If you want to get a book published, querying is also essential.*
Toothpaste has its faults.
Querying also has its faults.
But, considering the alternatives (baking soda on a tree branch? ... uh, personal drop-ins at agent offices?), toothpaste and querying are about the best we're going to get.
Here are some three tips to avoiding Toothpaste/Query Disasters:
1. Don't use too much toothpaste.
Query translation: Don't be over-confident.
- When you get an over-sized blob of toothpaste on that brush some of it will inevitably plop onto your shirt. Toothpaste smears on shirts are impossible to clean off. You might as well go change your shirt. Seriously, you can stand at the bathroom sink scrubbing and rinsing for an hour, and still -- halfway through your day -- look down and see that the mystery smear has reappeared.
- Query translation: Don't be too confident in yourself or your work. Remember, pride goes before a fall and we all have a lot to learn. You'll have a shorter distance to fall emotionally if you go into the query process with the correct amount of humility. And I think most agents appreciate humility in a query letter too (as opposed to YOU'D BE AN IDIOT TO TURN DOWN MY MASTERPIECE ... yeah, that's a toothpaste smear that you'll never be able to scrub off, no matter how hard you try).
Query translation: Have faith in your work; submit your best.
- We've all done it: thought we'd applied enough toothpaste, but ended up walking out of the bathroom wondering if we even brushed our teeth at all. Not using enough toothpaste causes bad breath.
- Query translation: Bad breath in Queryland is the equivalent of submitting what we know to be sub-par just because we're impatient or we are planning on rejection anyway. While it's good to be humble about our work, it's not good to be faithless. We should be submitting our very best, polished material. Anything less is too little of a good thing.
Query translation: Follow your gut. If you know you've got something good, keep querying it. Don't quit. (But please note the caveat to this advice.)
- Yesterday I cleaned my kids' toothpaste-splattered bathroom mirror. Three hours later it was toothpaste-splattered again. I asked myself why I bother. But then I thought of the alternative: a mirror so splattered in toothpaste that I couldn't see my own reflection. Yeah, pointless. So, I keep cleaning that mirror from time-to-time, knowing it's the right thing to do.
- After thirty rejections, you might start to wonder why you're doing this querying thing anyway. Doubt creeps in. You've given your all to this manuscript, you're pretty sure it's in the best shape you can make it. The temptation is to quit after thirty queries and move on to a new project. My advice: keep spraying that Windex and wiping that mirror because you never know when a guest will show up at the door and actually want to see their face as they're washing their hands. (Translation: An agent might show up who loves your work and offers to represent you!) You never know when this could happen, so keep plugging away. Taste in manuscripts is so incredibly subjective. Remember that!
- Here's the caveat: Don't go overboard. Practice discretion and wisdom. If your gut tells you maybe there IS something drastically wrong with your story, it's better to step back and make a decision about whether to continue to query, to revise, or to go back to the drawing board with a new project. There's no point spraying Windex if it's five minutes until your kids' bedtime. Be wise. Query only when you feel in your gut that the world can't live without your manuscript (but reread point 1 before you put that in phrase in your query letter.)
*There is probably some sort of device that people-who-have-dentists-for-fathers use that leaves the toothpaste out of the equation. Something like a high-speed, water-pick toothbrush. However, for most of us people-without-connections, toothpaste is still the way to go. In the same way, for us writers-without-connections, querying is also the way to go. Embrace it!