Musing on the State of My Writing Career

It’s been about 2 years since I started querying Sava. The only agents left on my list (of 142 agents) by now are those who were closed whenever I looked (maybe even all the time) and those whose agency siblings have a query at the moment.

I sent 102 queries in these two years. Of those, 68 were passed on. Only 2 of those 68 agents said to send more materials should I query something else. One pass was personalised but with no actionable feedback which was fine.

I hat 1 request of a full and 1 request for a partial so far. The full came back with a form rejection which broke my heart. The request for the partial came from a query I CNRed to query somebody else at the agency. (And got a quick pass on.) I am grateful for the turn of events but also very confused.

I CNRed 6 queries to query somebody else at the agency. 9 queries are at a place where I could CNR them but since there’s nobody else I wanna query, I do not. If they have no time line to when “no reply means no” those queries will just keep floating around as undecided until I need to do an action.

I keep thinking to call it quits for Sava. I will keep querying her until I have my next fantasy ms ready to send. I’m at a point where I can’t muster the energy to send e-mail queries. Query Manager exists. I love the thing. Maybe there will be days when I can send e-mail queries. I don’t know.

Also, I have been querying so long, that by now agents changed agencies. Something my spreadsheet doesn’t always catch because it’s sorted by agency. I do not need the mortification of realising I sent another query to an agent who already passed on the ms.

I have learnt a lot in the past two years. Unfortunately, a lot of that made me disillusioned about tradpub. Why even bother getting an agent when editors sell their novels in-house in six-figure deals without jumping through any hoops?

In general tradpub is very conservative with their choices, so what chance do I even have? I am tired of the staples that tradpub loves. Who will even want my autistic protags when the story is in no way centred around that fact at all? How do I make readers realise their protag is neuro-atypical if simply writing people like me just makes them unrelatable?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m finding my niche that is just be autistic enby protags in fantasy and sci-fi. I’m just not sure what to do here now.

For Sava? I think once she died in the querying trenches, I will overhaul her to make her autistic traits more visible. That won’t be anything major, so I can’t yeet her at agents again afterwards. Maybe my next ms will score an agent. Maybe they will be happy to have another ready-to-go autistic fantasy.

I’m mostly disappointed and resigned, though. I’m going through the moves because it is what you do and right now I have nothing else. I started to save a little each month for selfpub. If by the time it amounts to enough to get a book out sensibly, I am still in the querying trenches, Sava might go that way.

Or maybe the erotica thriller (or so I have been told) goes that way first. I know nothing about the genre and don’t see myself returning to it. Maybe I’ll throw out my novellas that way. There’s a play in the depths of my portfolio and one or two volumes of poetry.

What I wish for most is the time, energy and money to pursue selfpub. But I gotta eat and my full-time job eats most of my time and energy. I make my peace with the possibility I may never get published traditionally. It helps that one of the major reason I want this (marketing) is a game of luck in tradpub anyway and there I a great chance I wouldn’t even get any.

On a positive note, I have seen friends get/become agents in the past two years. I see time and again that it is not completely hopeless. At least not for others.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere.

Publishing has a survivors bias and I’m just shouting out before it swallows me whole.

Afterword on short stories

I write a few of them. And I accepted from the get-go that subbing shorts is a lottery.

But it is overall easier. My heart is less invested in most of the short subs. I shrug the passes off more easily. It feels more like a hobby because there is no way in which selling shorts could be a noticeable contribution to my income.

I sold my first short to the third market I subbed to (the first always being Clarkesworld and Asimov’s because of their fast reply times). I have been shopping around other stories for over two years now. That’s just how selling shorts goes.

Nightsky of A Hundred Shattered Dreams

Querying is hard and we do what we can to stay afloat. Having a writing community is of utmost importance. I don’t know how anybody stands the pressure, consistent hits on the self-esteem and doubting your writing abilities without people to cheer and uplift one. I know I could not.

What else can you do?

I decided to have a visual (and pretty) representation of the passes that come in. I expected there to be many because fantasy is a tight market, and my stories are niche and not on trend. So I got myself a nice canvas and glittery stars and decided to count to 100 passes with it.

Lo and behold, my WIP:

A square white canvas that is partially covered up with black clour onto which glittering stars of many colours are glued. Where the canvas is unpainted, you an see a grid drawn on with pencil. . Two of the stars are bigger ans silver. One star has a tiny, handwritten name tag. The canvas is a little over half filled with stars.
Nightsky of a Hundred Shattered Dreams

The big silver stars are for agents that asked to see another manuscript, should I get one finished. Personalised passes got their name tacked onto the star. Yes, yes there is exactly one of them and no, that was not on the full I had out.

It includes the stars where I thought in retrospect that I dodged a bullet. There’s passes on there when I am in hindsight happy it was a pass because I don’t think it would have worked on a personal level.

Querying is highly subjective – from both sides. I have a little insight on querying from the other side and it’s not much easier for agents. They are flooded with good work each day every day and have to make the hard decisions on who they can successfully represent. The reasons for a pass a varied and many of them are not about the quality of the work.

Still, each star on this canvas represents a pass. If I added stars for each query, I don’t expect to hear back from I’d probably be close to done by now. But I am petty, and I have petty dreams for the future. In case I ever get an agent, my plan is to inform everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, who didn’t officially pass on my manuscript an update note.

Then I shall imagine, most incorrectly, I know, how those agents search their inboxes for a query I sent over a year ago. I started querying at the end of 2021 and the longer I’m in the trenches the funnier it gets for me. I know I’m petty. But Query Manager exists, and every agent is free to close for queries any given time.

I still have agents many on my query list. Most of them have been closed whenever I looked to send more queries. Some, I think, were actually closed since I started querying.

I don’t really have a point to make. Just – make sure you have your community. Find ways to keep track of your querying distress in a way that helps. Hype your friends when you can. I know sometimes it’s hard when you feel it’s never gonna be you.

I’m rooting for you!

A Word on DVPit

Due to recent developments, I need to get a few things off my chest. Pitch events are a time of high-strung nerves. I like to pretend I’m cool, but I’m really not.

I’ve done a lot of such events – PitMad, PitchDIS, DVPit, genre specific events, publisher specific events. If it’s out there, I’ve done it. I started doing pitch events at the end of 2020 which, I understand, is a bad thing to start anything in tradpub.

It’s probably telling on how things went considering that now my reactions to a Like on a tweet are:

  1. Who of my dear friends doesn’t know it’s pitch day?
  2. Which schmagency is out fishing for customers now?
  3. Wait, what? The fuck you mean an actually legit like?!?

Sad but true.

This is how it goes inside my head.

Did I get many agent Likes for my participation? Nope.

I got likes from an indie publisher that I really appreciate. Unfortunately, they were looking for a stand-alone romance with spicy bits, which my manuscript is very much not. And while I do write spice when I want to, I’m pretty sure I put the necessary amount of explicit into each book I write. And sometimes, that amount is none. And that’s that for the book.

I got likes from schamgencies. One event we formed a club of authors who got our pitch liked by the same vanity press that was out in full force on a discord. I think we all made it into the club.

I get likes from people who don’t know what a pitch event is or how it works. After looking at their profiles, I decide if they would benefit from having things explained to them or if it’s just the way life goes.

tl;dr I don’t expect anything legit to come from a pitch event. I am not cool about it after all this time. Hope is a bitch that won’t give up. 🤷‍♂️

Did I get a legit like this time around?

Hell, yes!

Was it an agent on my radar? No. Did I go to research them immediately? Yes. And, ngl, I was doing very badly because the agency website and I will never be friends. 🤷‍♀️

I wasn’t really questioning that I wasn’t finding info immediately. My head was already going: heh, just another of those, just what I have to live with because I can’t not do pitch events even if they make me sad and empty.

Surprise, though. After poking some more holes into the internet, I found the info. And it was all legit. What’s more, I read their mswl during my agent trawls. I read it so they’re looking for a sub-genre my manuscript is not. I mention that in the query, because nobody needs to waste no time on a clear non-fit.

Headshot of a black person with a colourful headscarf in front of a brick wall. The caption says: Ain't nobody got time for that."

Am I excited? I don’t know. I know how many queries and agent can get that is not a big amount of queries at all and how overrun agents can get opening for just a few days. It’s hard. The competition is high. There’s so many manuscripts out there that deserve to be books.

On top of the regular, I am scared the manuscript isn’t the sub-genre the agent is looking for; I’m scared they hate the voice once exposed to it for longer than a tweet; I’m scared I’m trespassing on the territory of the diverse where I am not enough to be included.

But yeah, hope that little bitch. If it wasn’t for her I sure wouldn’t have even sent the query. Also, it feels really good to be seen. There always seems to be so little agent interaction at such events. (Disappointing, but understandable when they’re already drowning in their regular subs.)

Which brings me to an unexpected disk horse.

Side Subject: OMFG, an agent like 500 pitches!

Yeah, that’s probably the end of tradpub as we know it. 🙄

In the overall numbers-game of queries an agent can receive, that is not a lot. In the amount of work rolling towards that agent now, it is still a lot. If they spend only 5 minutes per query, that’s a full work week. And many agents spend more time on a query (unless it’s clearly not a fit).

Am I flabbergasted? Yes.

Pitch Likes were sold to me as golden tickets. A red carpet rolled out right to the top of the submission pile.

That doesn’t mean everybody has to or does use them like that. (I have also been informed that on average only LESS THAN half the liked stories are submitted. Like, le what?!?! 😱 this doesn’t compute in my little hamster brain. You like my pitch and are legit, you gotta run if you want to escape my manuscript. (Blacklisted agents exempt 😅))

For the statistics, I think Queries George* should not be counted if they distort the results. My 3.2 maths brain cells that love statistics won’t allow it.

On the other hand, if one agent going beyond by making sure they build a diverse list can skewer the results of an event committed to doing exactly that – halt die Welt an, ich will aussteigen

a diver in a neeoprene suit under water. they kneel at an underwater chasm and jump into it headfirst, vanishing into the black depth.

Queries George isn’t even alone?!?
The line between “normal” and “outlier” in the data I refer to is in a place that makes no sense to me. I have no idea how the data is being processed any longer but my 3.2 maths brain cells hate it here.

Seems you really can’t trust any statistics you didn’t forge yourself. 🙃

Go Queries Georges! Take tradpub to the diversity it should be at. 🥳

Mel’s Big Querying Adventure

When I wrote about dealing with the trenches, I realised I have a thing to say (or even two thing) about actually querying.

Piglet from Winnie the Poo running in a circle erratically with their arms over their head, screaming.
live footage of me entering the querying trenches

I was excited and dreaded it at the same time. Friends were already in the trenches, and some had been for a while with AMAZING books, like, how did tradpub not fall over itself to acquire those? (Now I know why, but I do not see it or I will cry. 😭)

The first thing you notice when you enter the trenches is that there is no industry standard. There are a lot of people (agents) claiming to tell you the industry standard, but that is just their preferences. There is GUIDELINES which you have learnt by the time you finish. I guess.

I immediately got confused because I am a structured mind that way and wanted to write The Perfect™ query and that is impossible.

A Roborovski dwarf hamster is running in a red running wheel. Suddenly it is caught by the wheel and spins around in, flipping over and over.
live footage of me trying to write the perfect query

I decided to put housekeeping first, agonised of the comp I felt nobody knew (over which I’d agonise again later again because it won a Hugo…) and the comp I felt was way too big. I curated a list of agents and made sure I did not put anybody on there who is on the tea list.

Then the fun began. Because some agents use query manager and some use e-mail and some even have but a general contact form on the agency website for you to paste vaguely specified things into. (I wish I was kidding. 😔)


I tried, I really did. But the line between personal and creepy is difficult to discern for me (nd mess, remember). I quickly settled on the “Dear Firstname Lastname” greeting because pronouns are a thing and not everybody puts them where you can find them.

Then I despaired, because how to personalise with something they don’t know (its on your MSWL!) and not be stalkery (you posted a pic of this on 06.11.1987)?

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in pyjamas and a dressing gown. He speaks exaggerating his expression and gestures. The caption reads "I don't know."

What I do now is use my template and change it a little. Is it a bad template? Probably. But you get ME within the very first line and if you can’t with that, I think we’re both better off if we don’t. I am also looking for a second comp yet again because nothing is a best second fit. I will go down comping FINNA by Nino Cipri, though. If you not read that yet, read it now.


I started with housekeeping at the top because that’s where it belongs, right? To give the agent the facts and they know what they’re about to get into. Then I went to put housekeeping at the bottom because I am in love with my log line and it makes a great opening. (If you like getting the central internal conflict of the protag shoved into your face with a horrible pun.)

I am now back at housekeeping at the top because I use the log line to log off (so to speak).

So which is the right way?

Hell, if I know. 🤷‍♀️ Hell, if agents know. 🤷‍♂️ As a guide I really like this: if the beginning of your blurb is so strong it punches an agent out of their socks, housekeeping at the bottom. If your housekeeping holds something especially catchy for the agent (comp their dream comp or something like that), housekeeping at the top.

Does it help? Hell, if anybody knows.


How to write a blurb? I have no idea.

I have written a felt gazillion of blurbs for Sava. They were all inaccurate. The punchier they got, the less truthful they felt. Though the blurb may not be the right place for nuance, considering the number of words you’re allowed.

Still I feel the blurb should be truthful enough that an agent doesn’t go all frowny-faced when they read the pages and recognise nothing from the blurb that excited them.

There are formulas to help you distil the blurb. I hope they help you better than me.


I agonised over this, too. I am not a very interesting person. I am an enby nd mess. I like bad puns. I have no writing credits. (But Mel, what about this blog? Listen, if an agent finds it on their own, that’s on them.) I am not marketable. 📉

I solved this by being snarky about myself and mentioning the 1.5 mil words I have on AO3. (If an agent finds my stories there, congrats, you found some fucking good fanfic. Enjoy!)

Finally, I had a complete query that followed enough of the rules in a way that made it look query-shaped. I felt ready. (A lie, but you gotta do what you gotta do.) I set out to query the first agent and – synopsis.

Nobody likes writing a synopsis. I was happy when it was over, and all the important events were strung together in a causative way.

Squidward from Spongebob sitting curled up in a small cardboard box with its lid on his head. He is flying into a grey time-tunnel with lighting  shooting across it.
live footage of me entering the querying trenches

The last step was exporting the requested lengths of my manuscript. Which, again no standard, ranged between 5 pages and 50 pages and three chapters and an excerpt. At least that was easy to create.

Querying At Last

I started sending out my e-mail queries. That went okay. I am still unhappy with personalisation. But it gets easier with practice.

But Mel, the personal touch!

Listen, agents get as much of a personal touch as I expect in return.

*cries in form rejection*

I started querying with Query Manager. It is a great idea in theory and often in reality as well. On the other hand, still no industry standard. You may encounter some strange things in QM. The basics are easy and nice. It remembers what you typed in, so I only have to type the first letter and can autofill. That is nice. Keep forgetting my name. (Joking, I’m just lazy.)

Then it gets fun again. Usually there is a field to paste your query. And one for a specified amount of manuscript. The amount may once again vary between one page and everything. BUT now you don’t have the page!pages any longer. Had I known! I could have kept the last two sentences of my chapter after all…

Cartoon showing the close-up of a keyboard. One key is bigger and red, it has the word 'cheat' on it. A green finger is pressing it.

The real fun begins with the extras. You may or may not need a synopsis, or a bio, a pitch, more books like your ms, perfect audience. There may be questions about superheroes, your favourite whatevers.

Overall, I agree that the form is very helpful if you are an nd mess like me.

On the other hand, you can easily turn it into a fresh new hell should you be so inclined. I was asked why I think we’d be a good match, like, bro. How do I know? Starting point is we both love my ms. Then we chat and see if we get along. Is there another way to know?

Half body shot of David Tennant as Benedic from Much Ado About nothing. He is wearing a superman tee and holds a can of soda with a curly straw while he says: I think not.

I mean, I do believe we’re both adults and able to enter a professional relationship with clear communication, mutual respect, and, hopefully, horrible puns. Or at least memes. GIFs? 🥺

I don’t think agents are trying to be mean or something. Sometimes I get the feeling they are not aware of the power imbalance and how questions look from down here.

To most questions I will find a quip or pun or actual answer. Maybe a complete rant if you ask about the Arishok in Dragon Age 2. But the above or similar questions will make me spiral and get all the anxiety.

Simple and seemingly innocent things like: something fun about yourself (Sir, I am a bore!), fave TV show (OFMD, nobody else likes Project Runway, gotta lie!), fave food (do you know how many online Disk Horses end with blood spill about food? 😭).

I know others for who questions my head considers easy are more difficult. Also, do I want an agent who may diss me because I think Marvel and DC are the same company and probably owned by Disney anyway?

Last but not least. I keep seeing agents talking about how they do like their queries. The one time I back-checked with the queries of books the agent then represented – let’s say there was a certain disconnect between the Want and what got accepted.

So, whatever the advice is, take it with a grain of salt. There are only two rules in querying you can trust:

  1. You can do anything, if you do it well.*
  2. Agents know what they want when they see it

* “Well” being subject to whatever the individual agent considers to be well.


Querying is a squishy gloop of non-standard piled on top of a skeleton of personal agent preferences. You cannot win. There is no good time to query. All times to query are bad times. You learn as you stumble along, and you won’t get anywhere without an army of shoulders to cry on.

So – if you see me in the trenches, say hi and let’s share a cry.

Half shot of a young Asian man sitting behind his laptop. He starts crying and buries his face hin his hands.

Mel Copes With Querying (Not)

The Trenches are a bad place to be always, but I hear that right now it is worse than ever. I can’t compare so I’ll take y’all’s word for it. So, how do I, certified nd mess, deal with it?

The meme drawing of a dog with a hat sitting on a chair on a room on fire. The assumptiion is that everybody knows the caption: this is fine

As always, I have a spreadsheet. It helps me keep track of who I can query, who I have queried, who already passed and, in theory, keeps me from querying two agents at the same agency at the same time. (sry Donald Maass Agency 😓)

There may be a little too much info in it, but I like info. Have a lying screenshot of part of my list. No, I will not give the true comments in my comment section. Also I cut the names of the agents and hid most of their mail/querytracker addy as well as cutting off the URL to their page on the agency site.

So many colours. But I LOVE colours so I colour-code everything. Red only means closed, not sus. I have a separate tab for my tea list. Also, I have a very idiosyncratic set of code words for my categories and you won’t find more spaghetti in any spreadsheet.

a woman throas a spaghetti against a wooden cupboard and it sticks.
Spaghetti, spaghetti, don’t self-reject

The decision who is which choice at an agency is made from readily available info and my gut feeling. (Listen to your gut!) Sometimes it’s the tone the MSWL is written in or something they mention that matches with Sava. (Disclaimer: matches in my head)

I know you are sold strategies and everything about querying. I read them, too. I understand how they are a good idea, but also, I am not a good idea so here we are.

I started yeeting my query once I considered it good enough. I yeeted at agents about to close and the dreaded dream agents (pls reject my ms already, I am dying here! 😭) and, naturally every open enby agent I know of.

Not very discerning, I know, I know. I filed in the day I sent my queries and by when to expect a reply (in theory, we all know getting any reply is a lottery). I did not expect to have “unknown” as reply duration quite so often.

Then I set out to wait. And write the second part of the series. (I know, I know you’re not supposed to write it before you sell the first part, but I love the series and I will write it.) That didn’t go well. Neither the waiting nor the writing.

Ironman standing ion front of an inferno making an almost apologetic gesture. The caption reads: I think I did okay!

I got a canvas, partitioned off 100 squares and got paints and star stickers so each time I get a pass, I will paint one of the squares and stick a glittery little star on it. I have extra special stars for extra special passes and personalised passes get the agent’s name written on the star. (I have one of those by now *le sigh*)

Nothing happened for a long time, a few passes rolled in. I kept track on query tracker as well, but kept forgetting about the timeline feature. Well done, me.

Then I overhauled my query. I cut my prologue and sent another wave 4 months later.

A lot of nothing again. I remembered the timeline feature on query tracker. I looked my queries up and cried a lot.

I am currently waiting for a buddy to get query ready to yeet the last of the possible queries.

Why all at once? Because it helps me. I feel I have done all I can. It is not up to me any longer. The ball is in the agents’ court.

And that frees my headspace up. I can stop thinking about it. Because I did all I can. As long as I feel there is something I can /do/ I will never stop fretting over it. Once all possible queries are out, I only have to react. If I get a pass, I move on to the next agent in the agency if there is one. If I get anything else –

old man in a red jumper with both ahnds raised in a shrug and looking stumped. the caption reads: guess I'll die

There’s also new agents I come across in my writing communities. I add those dutifully (research your agents, peeps! Get the tea before it’s too late!) to my list and yeet if possible. Then it’s back to waiting. (And by now writing because I just decided to write the most self-indulgent thing as palate cleanser.)

I won’t lie. There’s bad days and very bad days when it feels completely hopeless. And while I love my peeps getting agents left and right, there is days it only increases the desperation. Sometimes I feel, it’s never gonna be me.

bust gif Justin Timberlake in a music video singing. the caption reads: it's gonna be May

Unfortunately, my bad days are usually triggered by somebody else making it (and YAY for them! I mean it. I can congratulate and cry at the same time.) so I usually just sit it out on my own. Not healthy I guess. But really, I’ve had enough parades rained on (or worse, ignored) to Not Do That.)

I try to keep busy and not think about it. I try to minimize it. After all, if all else fails I can always self-pub. (Or not seeing how much energy, time and money it takes to get it right.) I am actually kinda liking the horribly long waiting times because nothing is decided and hope is still out there and I do not have to do a thing.

It’s exhausting, still. I don’t know what I’ll do if Sava doesn’t make it. I keep telling myself that my writing friends won’t drop me just because I can’t score an agent. And then there’s the days where it doesn’t really matter because who’d notice anyway if I just stopped existing? 🤷‍♀️

Don’t do that, though. It’s called suicidal ideation and it is Bad™.

What does help is actually finding something completely else to do. May be a bad writer, but you can’t argue with 4964 tees and sweaters that I am getting something done. My cosplays may be far from screen accurate but they are recognisable and I bled on each of them while sewing. So I do still feel a thing.

Wow, this turned into a long ramble. Not sure I said enough about how I deal, actually? Probably because I mostly just don’t. 😅

I yeet my yeets and wait for the deets. It’s all I can do, all I have the energy for.