Query blues

Hi fellow writers,

I started to send off my queries to literary agents about two weeks ago now. While it has been an incredibly exciting process, it’s also been quite depressing at times. A few days in, I received about five rejections and two proposal requests. It was here where I found myself standing between rejection and promise. “No worries”, I thought. Turns out there is still a bit of work that needs to be done from my side, as I have now seen about 20 rejections.

While my narrative nonfiction manuscript has been written and professionally edited in full – it just does not seem to be enough (can I cry now?). From what I have gathered, I need to explain how I’d market my book before any agent is willing to touch it. Sounds easy enough. I’m willing and able to help promote my book, whether it means spending full days on social media or endless travel. I still have close ties with the media industry and have an okay social media following from my journalism days. But again, the agents don’t think that that’s enough from my side. They want to know whether I’m in current publications or involved in lecturing on the topic of my manuscript. Ha – here’s the catch!

I have just spent the past year, locked inside a room, researching and writing this manuscript. That’s after quitting my job, to finally have the time to execute this project. Had I been researching, let’s say “the color black”, I’d have no trouble in delivering lectures or writing about my topic in publications. But as luck would have it, I decided to write about a controversial historical story. The book is about a group of guys who wanted to overthrow the South African government and attempted to assassinate late former president Nelson Mandela. While I was writing this book, I never once pictured myself becoming an “expert” on a group of right-wingers, nor do I understand why I should be.

That is the biggest wrench in the thinking process from my side at this stage. How does one lecture about such a topic or contribute to publications, before the book has been sold and published?  I just want to share the story and this has proven to be my greatest frustration. If an agent is not willing to look at the manuscript – how will stories like these ever see the light of day? While I have great appreciation for the ruthless querying process, I do not necessarily agree with the quick dismissal of historically important stories.

Will this book’s future hang in the balance, because of me not doing enough to “sell” it? This is the part I’m struggling with. The book is written. The research has been done. Yet, I need to “sell” history, in a sense. And I’m struggling to understand how that should be done.

Right now, I’m licking my wounds and gearing up for round two of polishing query letters and proposals. I would love to hear from you and your query experiences!

I’ll post an update as soon as the current situation has changed (I’m smiling as I type this).




28th October 2019 at 2:12 AM

Hey there, how did this end up turning out? I’m just googling the words querying blues, as I’ve been devoting my time now to publishing books I have written already too. I’ve been writing seriously since I was 18, now 37, and I have several books, I have been published before, but I’m trying to find a way to actually make money off of it, and self-publishing looks to be the best option for some of my projects. I wouldn’t rule that out either if I were you. The publishing industry is changing just like the music industry did, and we’re no longer behold to the gatekeepers.

But for nonfiction writers like yourself, it’s much more important to have a so-called following, I suppose just having a few articles and big-name publications about the subject already could help. Making some YouTube videos, etc but I understand you don’t want to just have this be your only thing that people associate you with, maybe making it broader could help with that.

    15th November 2019 at 9:27 PM

    Thanks for your message and advice Colette! I managed to get the book released a few months ago through an independent publisher. It really has been a tough process, but not tough enough to dissuade me from doing it again!

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