How the Agent Querying Process Feels a Lot Like High School

One time I joked with my husband that he’d basically ruined me as a poet. The writer in me had always thrived on the crushing disappointment of failed romance.  And pain!  And unrequited love! What was I supposed to write about now that I was in a secure and loving relationship? No one wants to read about stability and mutual respect.

Of course, that’s silly. Being in a strong relationship has made me a better person and given me so many gifts, including the confidence to more seriously pursue being a writer. But, as I worked on my YA novel,  I worried that one day I’d have trouble remembering that uncertainty that’s so specific to high school.

You know – those stomach knots you’d get trying to work up the courage to talk to THE guy. The conversations (the ones that barely qualified as conversations) that you’d go over in your head a million times so you could analyze every detail. (“He said ‘hey’ instead of ‘hi’ this time…I wonder what that means…”) And that moment when you finally accept that he just doesn’t feel the same way…

I mean, as a 30-something committed gal, how would I ever really stay in touch with such intense feelings of angst and disappointment?

I didn’t yet realize the answer was right in front of me.

Ways the Agent Querying Process Will Keep you in Touch with your Inner Teenager

Or

Oh yeah, I remember…

  1. Existing in a fairly consistent state of humiliation and having to just be ok with it. There was always something.  You got your period unexpectedly. Or you tripped in front of everyone. Or you didn’t have enough money to buy the right clothes. The levels of mortification varied by person and circumstance. But, overall, you were exposed, and you had to just deal with it. The query process can leave you feeling just as vulnerable. You’re basically baring your soul and asking for someone to find value in it. And not “showing up” isn’t an option if you want to be a writer.  You have to suck it up and deal. Unless you’ve already got representation, which brings me to the next item…
  2. Being a little jealous. Or a lot jealous. Unless you were them, there was some version of the “cool kids” and you wanted in. You thought about what it would be like to casually trade witticisms and joke together in the hallway. Update: the “cool kids” are published authors and their agents. And the “hallways” is Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is an awesome resource for researching the querying process, but reading the abbreviated, giddy, Agent/Author banter about new deals/interviews/book tours can be tortuous when you’ve got a fresh rejection email in your inbox.
  3. Rejection. Really, is there a more common theme for High School? I don’t think I need to explain what rejection looks/feels like in High School. Even if you’re not like me and don’t spend a lot of time trying to get in touch with your inner teen, that feeling is pretty close to the surface for most adults. Well, it’s just as accessible for debut authors. The comforting thing is that it’s also something that published authors talk about, too. Everyone from Jennifer Weiner to Stephen King has written about how much rejection they experienced trying to get published.
  4. But does he like like me?” Ok, so this was maybe even WORSE than straightforward rejection. The not knowing and second guessing and “what iffing.” Hope tempered with self-doubt – is there anything more excruciating? Yes, there is! Except now it’s typically more like “Does she like like me?”  When you get a little nibble and suddenly, before you can help yourself, you are imagining yourself as full time writer. But, then you have to reign in your hopes and dreams and remind yourself that it was just a manuscript request. You have a long way to go…But, then again, maybe she really does like you and your manuscript…and it will all work out…and you’ll be together forever…
  5. Hearing “Don’t listen to them – you’re beautiful and funny and smart!” This always came from the people who are too blinded by their unconditional love and support to be objective about anything. And not much has changed. Your family and friends still think you are awesome and can’t believe anyone would think differently. And you still feel half comforted and half frustrated because they “need to say that – you’re my mom/friend/husband.”
  6. Giggle-inducing excitement. I’ve talked about this a bit in other posts, but there is an intensity that comes with being a teenager. People like to blame it on hormones, but I think it’s also just the fact that you’re experiencing things for the first time ever. You still have the capacity to be completely surprised. You’re a little scared, but also excited about all the “firsts” you have in front of you. So excited that you often find yourself involuntarily jumping up and down . Or giggling for so long or laughing so hard that experience physical pain.

Despite everything else on this angst-ridden list, I do feel that. Every little inch of progress has me texting my friends and using way to many exclamation points for a grown person. I’m both scared and excited about the unknown. I have something to day dream about.

There are so few good surprises in life, that I guess I’m willing to deal with all the other stuff if it means I’ve got a few more “firsts” ahead of me. And, I know that when I do finally achieve my first big first,  there will be lots of giggling and jumping up and down.

Question: When’s the last time you felt high school level humiliation, rejection or excitement?

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