In her book, On Death and Dying, written in 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross described the five stages of grief. The book detailed the writer’s observations of terminally ill patients as they dealt with their diagnoses. These five stages, in my opinion, could equally be applicable to the querying processes for us writers. Below are those stages in the sequences Kübler-Ross arranged them, but as I envisage them in the Query Processes:
DENIAL: When agents and editors start rejecting your queries about your marvel of a 120-word baby, you start by rejecting them, the agents and editors. Most of us do. I did, and still do most times. We are writing in a tough era where commerce has taken over as a criterion, not art coming first and letting the market decide the commercial angle.
Instead of craft(wo)manship, they want curious things like the ones they term platforms – should we be writing while we stand on wooden planks, pen poised over paper?I asked myself the first time I heard about it and the word “platform” confronted me.
Instead of storyline and characterisation they talk about “commercial” writing and we scribes are lost in translation – what do they mean? What the blighters kind of a genre is Commercial Writing? Why the devil are they the best agents in London, Sydney and New York? Why are they the editors of the bidding wars of the BIG 5? Indeed what are they big-fiving, Fifty Shakes of Moronic Cocktails?
We can rant and rave all we want, to no avail. So you might despair or say: All right-y, I can do the Shakes without the Moronic Cocktails. In fact, I can do them better and surpass their little Ms El Paso. And then you have ago at Genre Commercial Writing. No problem, try it. But watch where you fall, because if your cocktail leaves out the main ingredients of the Almighty Moronic, your recipe is already worse than wrong. The landing will be harder than when the rejections first started piling up for your other works. After all, you’ve endeavoured to lower your yardstick a teensy weensy bit, and given them a marvelously sensible and literary Genre Commercial Writing, which just happened to leave out the whips and ropes, the top marks for rewards and red marks for punishments, the chains and the cufflinks, arm, handcuffs! Dang, the only plug you used was the one that went into the socket on the wall to fire up your computer…
Sorry, scribe. You’re either in lock, stock and barrel or you stay out. The door will shut on your face, leaving you with your hat and M/S in your hands. There is a minimum of one million Shakes of Moronic Cocktailers doing the job you’re skirting around, thank you very much, Honourable Literary Craft (wo)manship.
ANGER: Yep. I’ve listed some of mine above. The only one missing is how I really know that all these agents and editors are those utter fools who never got a chance to bully me properly in boarding school. And one of these days, very, very soon, I’ll show them. I’ll be a literary pantheon and I’ll start smoking them out of their caves and have a smart go at them with my literary crop and belt, my literary cable and cord and knot, my literary pair of lockable metal links, my perfect silken sight-blocker syntax. They’ll be sorry, oh dear me, will they be sorry!
BARGAINING: Don’t do this one too often, it’s a scribe’s spiritual killer. Send only up to say, five queries, not fifty. Then wait and see. The rejections will still hurt. But instead of receiving three of them per day for the next six months, well, it will only be five at worst. And look out for the ones who say something about your writing – they took the time to read and think about what you wrote and then took some more time to tell you why they’ll pass all the same. Your writing touched them somewhere. Read between their lines.
Oh, yes, Indie is the new traditional. But if you’re like me and hate marketing and have zero tech knowledge, grit your teeth and write another five queries. Just make sure your great romance work is not queried to that big agency who’s selling film options of John Grisham and Lee Child thriller books, or queried to your insurance agent who has just opened a literary agency branch in his garage.
DEPRESSION: Yes, you’ll probably start beating yourself. Mercilessly. You’re no good. Can’t really write. All these agents and editors are smart people and they all don’t want to enroll your ugly baby in their pre-school. You have bad genes. You give birth to deformed little literary monsters. Maybe you should just give up and ask your insurance hawker to show you the tricks of conning people down at the used car dealers’ sales department. Or selling vacuum cleaners door to door. Or TV programme bi-weekly magazines to citizens down at the old people’s residence. Or how about getting the FREE Avon cosmetics kit? It comes with ready-made customers attached, doesn’t it? Darling, when you nip down to the supermarket, could you please think of replenishing the ice cream, the wine and those delicious pralines and chocolate bars? I think we’re short on them, thanks dearest.
Well, don't stay in the doldrums for too long. It's not you and your writing, it's their subjectivity. The wine and chocolates won't help much.
Now, this is from me screaming at you, fellow scribe: NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR WRITING, its THE ONE INCURABLE DISEASE THAT YOU CAUGHT AT BIRTH AND STICKS WITH YOU RIGHT TO YOUR GRAVE. And take it from me: it’s a very loud silent disease. The more you push it away the more it shouts. And only you can hear the maddening vigour of its Allegro molto vivace opening movements to the last cords. Booming deep within you.
ACCEPTANCE: Nothing is personal. Those agents, editors, unknown publishing industry interns et cetera, who clapped eyes on your work judged your writing, not your person, not your ability. Try again. Try a different genre you enjoy reading but never tried to write in. If you enjoy and read the genre, ninety per cent tells you can enjoy writing it too. If you’re not a vampire person don’t mess with vampires. If you shed tears over Gone with the Wind, don’t go anywhere near horror. And that’s the unhidden secret – write only what you enjoy writing, not what is trendy. Have you ever read a genre you abhorred and kept on forcing yourself to buy and read more books in the same genre? Of course not. So why do you think you can write something for people to love if you write it with short runs to the bathroom to cry ROOOTH!! over the toilet bowl, wipe and rinse your mouth then get back to continue writing it because it’s trendy?
It’s business, yes. Brush the specks of lint off your suit and get going again, fresh and smart. You’re a writer. Your skin beats that of Mr. Crocodile and Mrs. Elephant combined.