Let’s talk about this: querying fears, submission terrors, and coping mechanisms

In the interest of promoting community, I am establishing a new periodic series on this blog: Let’s Talk About This. In these, I will propose an issue, and any or all of you can share your views on it via the comments function, to get a conversation going. There are so very many issues that writers seldom get a chance to discuss with other writers — we are an isolated breed — that I am very excited about the prospect of our being able to chat about them here.

The first topic: What fears, reasonable and unreasonable both, assail you while you are getting ready to send out query letters? Are the qualms different when you’ve actually met the agent you’re querying — better, worse, the same? If you’re submitting requested materials, are your fears different than when you are cold-querying? How do these fears affect your day-to-day life? And, finally, have you found coping mechanisms to deal with these fears effectively?

I’ll start the ball rolling: back in my querying days, I developed a nearly pathological fear of the mailbox. I knew it was irrational, but after all, it was the first place I saw every rejection I got, right? I did not think it would suddenly develop fangs and devour me like something in a child’s nightmare, but I did start to feel that its depths were a den of rejection. Over time, I just learned that if I had queries out and circulating (i.e., most of the time), I should delegate picking up the mail to someone else in the household.

Your turn. Let’s talk about this

7 Replies to “Let’s talk about this: querying fears, submission terrors, and coping mechanisms”

  1. Oh, where to begin . . .
    – Did I put enough postage on the envelope/return envelope?
    – Are there lurking typos that despite my best hard copy proofing snuck in there anyway?
    – Does my cover letter contain something inane?

    i.e. the underlying theme of all of these is “Will I look like a moron or a fool?”

    I don’t generally stress about getting names right/addresses etc., because that’s on my check/double check/triple check list. As for the rest, there’s something to be said for my mother’s internal voice in my head saying, “So what’s the worst thing that could happen? They say no. But maybe they won’t.”

  2. Oh my gosh! You mean it’s not just me? I nearly threw up at the Post Office when I sent off my contest entry. I may have to carry a bucket with me when I mail off my submissions. I have nightmares about agents going out to lunch together and having a good laugh over my writing. Yeah, yeah, I know… My shrink thinks I’m psychotic too.

    I had the opportunity at a conference last year to have the opening of my novel read aloud before a panel of agents and editors (a.k.a. American Idol for writers). Not only did they not laugh (and I did not throw up), the agents and editors said amazing things such as, “I like this. It opens with tension. I would keep reading this one.” Focusing on this positive experience, as sell as others, helps boost my confidence when I am attacked by the doubt monster. Now, if I could just do something about the nausea. [grin]

  3. Many, many years ago, when I was first sticking my toes into the terrifying waters of the writer’s world, I had my worst fears realized.

    I had queried my home town newspaper with a travel article (that I felt was particularly well done–bound to make a splash in the old stomping grounds!) A few weeks later I received the awaited reply: a scathing rejection. The editor (who seemed to be yelling on paper) said my article was totally banal, trite, and overdone. Furthermore, he said, I should go back to basic grammar training. Ouch!

    Well, I crept to my bedroom and pulled the covers over my head (literally) and stayed there for about twenty-four hours. Then I got up, went straight to the book store, and bought a stack of books on grammar and writing.

    Someday, perhaps when that editor interviews me about my first book, I am going to thank him.


  4. I was afraid of:

    1) choosing a word or turn of phrase that would automatically turn the reader off
    2) backing off from said word or turn of phrase and boring the reader to tears with safe cliches

    In addition, I was a reader for a literary magazine once and I remembered what it was like: one person likes something, another person hates that person so argues against it. I myself sinned against our community by losing 4 submissions in the trunk of a friend’s car. (There, I finally came clean about that!) So I had some idea of how disorganized and arbitrary and personal and impersonal the whole thing can be, and I worried I would get lost.

  5. I went through a period where I was getting form rejection letters with comments hand-written in their margins A LOT. (Which was a little odd, as I was marketing a cookbook at the time. How controversial could THAT possibly be?) Once, one actually did say, “You should just give up on this project.” Fortunately, I got on the same day as ANOTHER hand-written note that said, “Oh, this is a great idea, but I just don’t think I can sell it.”

    I had to keep reminding myself: they’re just people, and these are just their opinions. But it didn’t make opening subsequent envelopes any easier.

  6. I am convinced the moment I put something in the mail, the second I press send, the instant I add an attachment that technology has failed me (0r worse my brain) and I’ve attached the wrong draft.

    The wrong draft. Typos. Incomplete sentences. I usually check two or three times to be sure I haven’t made some ridiculous error.

  7. Don’t know that I have this comments section figured out completely. Anyway I’d like to respond to the “Let’s Talk About This” segment on Querying Fears, etc. Strange as it may seem, doing so doesn’t really bother me. I realize it is a step I must take in order to be published. And I realize that many many successful and famous writers received dozens of rejections at first. I do my best to ensure I have sent the best query letter that I can, and stay on the look out for ways to improve the next one.
    I think submissions are the same for me. I try my best to make sure it it perfect. Sometimes after I sent something, I’ll go back over an exact copy of it and find a really glaring error. I do kick myself, but then I correct it so the next submission won’t have the same error. I’d much rather send out query letters and submissions than to be afraid that something is wrong with them. One of these days I’ll get it “write”, and one of these days, the agent(s) and editors will get that version, and I’ll be on my way!

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