The Story of Queryland (or, Why We Should Love Rejection)

Once upon a time, in a faraway place known only to writers as “Queryland,” fiction writers friends of mine sent, on average, 80-100 queries to find their agent. I’m talking about writers who have since sold multiple books, future award-winners, New York Times bestsellers.

But those accolades came later, in Publishington. In Queryland, the writers had not yet sold a single word, nary a letter!

It was very hard to live there. They checked their email obsessively. They printed out rejection emails and made wallpaper for their studio apartments. They set fire to the paper. They wrote short stories and poetry to get away from fiction. They drank heavily. They smoked sometimes. They smoked all the time. None of their friends and family understood why they didn’t just move on up to Readerstown, where people actually enjoyed stories and an individual might find a steady paycheck doing something that would pay for an entire library of books. Sometimes the authors looked to Readerstown with envy as they continued to cry and laugh and swear and write. Some days they swore off writing all together.

They also listened. They learned. They did their research. They read everything.

Then they went back to work. And they made the work better.

In the end, they each found the right agent. They moved to Publishington and made good friends with Readerstown. They won awards. They made a living teaching and editing and supporting other writers, and kept writing books. The only unfortunate part is that they often tried to vacation in “Balanceville,” which is sad because it is a made-up place that doesn’t exist.


Almost the end. I’ve noticed that the new fiction writer’s standard is different from the experienced writer. We know much less about the industry and process. The new fiction writer has already worked so hard to finish a book, it seems impossible that there’s no medal at the finish line (I kind of agree with this–my current medal is made out of yogurt tops and paperclips, ala “The Office”).

But writing is art, and art is subjective. It takes a long time to find your audience, and that includes your agent, editor, readers. Art is a long game. Art demands continued faith in the work, stamina, an unwillingness to quit, a willingness to learn and change, learning what advice to take and what to leave.

This all takes time. Pitchwars, contests of any kind, random success stories, skew this perception because many people do land that great relationship early-on. This is WONDERFUL, hooray! This is also UNUSUAL.

So, to all my buddies who haven’t found their audience yet, don’t be in a hurry to leave Queryland. There are good people here, a lot to learn. It may help you make better decisions down the road when you eventually move to other places. Because, from all learned accounts, making a book is 10% writing and 90% that you never stop writing.