Keeping a Hook in the Water: How the Querying Process is Like Fishing

I spent a lot of time as a kid out fishing with my dad. I learned to cast my line and reel it back in (usually with a weed). Sometimes we trawled along slowly (definitely an effective way to catch weeds). I haven’t gone fishing in years since, but as I’ve been sending out my monthly quota of queries, I’ve been thinking about how the querying process is like fishing.

First, you start with the hook – no secret there, since we even call it a hook. This is the short encapsulation of the novel or project you’re querying about. But, I think other than the hook, we also need to remember that the rest of the query is itself a hook, and should be the right color and type to fit the fish (ie: tailored to the agent / publisher we’re querying). Usually they’re more than happy to help you with this, and you can figure it out by checking out their page, blogs, tweets, other postings – some often very specific about what they want in their query. After all, they’re going to be happier if the “hook” is right for them.

Then, you have to have the bait. To me, I feel that instead of a slimy worm, we tend to include a synopsis and sample chapters. Just as the tailored hook is important, the right bait is necessary to catch what you’re after: some want only the query, some want five pages, others five chapters, etc. Some don’t want romance, or sci fi, or fantasy, or whatever.¬† Use the submissions guidelines to help ensure that your “bait” is exactly what they’re hungry for.

Now, you cast that baited hook out into the waves and tidewaters of the postal service, or more commonly now, the internet.

And then you have the part of fishing (and querying) that I’ve always found the hardest: the waiting. Your little query bobs along out there with the thousands of others. Sometimes it will get caught on the boat (like when it gets trapped in a spam filter or the post office loses it). Sometimes you’ll catch weeds or the wrong kind of fish (rejections of course, along with agents and publishers who may not have the best intentions).

If you’re like me, you’ll get impatient, you’ll want to reel it in faster, but here’s where the fishing analogy doesn’t quite carry through: we have no control over when or if we’ll receive a reply. All we can hope for is to land that perfect, prize-winning fish: the agent or publisher that fits us the best, and we them.

Because of course, agents and publishers aren’t really fish (and I hope you didn’t expect me to carry through with the catching and eating of said fish.) What we’re really hoping to find –¬† particularly when searching for an agent – is a business partner. It’s just that in this industry, it doesn’t quite work the same as others.

And if you get down, because your hooks all come up empty and no one is biting or too many weeds, maybe you can comfort yourself with the idea that there’s some big fish lurking down there who really wants your hook and bait – you just have to cast it a bit closer. Remember too, that as my dad always reminded me when I started to whine and get bored, that you can’t catch any fish with your hook out of the water. So, keep sending out those queries, keep baiting your hook perfectly, and when you catch weeds or rejections, clean the hook off, re-bait it, and cast it out again. Who knows what – or who – is waiting out there for you.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Perseverance or Tenacity: Keep on Pushing

This morning I read a blog post that I wanted to share because I think it’s something we all need to consider, especially if trying to succeed in an industry like publishing, or the arts, or … well really, if you want to succeed at anything, accomplish a particular dream, I don’t suppose it matters what industry you’re in.

Anyway, the blog post is: Taking Perseverance to a Whole New Level by Lara Schiffbauer

For me, it arrived at a fortunate time since it’s the end of the month, and in my accidental-wasn’t-planning-to-make-them goals for 2012, I’m trying to stick to sending out at least 3 queries a month, which usually means it falls on the last Monday or Wednesday of the month. Anyway, sending out things like queries can seem a very daunting task, since it always seems to take far more time than you anticipate, and there is that fear that it won’t get the result you desire anyway.

So, onto the blog post by Lara Shiffbauer. Go read her post first, then come back … okay, did you read it? Did you come back?

Anyway, she talks about the big-brother to perseverance, or at the very least, another close relative: tenacity. This being that you stick to what you’re doing without doubting the principle / reasons why you’re sticking with it. It means you can’t second-guess the quality of your work, the potential for failure (or success), all the insidious kinds of “what-ifs” that can assail us. And as I mentioned before, while “what if” can be a terrific friend when we’re working on a piece of fiction, it’s a dark and wily foe if you bring it into real life (you know, the same kind of thing that makes you wonder the horrible reasons your spouse is late, when really, they’re just picking up milk? Yep, that’s Mr. Not-so-nice What-if.)

Really, if you consider it, the questioning of our style of writing, the quality, the marketability, our potential for success, etc, etc, etc, while we do need to assess this at least a little I think, too much assessment (that becomes obsession or brooding), will quickly become the enemy of perseverance. Afterall, what’s the point continuing to fight onward if you’re just going to fail anyway?

Because you can’t succeed if you give up.

When I gloomily suggest all queries will result in rejections (uhoh – getting into superlative and unhelpful description¬† like “always” and “never” isn’t good), he’s quick to point out that they certainly can’t say yes if they didn’t get a query.

So, how do you need to keep on pushing? How could blind tenacity help you where perseverance might fail? What kind of queries or cold-calls do you have to make to make sure someone on the other end can say yes?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.