I entered into 2022 with high hopes: it’s time to pitch my novel, The Queen of Whitman Court! I planned to dive right into it, sending out letters left and right and every which way to any editor or agent who might possibly give me a chance—
But if you’ve been following along with my writing updates, you’ll know that those high hopes were quickly squashed by a dose of reality: I wasn’t quite ready yet. I workshopped the first few pages of The Queen of Whitman Court at a critique day with SCBWI in January. I took that feedback and decided I needed another round of edits, thus delaying the pitching process. So I made the edits, then finally sent out my first query letters in late March/early April. They received no response, to be expected, and I held off on sending any more out, anticipating my upcoming regional conference (which I wrote about in my last writing update). The result of that conference? I needed to make yet another round of edits. Getting practical, direct feedback from an editor and agent on my first few pages and query letter prompted me to reconsider positive changes to my book that I needed to make.
If you’re unfamiliar with pitching and query letters, here’s a brief explanation. Pitching is the process of selling your book. Query letters are how that pitch happens: you write a catchy hook, explain what your book is about, and give some details on why you’re an author worth working with. These go to both editors (those who manage publishing house submissions) and literary agents (those who will help you sell your book to said editors). It’s difficult as a debut (or new) author to get your book sold, especially since most publishing houses—the BIG ones you might be most familiar with in particular—don’t accept “unsolicited manuscripts,” or, in other words, don’t want to hear your pitch at all unless they ask you to send them something. This is why an agent can be super helpful, or meeting editors face-to-face at a writing conference can build connections and give you a foot in the door. (Although side note about agents – some of them don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts either.)
In short, it is hard to get published as a newbie. (And, to clarify, my indie publication, Our Company of Fools, doesn’t help me at all, unless it suddenly becomes an Amazon bestseller overnight.)
Originally, I wanted to wait to write this post about my experiences pitching, but I’ve learned so much in the five months since I started getting serious about this that I wanted to write my initial thoughts now. I hope this might be insightful or encouraging to those of you in a similar stage or who want to be published one day.
To sum up my Whitman Court pitching experiences in a single word, it’s been humbling. Pride is an age-old vice of mine, and this whole pitching ordeal has forced me to confront it in yet another way. While I entered this process expecting the actual sale of Whitman Court to take some time, I certainly felt confident in my work and in my query letter. It was easy to be tempted to hope to get a quick bite because of my own so-called brilliant piece of literature—thoughts which were quickly proved false, thankfully. I love my books, don’t get me wrong, and I believe they’re worthy of being published, but they’re no more brilliant or special compared to all the other novels of debut authors who also want to sell their books.
Beyond humbling my overly high view of my own work, this ordeal has been humbling through prompting me to consider that I’m not as ready for pitching as I thought. For much of my life, I’ve erred on the side of perfectionism, but since publishing Our Company of Fools, I seem to have shifted to a more aggressive “I’ll never know if I’m ready until I try” mantra–which may have led me to jump into pitching prematurely. The loop of thinking “Okay, now it’s done,” only to be met by a “back to the drawing board” moment has made me reconsider my self-proclaimed readiness. I do feel like I’m almost there, but I certainly have a greater awareness that I still have a lot to learn. That’s not a bad thing by any means! I’m glad the Lord has given me a spirit of humility able to receive these lessons instead of getting ruffled up with pride the way I once might have. I really want to approach the whole pitching my first novel thing with the posture of a student. After all, I’ve never done this before, so how could I perfectly know what I’m doing? There’s only so much books and conference sessions can teach me without my first dive into the experience pool.
There’s three big takeaways from my brief engagement with pitching my novel. First, I need to be patient—with myself. Like I said, I’ve been quick to jump in, perhaps before I was truly ready. It’s easy to get frustrated at all of these setbacks and to let those setbacks push me into a cycle of imposter syndrome, thinking I’m not a good enough writer or regretting the pitches I’ve already sent out. Yet I wouldn’t know I still have work to do on my book without first trying and getting that feedback in return.
It’s also easy to get frustrated at how slowly things are moving, both on the publishing side and with my own work. I want to get drafts repolished quickly and move on to the next writing project (namely, writing a new book this year!), and yet my current life pace limits my ability to move fast, as I’m tied up with a full-time job and extra commitments after hours. As I wrestle with setbacks and a slower pace, I’m reminded that I need to be patient. There’s no timeline dictating when things in my writing career have to happen; I’m putting that on myself. Yes, as a writer with no deadlines yet, I do have to motivate myself to work when I can as efficiently as I can, but I also have the luxury of patience and the space to really make The Queen of Whitman Court the best it can be. My future books may not have that luxury. Patience is a blessing, and a needed part of my writing life in this season.
Second, I need to be persistent. As I mentioned before, imposter syndrome can be a side effect of these setbacks. It would be easy to throw in the towel early and say Whitman Court will never be good enough and move on. Yet—writing and getting published isn’t supposed to be easy. Whitman Court has had a decently smooth run as a writing project thus far. It’s only natural that things would get bumpy as I move with it into unfamiliar territory. If I can’t persist now with a project that is fairly easy for me to write and revise, how will I stay the course with my longer, more complex fantasy series? How will I persist through getting that publishing contract and working on final edits with the publisher? Dreams don’t come easily, they come with hard work and endurance. This season of pitching and refining my draft has been a good practice in persistence, one that I’ve admittedly needed. I don’t always feel motivated to persevere, though. Sometimes I need to step back and remember why I love this book and what I believe it can communicate to its readers. That gives me the reminder I need to keep going.
Finally, I need to be practical about all of this. Truthfully…I have no idea how long getting Whitman Court published will take. A couple of years before I get a deal? Five years? A decade more? This is where patience and persistence meets. I have to be realistic. If there are problems with my manuscript, I need to fix them before moving forward, or the day of seeing my published book on the bookstore shelves will never happen. Also, publishing deals don’t happen overnight, and I’m likely going to get a lot more rejection letters—or just flat out silences—before it happens. While I would love to say by the end of 2022 “I have a publishing deal!”…I don’t know how likely that is. I would love for that to be the case, without a doubt, but I also have to temper my excitement with a bit of realism. Patience and persistence helps me stay grounded to the practicality, while driving me forward with joy and humility to pursue this dream of being a published author.
If you’re an author in a similar stage in your writing, I’d love to chat about your experience and the ways you’ve been struggling (or thriving!) through a season of pitching. If you’re a writer still hoping to be published one day, I hope this has given you a little insight or perhaps encouragement. Let’s keep moving forward together towards our writing dreams, shall we?