The Lark Returns From Query Hell

This is my followup to a post from July 2 2022 called “Through Query Hell on a Lark” that can found here:

In it I described how and why I decided to see if I could get my most recent novel traditionally published by going through the time honored query process. The short answer is that on a whim I had submitted the novel to Gollancz, a British SF publisher, during one of their rare open windows when they accept manuscripts from authors directly.Since I would not hear back from them for six to nine months,I had the time to see if I could find an agent to represent it. I have not yet heard back from Gollancz yet, but I am drawing a line under the query process.

Over the course of the summer and fall I submitted my query letter to 15 agents, four on the first of each month starting in July, from my list of 31 agents who handled science fiction and accepted queries from unpublished writers. The remaining 16 were either closed for submission or did not seem worth the trouble. To date I’ve received 7 form letter rejection emails, and with the last submission 6 weeks ago, I think I can safely conclude that the other 8 queries are rejections by default.

Given that I did not expect to sell my book, and I was going through the process on, as I said, on a lark, the process was actually sort of fun – a challenge that resulted in several very good things.

The first positive thing was I joined a discord channel run by a “Traditionally published Fantasy Author” which he set up to raise a little money and provide a forum for writers to help each other on their quest to get published. It was not as active as I had expected, but it did provide a forum to talk about the writing experience, see the work of other writers. I was able to get into the mindset of people who are serious about being traditionally published.

Secondly, it was interesting to think about my story and how I could sell the story to an agent and publisher. I tried several different query letters and actually changed the title of the novel from The Road to EuraEast to the rather tongue-in-cheek title of The Girl on the Kerb to make the story sound more mainstream. Nothing worked, but qua sera, sera.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I used the extra time I had in waiting on the publisher and the querying process to rewrite and improve the final third of the story, adding nearly 6,000 words to it in the process. I had some little nagging doubts about some parts and the time to address them. Now, I don’t know if those nagging doubts would’ve kept me from releasing the book myself since by the time I was finished writing it I knew I needed to submit it to the publisher within two weeks. However, the extra time I had gave me the time and eto improve the story – a lesson learned for any future story. Usually I’m too impatient to let a story sit around for several months. At my age I could be dead tomorrow and no eyebrows would be raised.

Fourthly, I now have a much better appreciation of what thousands of writers have to go through in their pursuit of their dream of being a traditionally published author A “real” author in their mind.And how crushing every rejection email, or perhaps even worse, silence, must be for them. I have to admire the strength of their commitment to their dream. Still, better them than me.

Fifthly, because of the process I looked deeper into the realities of traditional publishing, and it’s not a good place. Between discussions on the discord channel and what the Penguin/Random House-Simon and Schuster trial revealed about the publishing business, it is clear that the so-called midlist author is a dying breed. Traditional publishing is dominated by multinational corporations who only care for the bottom line, and as I reported in the post below, best selling books are the ones that pay the bills.

I’ve heard both, booksellers and authors lament that authors these days are only given a book two to become a bestselling author before they are out the door of the big publishers. In fact, the author running the discord channel had his first two trilogies published by one of the big five publishers, but when the second trilogy did not sell as well as expected, he was out the door. His last two books have been published by a small press. And while it’s not one of those very small presses,it is a definite step down, career wise. Now it ain’t easy in indie-publishing, but it ain’t any easier in traditional publishing – even after they let you in the door.

And lastly I have come to really appreciate my decision to release my own books directly to readers. I was 65 in 2015 when I decided to self-publish my books so it was a no-brainer decision, but still… Now I really appreciate the fact that my creative endeavors had not been held hostage by a few dozen agents – people who judge a book by reading the query letter, and maybe glancing over the first five pages of the manuscript. And how lucky I am that real people read and enjoy them. That’s what it’s all about.

So, all in all, my travels in Query Hell was a worthwhile experience. Once.


  1. Your trial of the querying process seems more methodical and objective than mine, and a lot shorter. It took me 10 years of sporadic attempts before I gave up. Self-publishing became a lot easier right about then too, fortunately.


    1. chucklitka says:

      I sent out my first novel 42 years ago, as well as a novella and a short story to the SF magazines of the day. Unlike you, I didn’t have to gumption to stick with it for long. And certainly wasn’t going to try it again at the age of 65. I thought self-publishing ebooks, and later print on demand paper books, was one of the wonders of the 21st century, and still think so.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kingmidget says:

    For me, the silence is the worst. Both times I’ve tried to query agents, more than half of the ones I sent queries to didn’t bother witha response. To me, that is the best sign of a broken down process.

    I go back and forth on this topic. I believe traditional publishing remains the best way to make a splash with a book, but it comes with all sorts of downsides. A loss of control is the biggest downside for me. The amount of time between a potential acceptance and actual publication is another one. And then there is the fact that traditional publishing doesn’t guarantee any more sales than indie publishing, particuliarly if you go with a small press. So … yeah, I think about it every once in awhile and I may give it a try again with a future manuscript, but for the most part I just don’t see the value in pursuing traditional publishing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. chucklitka says:

      We’re told that querying is a business relationship and that the letter should be a business style letter. You’d think that that relationship is a two way street, but often it isn’t. Automatic emails can be sent to acknowledge an inquiry. I think I received one or two out of 15. A cut and paste rejection letter could be used to reply to every inquiry – it would take half a minute at most – so it seems very unprofessional not to inform the inquirer if and when they decide to pass on a project. If they are overwhelmed with work, they can close the process until they are caught up. Still, it is symptomatic as to how authors are treated. Most “professional authors” are paid nowhere near a professional rate for their work. The mean (not average) rate of income for authors whose primary occupation is writing is 7,000 pounds in the UK. You can work half time at Aldi and earn 12,000 pounds. But authors are like farmers – you can try to withhold your products to get a higher price, but there’s always someone behind you in line that will take your place at the old rate. The bottom line is don’t even think of writing for the money. If it comes to you, it is a gift of the gods.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. kingmidget says:

        By the way, if I could make the equivalent of 7,000 pounds from my writing each year, I’d be happy with that. 😉


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