Querying and Mental Health: Part 1
Updated: Aug 10
Are you ready for the ride?
There are few things so difficult as navigating the minefield that is the path to becoming a published author. And querying is most definitely not for the faint of heart. I'm sure you know that already, but it's worth repeating a million times.
If you're just starting out on this journey, you really need to be prepared for the rollercoaster ride of emotions and the heavy toll on your psychological well-being. If you're already a querying pro, you know what I'm talking about.
There are endless resources out there to guide you through the mechanics of querying (some excellent, some not), but not many that talk about the mental and emotional side of the journey. So that's what I want to talk about. The weirdness of querying, the way it will mess with your head, the pain involved.
Every querying writer goes through this, to a greater or lesser extent. Know that feeling overwhelmed and underconfident, excited and terrified, buoyant and more deflated that you ever thought possible all at the same time is to be expected. These feelings are okay. And you are not alone.
To sign with an agent, you will need not only enormous talent and a huge amount of hard work, but also courage, determination, resilience, vulnerability and emotional stamina.
First of all, you actually have to write a novel. This in itself is a HUGE thing.
You need an idea for a story that's worth telling. Then you need to learn about story structure, narrative arcs, character development, inciting incidents, voice, dialogue, action, tension, foreshadowing... the list is endless. There is much to learn, and I doubt if any author alive or dead has learnt it all.
Next, you need to put all that new-found knowledge into writing several thousand words that are interesting, exciting and worthwhile enough that other people are going to want to read them.
Then you have to edit, refine and revise those several thousand words several thousand times. Until they shine like diamonds.
Completing a novel is an enormous achievement. It can take months, years, decades. But that is the easy part. Next comes the bit where you have to get brave and share the innermost workings of your brain and all the red-raw pieces of your heart with other people. Terrifying stuff.
Finding critique partners that you trust is not as hard as it may sound. I don't know the numbers, but my experience tells me that there are many, many millions of us aspiring writers out there, all desperate to connect with each other and confirm we're not alone in our weird choice of obsession.
Luckily, most of us are kind and open-hearted, only too happy to share knowledge, swap ideas and talk writing with other like-minded souls. Even so, giving and receiving feedback can be a challenge emotionally. It's hard to separate your self-worth from the words on the page when they feel literally like they were forged by your own tears, sweat and blood.
But inviting feedback is not the hard part either. When you've spent <insert here whatever insane amount of time applies to you> on writing the novel, requesting feedback, providing feedback for others, making sense of the feedback, actioning the feedback, editing and revising several more times... then it's time to really up the self-flagellation stakes and start sending your baby out to agents.
If you've got this far, you truly already deserve all the praise. You are AMAZING!
Now take a deep breath. No, deeper than that.
Because this is where it gets messy.
This is where you serve up your soul on a silver platter.
You will spend hours (probably hundreds of them) agonizing over which agents to send it to, carefully personalizing each submission, copying and pasting the opening of your novel (a different number of pages/chapters for each agent, obviously!), proof-reading each letter a gazillion times and hovering nervously over the send button, sometimes for days on end.
When you've finally plucked up the courage to press send (and noticed the most glaring typo only after doing so), then you must sit back and deal with the demons of self-doubt that will inevitably invade your mind.
You will ridicule yourself for ever imagining that any agent will be interested in your hopeless attempt at writing a book.
You will curse yourself for wasting so many hours/days/years/decades of your life on such a fruitless endeavor.
You will fool yourself that you can deal with rejection.
Some days, you will raise your hopes up so high that you will make bets with yourself about who will take the leading role in the screen adaptation of your future-bestselling book.
And other days, your absurd hopes will be cruelly dashed. This will happen so many times that you will start to question whether you can ever expect or deserve anything good to happen to you again. Not just in relation to your writing, but your whole life.
You will also spend countless hours creating and endlessly updating a spreadsheet to track your dates and numbers, checking your in-box several thousand times a day, scrolling through Twitter and Query Tracker to second guess which of the agents you've queried are actively requesting fulls or signing new clients, and trying to predict how, if and/or when your query might fit into their busy schedules.
Of course, all of this is unknowable and the whole thing, after you've hit send, is a pointless exercise that will achieve nothing except increase your stress and anxiety to stratospheric levels. You know this full well. But you keep doing it anyway! Because how else do you deal with this whole process?
Am I being melodramatic? Maybe. A little. But also honest.
If you've read this far, you may be nodding in agreement because you've been there and felt this. Or if you're about to start querying, you may be thinking 'that won't be me, I'll handle it better'. Or perhaps you're thinking 'yeah, I know what's coming and I'm up for it - bring it on!'. Wherever you're at, I wish you luck. You're going to need it.
In my next post, I'll be sharing tips for surviving the querying rollercoaster.