong about your goal of being a writer, but you were wrong to think that all that is required to be a writer is…writing. Think about it. Professional athletes have to do more that play their sport. They have to train, eat right, connect with other athletes and adjacent professionals, tweek their process, change their style, and even smile for the cameras!
Writing is hard, but it’s also what we love to do. It is our version of play. And no professional anything becomes successful through play alone. STAGE TWO is about coming to terms with the reality that there is a difference between loving to write and becoming a professional writer.
You are in this phase if you:
- Have closed your computer/refused to look at your beautiful MS for over a month.
- Refuse to thank the agents who respond to your query, whether they give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
- Are questioning whether all of this is worth it to you.
- Feelings of despair
- Isolating from creative outlets
- Feelings of doubt, especially self-doubt (this is also found throughout other phases)
- Ambivalence about continuing the querying process.
- Projection of these feelings onto other people or areas of life.
This was a very difficult phase for me. Querying kicked the crap out of my ego and I found myself wading in a puddle of self-pity and borderline bitterness for nearly two months. Not because I am typically a negative person or because I consciously expected things to happen for me overnight. It was because I thought that getting an agent was my reward for all the insecurities I pushed through to write the book in the first place. We all have them.
I don’t have an MFA. I haven’t written before. I’m a stay at home parent. I’m LGBTQ, black, muslim, and/or woman. This world does not want to hear my story. Who am I to write a book?
To paraphrase Marianne Williamson, Who are you not too?
Cheer up! Here is what can help to raise you out of STAGE TWO.
- Remembering why you wrote your MS in the first place.
- Fighting for your characters and their right to exist.
- Knowing that there are countless people who need something to relate to, and you wrote a book they will want to read.
- Fall back in love with your characters.
Do this and there will be an ocean of writers welcoming you back to the querying arena with arms wide open.
STAGE THREE: TRIBING UP
Yes, I made tribing a verb.
Tribing (v).: The act of finding and connecting with one’s peoples.
Tribing is perhaps the most important stage of the #amquerying process. It took tweets from writers like A.C. Thomas, Meredith Ireland, Sheree L. Greer, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Fiona Zedde, Frederick Smith and countless others to drag me back into the game from the pits of STAGE TWO.
Ironically, much of this occurred through a Twitter contest, #DVPit, the brain child of Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency. I happened upon the hashtag the day of the contest. 140 characters later I had my first taste of life out of the slush pile! Thirteen agents liked my tweet and just like that I was sending direct queries. I have to say that emerging from the slush for the first time was like,
Not only did it connect me to agents, (who I immediately followed on Twitter along with a host of other writers), but authors held me up and tweeted their support for my entry! Soon I was stalking these contests and anyone hashtagging them. Not just for the opportunity to get out of the slush, but also for the chance to connect and grow my tribe.
Here, in this competitive gladiatoresque world of querying, I was discovering alliances! And why not? Who best to understand the struggle of the writing-to-writer transition than our fellow comrades who also know the bittersweetness of STAGES ONE and TWO!
My world was opened. My mind was blown.
And here is where we need to talk about relapse.
The flood of validation sent me soaring back to STAGE ONE, which by now you should know inevitably leads to STAGE TWO, and that ain’t good.
But what is good is that this time I got out of STAGE TWO in less that two months. I began to use the feedback from the rejections to revise, and I let go of the idea of having a “FINAL” draft. I realized that I had some serious issues with the first few chapters of my book, which is exactly what agents typially request. Agents were attracted to my premise, but something in the first few chapters was sending up red flags. So I found CPs (thanks Meredith!) and WOW! On my own I would never have caught it! I needed fresh eyes and a subjective person to show me what I was doing subconsciously, and to help me to fix it.
Fellow queryers, these manuscripts that we hold dear are living breathing things that must be allowed to grow and change in order to become our best work, and that is a beautiful thing. Revising is a beautiful thing.
If you embrace STAGE THREE you will gain:
- A support system of writers in your position and beyond.
- An ability to apply good feedback, and the discernment not to apply feedback that doesn’t fit.
- An appreciation for the time that agents put into their feedback, especially rejections.
- Opportunities to poke your head out of the slush pile, (be mindful of relapse).
- A clearer picture of what is required to become a professional writer.
Which brings us to the final stage.
STAGE FOUR: PERSEVERANCE
You have your tribe.
You are on draft five or six thanks to feedback from agents.
Your author quotes have exploded across your office/bedroom/kitchen wall.
You check your email as needed.
Now, all you can do is……….
Not give up.
Not when you slide back into STAGE ONE.
Not when you slide into STAGE TWO.
Not when your “dream” agent doesn’t “get your voice” (Remember the gas?)
Not when you are lost in revisions and cannot seem to remember which way is up.
There is only one guarantee in this #amquerying process.
If you don’t query, you don’t get an agent.
You know this.
You had to conquer this during the #amwriting phase. If you didn’t finish your MS, there would be nothing to query.
Same thing applies. No query, no agent.
Now that your tribe knows how awesome you are, they are never going to let you slip back into oblivion. Why? Because they want to celebrate with you! When one of us leaves #amquerying, it feels like a victory for us all. It restores our hope, and we get a healthy dose of the optimism of STAGE ONE, minus the crash and burn of STAGE TWO.
Look, I have made strides in my querying process. I have grown creatively and personally. On any given day I could be in any of these stages, and I have accepted that. What I refuse to accept is defeat. I cannot stop.
And I cannot let you stop either.
So no matter what stage you are in, consider me a part of your tribe. Let’s kick ass together.
When you finally find your dream agent, I promise to stop right in the middle of what ever stage I am an and do this,