Query Quest

One writer's journey to getting published

Sarah Fister Gale

Sarah Fister Gale
Chicago, Illinois, USA
August 07
Sarah Fister Gale is a freelance journalist, novelist and wine-drinker based in Chicago. She is agented by the fabulous Jacquie Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates who is currently seeking a good home for her novel, Losing Jenni, a story of a little girl who drowns in the Chicago River, and the amazing choice her mother makes to cope with her loss. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGale.

JUNE 14, 2010 11:23AM

Query Quest #4: I am sad today

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Sunday was a good day. Despite overcast skies, I spent a glorious afternoon watching my son play in his soccer championship on the fields along the lovely Chicago lakefront. After a impressive second place finish in his division, we headed home to dine on a tender – and not at all dry – pot roast that had been simmering all day in my Crockpot.  

We played Scrabble, got in pjs, and I was just getting ready to tuck my kids into bed, when the day took a decidedly negative turn.

I hustled them up stairs to brush their teeth and called “I’ll be up in a minute,” as I slipped into my office for just one more look at my in-box.

I’d like to stop here are say, I’ve learned two important lessons about Sunday night emails, that I think are universal.


  • 1.      Agents read queries on the weekends.
  • 2.      You should never check your email right before going to bed, because you never know what kind of negativity and bad mojo has flung itself across the net to ruin your good night’s sleep.


 I was lured by the first lesson and completely ignored the second.

There in my in-box, Among the Victoria Secret adverts and updates on various Linked In groups I follow, was not one but two emails with the words “re: query” in the subject line. My heart raced and my fingers trembled as my mouse hovered over the missives.

The first was from an agent I had emailed just that morning with my carefully worded query and the first five pages of the book – per her submission guidelines. I half expected this email to be merely an automated response letting me know the agency had received my query and someone would respond in the next seven-to-10 weeks.

It wasn’t.

Having had my query for a mere 12 hours, the agent roundly rejected it. Her polite and encouraging email was clearly a form letter that she had probably dashed off to 20 other hopeful novelists yesterday evening – let that be a lesson to you all about the risks of Sunday night email reading.

And while she was a virtual stranger to me, I had researched the authors she supported, read her bio and combed through articles in which she’d been interviewed. Based on all that I really felt like my book was a good fit for her list and that we would have made a great team.

I was obviously wrong and that’s okay. When I began this process, I braced myself for rejections. I know the chances of winning an agent’s devotion through a one page query are slim,  and no form letter rejection from a virtual stranger was going to ruin my night.

Then I clicked on the second email.

It was from my friend Wendy’s agent. As you may remember from Saturday’s post, my dear friend Wendy Webb  introduced me to her agent and sang my book’s praises to her. I sent her the first three chapters a month ago at her request, and  had (foolishly?) hung a whole lot of hope on her loving what she read.

Perhaps she saw that blog post and wanted to be certain that every single ember of optimism that I may have attached to her response was completely and utterly doused. Needless to say, she didn’t love it.

Her exact words were:

Dear Sarah

Thank you for your sample chapters.  Unfortunately, I did not connect enough with them to want to see more.

Ouch. I’m sorry to say that line hurt me more than it should. There weren’t even any well-meaning platitudes encouraging me not to give up. Just a brisk “thank you but no” and off she went.

I felt like I’d been sucker punched and I laid awake for many hours last night feeling quite sorry for myself. I wanted her to like the book more than I care to admit and it made me ridiculously sad to be so summarily dismissed.

Now before you start thinking I'm too thin-skinned for this process, just stop right there.  I am well aware that this is a subjective business, and everyone’s got a different opinion, and my agent is out there somewhere. Blah blah blah. But these two rejections, back-to-back, hurt my feelings. And more importantly, they forced me to reckon with the possibility that maybe the book is not as good as I think.

Because to be honest, how do I know for sure? This story is a part of me. I lovingly created every line, every phrase, and every character, and it’s impossible for me to judge it's worth.

Just as I am certain that  my children are brilliant and gorgeous, and that I can still wear sleeveless shirts in the summer, I believe my book is smart, and poignant, and cleverly written. I think people will love it if they are given a chance to read it. But what if I’m wrong? What if it’s terrible and I just can’t see it?

I have no real clarity on the subject, and who among the people I love enough to actually show the book is ever going to tell me otherwise?

So my only choice is to sit here and wait for some agent, who has absolutely no stake in my feelings one way or the other, to tell me exactly what they think of me and my book.

I thought I had the moxy to deal with these rejections -- and I do. I just need to toughen up a bit. I know these are not the first rejections I will receive, and I also know that I will get over the hurt feelings, eventually.

In an effort to do just that, tonight I plan to drink an entire bottle of wine while consuming a full box of mac and cheese – fat grams be damned -- and promise myself to send out more queries tomorrow.

I have also made another promise to myself, which I will record here with you as my witness so I can’t possibly worm my way out of it.

That promise is this: I will not give up on this book until it has been seen by at least one hundred agents – or until one of them agrees to sign me.

That’s right, I will send out no fewer than 100 queries if need be to find my perfect agent match. Hopefully it won’t take that long, but on the off chance number 99 is the one, I’ll not give up.

If what they say is true, my agent is out there just waiting to slog through their query slush pile to find my letter. When it finally rises to the top, they will take one look and say: “Yes! This is the book I’ve been searching for all my career. This is the writer I will sign today!”

Until that day, I’ll be laying in supplies of wine and pasta, and rethinking the sleeveless shirts.


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I feel your pain. Really. Rejection hurts. No matter how many you receive, you never really become inured to the shock of rejection. Try not to internalize the negative reactions of these agents.
First, Peter is right - Rejection hurts, and really, no one is immune from that pain, no matter how many acceptances he or she has had. But I'd like to say a few other things from my perspective as someone who's published several books. One is that every book I've published was, at an earlier point in the process, rejected by someone else. Sometimes this was because it didn't fit with their tastes or vision; other times it was because I hadn't gotten it to professional standards. So there is rarely a single reason why you don't place a manuscript. This leads me to the second thought, which is the importance of continuing to produce new work while at the same time staying informed about the needs of the market. I've spoken with so many people who want to publish books who have, when I've asked about their reading, admitted that they don't read contemporary books in the genre in which they're writing. This puts them at a huge disadvantage in terms of submitting. (Plus, they're not supporting writers who slogged through this whole process, which makes it a little odd that they think others might support them down the road.) I'm assuming you're doing that, but for those out there who might be reading these comments, please, please do your homework. Lastly, please be compassionate with yourself. We're in an era where book sales are in steep decline, and as a result agents are taking on a lot less, if they take on anything at all. So your rejection could be as much a matter of timing as anything else. Don't take any of it personally. Just keep submitting, studying the market, and applying your insights about the market to that manuscript and the next one. Most of all - good luck! Your blog is nicely written, so I have no doubt that your book-length work has much merit.
Writing is so tough. Not the writing itself but the fact that what you write is a gift and just like having a carefully chosen Christmas gift dismissed, a novel, a short story, an essay which is rejected hurts. I like your spirit. Send it out to 100 agents AND start writing something else, that other novel you have bubbling up. Enter that world. Build it. Peer deep into its corners. And breathe.
Thanks everyone for your encouragement. I'm still plugging along and writing every day.
Maybe today will be the day...