When I was in high school, I was a proud, happy member of the marching band. Every summer for four years, in the dead heat of August (and once during a hurricane that reached into the mountains of Pennsylvania), we were on the field, learning and practicing basic marching skills and the half-time show for the fall’s football games. One of the skills that we practiced and used regularly was the concept of marking time. Marking time is when the band is standing still but music of some sort is still playing, sometimes just the percussion, to keep the beat and to keep the feet moving. Instead of standing perfectly still, like you would at attention or parade rest, to mark time meant that you continued marching in place, keeping the rhythm moving so that you are ready to continue marching when instructed. It is quicker to continue marching from mark time than from a dead stop. You maintain movement.
It occurs to me that marking time in band is similar to the querying process.
I have been querying my current manuscript for a while now, and the waiting is killer. You wait for feedback on your query letter, you wait for responses to your initial query, you wait for responses to requests for partials or fulls, and you wait again after that if you manage to land an agent while the agent is trying to sell your work. It’s a lot of waiting. It’s easy to sit back and bite your nails, just hoping that something sticks, that something works, that you’ll have an offer and a publishing deal eventually. It’s also easy to think there’s absolutely nothing you can do in the meantime.
But that’s not true.
While we are waiting on our queries, we can be marking time. We can be actively working during the waiting so that we are prepared for what comes next, just like in marching band. We can keep our momentum. But how do we do that for writing?
- Keep polishing your query materials. I know this can seem like a waste of time and it’s so easy to sweep under the rug once it’s “done,” but your query can always use improvement. If you see a contest for a query critique, enter it. If you have a writer friend, have them read your query and offer input. I recently read that advice that if you do not receive at least a 40% request rate, then your query could use some work. Keep moving forward!
- Be proactive about any feedback you receive. If you do hear back from an agent, that’s great! But it may be that they want to see something a bit differently. Consider those opinions and know that as the writer, it’s up to you to change it, but these are industry professionals who know what the market needs and wants. If you need to keep polishing that manuscript, then break out the polish. The work isn’t over once you hit submit to those first few agents.
- Keep current on the market. Whatever genre your book is in, whatever age category, keep an eye on the current trends. If you wrote a vampire book and vampires are going out of style, your query might be harder to sell. But if you wrote something that’s just gaining popularity, then you might have an easier time. Make yourself an informed client. Keep researching new agents and looking for what agents may be searching for your book. It doesn’t stop with your first list.
- Don’t let the rejections get you down. There are so many agents out there. Hope is not lost. If you keep trying, you will find what is best for your book, even if it’s not an agent. Rejection isn’t the end of your manuscript, and every author faces this. It could simply be that your manuscript will fit better into an independent publisher or through self publishing. So don’t give up!
- And most importantly, keep writing. Agents like to hear that you have more projects in the works, that you’re not just a one-trick pony. Write other things, submit short pieces to magazines or online blogs. If your current manuscript isn’t right at the moment, perhaps your next work will be. You always want to be refining your craft, and the best way to do that is to write!
The querying process can be daunting and full of discouragement and disillusionment, but there is so much that you can do while querying that can refill and energize your creative spirit, the dreamer within you.
So don’t get discouraged, friends. Mark time, and when the order comes, you’ll be ready to march.