Path to Publication: Querying

After finishing my second novel on New Years’ Eve 2018, I focused on becoming more comfortable introducing myself as a writer. And as such, I got used to the exchange that inevitably followed this revelation:

Person: That’s cool, what have you written?

Me: I’ve got two finished novels that I’m actively querying.

Person: That you’re actively what now?

This is how I learned that “querying” is not a word people outside of the publication world are familiar with. But for me, after months of prep before I started querying, and then months spent actively querying, the word was a key part of my everyday vocabulary. It was a key part of who I was.

The querying process is overwhelming. It’s all-encompassing and all-consuming. Yet despite the certainty of rejection, despite knowing that most of the letters you will send will come back with a form letter saying your work isn’t good enough. Despite all that, there is something empowering about the whole process.

Getting to the querying point is an incredible achievement for a writer. It signifies that they have a) finished writing an entire book; b) edited that book several times and c) are willing to put themselves out there and open to rejection in pursuit of their dream.

It is also a crazy roller coaster ride of emotions. For example, my first response from one of my top agent picks was a request for a full manuscript. Straight out of the gate with a positive response. I was feeling good.

And then the onslaught of rejects came in. Mostly form rejections, all encouraging me not to give up. Reminding me that their opinion was only one of many. It was hard.

Then…a beacon of light…another request. And then, more rejections. Then a partial request. Yay! Then, the worst, the rejection of my full manuscript from that very first agent. Oh, that one hurt.

But I kept going. Researching agents, personalizing query letters, participating in online pitching events. It was through #PitMad – a twitter pitching event – that I really struck gold with this tweet:

One of the editors that liked it was from Audible Originals. I’m a huge audiobook fan and listen to Audible every day but had never considered this format for my book. However, as soon as the option was there I knew it was a good one for Can’t Take It Back.

After a few emails back and forth about what it would look like to publish with Audible, I sent Lara my full MS and went back to querying. Just under two months later I got the email that every author wants.

“Can we hop on a call to talk more?”

The call with Lara was an incredible experience for me. It was the first time I talked to someone other than my family, friends or critique partner about my book. The first time that someone in the publishing industry quoted one of my lines back to me, complimented my writing and said they wanted to help make my dream a reality.

It was all very exciting but I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing things a little bit backward. I didn’t even have a literary agent yet and while I could have gone forward without one, I didn’t want to. So after getting off the phone with Lara with a promise I would hear more from her in about a month, I wrote back to every agent I had queried with a nudge saying I had a pending deal with a publisher.

The replies were varied, a few requested my full MS right away, a few said thanks but no thanks, a few never replied at all. And then Katie wrote back and from our first emails, I just knew.

(Interestingly, I almost didn’t nudge her because she had never replied to my original query at all. But she was on my list of “dream agents” and I told myself if there was ever a time to take a chance it was now…oh how I’m glad I did.)

Katie read my manuscript in a couple of days and then made that magical request for a call. The call simply cemented everything I was feeling from our first correspondence. She understood who I was as a writer and a person. She saw a career for me beyond this book and wanted to help me achieve my goals.

I let my gut instincts guide me and I said yes to Katie. From there she took over negotiations with Audible and I had sat back and marveled at how my life had changed so quickly.

I queried for four and a half months with CAN’T TAKE IT BACK and submitted to fifty-four agents in several waves. My results were eight requests, twenty-eight rejections, and eighteen no responses. 

My numbers are a lot less than some and a lot more than others. There is no magic number for queries. There are no guarantees. But if you keep at it, if you believe in yourself, it can happen.

All you need is one yes.

Leave a Reply

  • Thank you, Kelly. I’m deep in the querying trenches, and this is just what I needed to read today! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I”m looking forward to Can’t Take It Back in April. I’m such a fan of audible ( dinner and cleaning would simply not get done in my house without it). I discovered Kelly Harms through audible originals, and now look forward to all of her books.
    Best of luck to you!

    -Kelley McGee

    • Hi Kelley!

      I’m so glad that reading my story helped you. I know querying is tough but keep going and you will get there. You just need that one yes! Are you doing #PitMad tomorrow? If you are I will watch for your tweets and be sure to share them.

      And thank you so much for your support of Can’t Take it Back. It means the world to me when I hear that people are looking forward to listening to it.

      Feel free to reach out on social media anytime. I have benefitted so much from the support of other authors on every step of my publishing journey and I definitely want to return the favour.

      All the best,

  • Thanks so much, Kelly–that is really kind of you. You’re right – it only takes one yes! I do plan on doing #Pitmad tomorrow and will keep sending out the queries. I’ve had a handful of requests this week for fulls, so that’s always encouraging. Good luck with your launch – April is coming up fast! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’ll watch for your PitMad tweets and share. Good luck! A handful of request for fulls is awesome! You are clearly on the right track.

      Yes, April is coming up fast. FAR too fast for me actually as I can’t wait for my release day but don’t think I will ever actually be ready. ๐Ÿ™‚

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