Querying? Here’s How to Speed Up the Process

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Regardless of whether you’re sending off a short 300-word article or a novel, querying is a major part of a writer’s life. The trouble is, it can take an ungodly amount of time if you don’t create and use a strategy. Here’s what you can do to speed things along and get good results.

1. Create a drafts folder in your email.

For every piece you have, create a query letter in your email. Place the drafts in a separate folder that is clearly labeled, and unless the submission guidelines state otherwise, place “[query–[Last Name]–Title of Piece] in the subject line. The only blank areas should be the recipient’s name and the date. This allows you to search for the draft within your email client, and when you send it out and get responses back, you can see at a glance which submission you’re getting messages about.

Once you have your query drafts, when you find a publication, editor, or agent you want to send it to, copy the text into a fresh email. Then fill in the name and date details and add any information you can to personalize it, such as similar titles the publication has run.

2. Set up auto-reminders.

Tasks like sending follow-up emails or noting that an agent is past their typical response time can be difficult to keep track of. Use a system like Query Tracker or even Google Docs to set reminders about each task. This way, you don’t have to spend extra time double-checking whether you’re up-to-date–you can just follow your reminders as you go and get ‘er done.

3. Use color coding.

If you’re tracking everything in a spreadsheet, color coding will allow you to quickly sort your rows and columns by the status of the query, type of query (e.g., fiction), or other factors.

4. Summarize guidelines. 

For every publisher, agent, or editor you want to submit to, create a spreadsheet row with all pertinent information you’d need to submit, such as the agent’s name or the query email address. Include a cell in this summary row with a link to the submission guidelines for later reference. Then, in a final cell, list all of the pieces you plan to submit to that publisher, editor, or agent. This way, you don’t spend time looking up website URLs again, and you quickly can cross off agents, publishers, or editors for each piece after a query is finished.

5. Schedule time.

Many writers query whenever they have a moment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But scheduling time in advance allows you to get in the frame of mind to work with real focus, and you can set yourself up to work when you know you’ll have quiet or won’t get interrupted. It also makes it less likely that you’ll push the querying to the back burner, as it’s an official calendar event.

Remember, no matter what hacks you use to make querying go a little faster, it’s still a process that’s going to take a few months at a minimum. Most publishers, agents, and editors have a standard response time of eight to 12 weeks, although some will respond in two to four weeks. So no matter how many queries you can get out, you’ll have waiting to do. Since you’re going to have time on your hands, my advice is always to have multiple irons in the fire. Work in batches, tweak based on the feedback you get, and then try again.

5 Things Writers Never Should Say

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Writers are supposed to be great with words. But there are a few phrases I sometimes hear from those in the profession that, in total honesty, drive me up the wall. These are the ones I hope you scrape from your vocabulary.

1. I don’t know.

Come on now, people. We have Google. If you don’t know something, you can look it up. If you can’t look it up, you can ask someone, such as a mentor or your librarian. Remind yourself that good sources give authority and credibility to your writing, and then go research and find out. If someone won’t answer your questions, or if you discover there really is no data, then report that.

2. I never read…because…

Ever heard the saying that the best defense is a good offense? Well, you can’t refute what you don’t even know. And the more familiar you are with what’s out there, the more you can pinpoint what you personally want to avoid, what works, and what inspires you most. Educate yourself and explore so you can have a real, justified, and experienced opinion.

3. The editor/publisher/agent just has it out for me/doesn’t know good writing!

Most editors, publishers, and agents have spent years in the field and learned from seasoned professionals in the industry. They also have a fiduciary interest in helping you, because without you, their jobs go poof. So even though it never hurts to get a second or even third or fourth opinion, trust that they know what they’re talking about and be open to the fact you have the opportunity to learn something.

4. Writing is easy.

Writing might come naturally to you, but it also requires tons of hard work and dedication. Don’t dismiss that, or others are more likely to dismiss what you do as fluff stuff not worth real support. Always tell people what the experience is really like, warts and all.

5. I want to be like [Some Writer]!

It’s fine to aspire and appreciate what someone else has accomplished as an author. But your path is uniquely your own. Strive for your own voice and way of accomplishing, because the odds are you’ll never have the exact resources or opportunities another writer has had. If there’s someone you look up to, pinpoint the traits they have that you value and find practical ways to develop them in yourself. Always define success on your own terms, not someone else’s.

Bored as a Writer? This Is Probably Why

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You know the feeling. You stare at your computer screen (or your pad of paper) and just think, “Meh.”

It’s “boredom” in all its ugly glory. But does this feeling really mean you’re not interested in putting words to the page anymore? Should you stop prioritizing your writing because of it and move on to something else?

The usefulness of boredom–and the trouble with writing

Boredom is a useful emotion that signals us that, for whatever reason, the task we’re doing isn’t worth our time. Put another way, it’s about perception and reward. Applied to writing, if we don’t feel like the writing is going to yield anything good, if we can’t see that there’s an achievable benefit, then we can feel like the job is ho-hum and lose motivation.

The issue is that, unlike some other jobs, reaching goals like finding an agent or landing a book contract can be ridiculously difficult. We can go days, weeks, or even months without a sale. Rejections can be so plentiful that we start taking the suggestion to use all the “no” letters as wallpaper seriously. Beta readers might have great insights you take to heart, but positive feedback doesn’t come as consistently as it might from coworkers or a boss.

It all starts to seem like there’s no point.

It’s normal to need some wins to stay motivated

If you step back a bit, you might realize that the feeling of boredom you have really is simply that you’re antsy to have something happen. You’re still in love with the craft. It’s just that people naturally want to do things that other people acknowledge. It gives us a sense of belonging and identity. We’re always looking for that. You just need some confirmation that, if you keep putting in the work, then people will admit that it’s part of you and actually useful.

2 tips for eliminating “meh” and getting excited about your writing again

I explored the need for you to have a support group in a previous post. The better your support group is, the less likely it is that you’ll probably get bored with your writing. If you don’t have a great support group yet, though, then it’s incredibly important to reward yourself for the writing you finish. Give yourself something to look forward to related to the page, even if it’s just a drive-thru coffee you normally wouldn’t splurge on, so you can make positive associations with the work.

It also can help to put your work away. Looking at the same drafts over and over again can start to seem monotonous really fast, which can contribute to boredom. Setting your work aside for a little while and then coming back to it can help you see it with fresh eyes and keep it feeling novel (pun intended).

You’re still meant to put words to the page, so do it

The bottom line is, don’t let a feeling of boredom convince you that writing isn’t what you’re meant to do. Instead, make sure that you’re getting rewarded for it, whether by others or on your own. Be able to rotate out what you’re working on so it doesn’t seem like you’re stuck in a rut so much. By building in variety and giving yourself positive confirmations of value, you’ll stay happy and motivated to write.

Why You Need a Support Group as Writer

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In a recent post on his website, author Max Florschutz wrote about the need for writers to have a support group. Writing, he rightly notes, comes with very real stress. To get through it, you need someone–or a few someones–who back you, not only as an author, but as the individual of high value you always are.

I could not agree with this sentiment more. It’s incredibly tough to know if we’re headed in the right direction. We sometimes need some good advice on how to organize, or to have someone talk us through early mornings when writing seems like a chore. A support group can tip us off on tools, prompts, techniques and events that can move us forward.

All of this matters. From my perspective, though, you should have people in your court for an entirely different reason than overcoming technical anxieties and hurdles–to validate writing as a profession. 

All too often, what’s most stressful about writing isn’t figuring out where to send queries or editing a draft (again). It’s not figuring out how to fix plot holes or trying to get words on the page while family life divides your attention. What messes with your head the most is fighting the negative connotations being a writer has, the idea that it is “barely” a job or isn’t serious work.

We tend to get a sense of identity from our jobs, like it or not. Without a support group or individuals who can reassure you, it’s all too easy to wonder who you are or where you fit into the big picture. Without people to counter the feedback that questions your art, it’s simple to think that maybe you’re making a mistake in creating characters and worlds, or that you’re foolish for not doing other work.

And if you think that you’re foolish for writing or that there’s a better path, then guess how high the likelihood is that you’ll quit.

Whether you tap your spouse, find a writer’s group online or toss your writing at neighbors, don’t underestimate the power of finding people to walk your writing journey with you. As Florschutz points out, your support people don’t have to be other writers. They can be anyone who will hear out your dreams, be real with you and lift you up. Commit to finding them and the work will be not only technically easier, but far more enjoyable, too.

The Editor’s Role

Editors have a bad rap. In the writing world, they’re often the stinky cheese in the refrigerator of fairness and creativity. But why?

During the editing process, it’s the editor’s job to tweak content in multiple ways. He first checks that everything is relevant to the topic and that the flow of the content makes sense. Then he starts making cuts or additions, trying to improve the amount of information or make the content more real to the reader. The final step is to check that everything is okay in terms of grammar, spelling and formatting. These steps often drastically improve a draft.

The trouble is, a writer takes writing personally. He gets attached to his creations, viewing them as little children who grow, develop and finally make their way into the world. When an editor starts fiddling with the content, the writer’s initial reaction is to wince rather than give thanks. It’s as if the editor is telling him he’s been a bad parent, as if all his careful effort still created one penny short of a dollar.

So the writer does what is natural. He shifts blame from himself to the editor, because it is only then that he can keep his self-developed illusion about his own mastery of his craft. The editor becomes the villain, and in the worst case scenario, the writer can’t help but argue with the editorial decisions as a means of defending his own ego.

The reality is, editors aren’t out for blood. They don’t purposely look for things to pick apart, and they certainly don’t like arguing with the writers with whom they work. They’d give their left kidney for a pool of clients who truly realized how much they want the writers to succeed.

So what does this mean for a writer? It means that, to really get good, collaborative effort going, to hone a text to the finest it can ever be, there has to be at least a little emotional distance from the writing so the editor doesn’t become the enemy. It is this distance that keeps the writer’s mind open to new possibilities, that lets him rationalize about what to do next and what writing path ultimately is best.