top of page

Love the Query: 3 Tips, 12 Stages of Despair, and 1 Playli

Fail Faster, Succeed Quicker

The first time I saw “Fail faster, succeed quicker,” I was at an MIT robotics convention. Don’t ask. The idea being each failure teaches one to design a better experiment–or novel. More failures means more learning means, eventually, success. Or that’s the theory.

I’ve been told, variously, to expect to query 50 agents, 140, or 170 before getting to Yes. I know you can do the math, but just for the record, that is 169 rejections. 169.

I was on the floor after five. Just 44 or 134 or 164 more to go!

Flaunt that Shame

At dinner that night, my family and I toasted the five rejections. We quoted the harshest lines. Loudly. We toasted each agent. Her agency. Her parents. And her dog.

I went to bed grinning. But the next morning was, you know, brutal.

Flip that Incentive

I decided to reward failure: Success doesn’t earn rewards; rejections do. Fine chocolate! Cappuccino! Every five rejections merited extra goodies. Turns out I’m not the only one to come up with this theory. Kim Liao explains how she learned to “flip the incentive” from her successful writer friend who scored residencies, publications and awards by setting goals for rejection: 100 a year.

The next time I sat down to query, the shame-flaunting and incentive-flipping had created a tiny yogic distance from the self-loathing and despair. And with that distance, I re-read the agents’ rejection notes. If a suggestion rang true, I revised accordingly. But I didn’t send out a query after I finished all those revisions. Not that day. Or the next. Or for the next 60 days.

Ginning Up to Fail, um, Query, Again

I needed me some Mojo. Serious Mojo. Anthemic outrage. Desire, despair, and vogueing. (Strike a pose, let’s get to it. Thanks, Madonna.). I needed me some sham confidence before I could send out even one more query.

Tunes ribboned through my head. Chronologically almost. Motown then disco (there’s no accounting for the taste of the subconscious*) punk on up through aughts folk to today’s top 40 (see * above). And then they sorted themselves into query stages. To wit:

Querying: the Playlist

Ego Boost (Winter)

Arianna Grande, Nikki Minaj & Jessie J

Relevant Lyric:

She might’ve let you hold her hand in school, but I’mma show you how to graduate.


Yeah, baby! Bring on the Bombast!

Ego Boost (Spring, Fall)


Ego Boost (Summer)

Earth, Wind and Fire

Thanks, Maurice.

John Hiatt

From bruised pride to Earthy vitality.

Anthemic Desire

Van Morrison, live 1965 version


Relevant Lyric:

Why don’t you dance with me? Scream along!

While You Wait (Sentimental)

Vanilla Fudge

Relevant lyric:

Set me Free, why don’t ya babe. You really don’t want me. You just keep me hanging on.

While You Wait (Menacing)


Mild menace.


Ups the ante to Stalker-ish.

Self Pity, Stage I

(Sentimental Yet Tinged with Vitality)

96 Tears. ? and the Mysterians. "?" Presaging The Artist Formally Known as Prince's symbol by decades.


Self Pity, Stage II (Tinged with Nihilism)

The Cure


Hinge Song:

Moving from Self Pity to… Resilience!

The Four Tops

Relevant lyric:

Now if you feel that you can’t go on, because all of your hope is gone and your life is filled with much confusion until happiness is just an illusion, and your world around is crumbling down, Darling, Reach out, Come on Girl, Reach out Darling, reach out for me…

Fun fact: When lead singer Stubbs hit the very top of his vocal range, he sounded hurt. So the producers pushed him to sing the entire song right past that edge. Know the feeling.

Ironic Self Pity

(Because Querying is Not a Straight Line**)

Gone, Gone.

Bouncy tune against (massively depressed) lyric.

Relevant Lyric:

Gone like my last paycheck, like a fifth of gin, like a Nixon file, like a landlord’s smile, like the furniture, like the rest of her, my baby’s goooooone awaaaaaay.

Sophisticated, Ironic Self Pity

(See ** above.)

Eartha Kitt

At the fulcrum of ironic detachment and desire, "Santa Baby" is querying Nirvana.

Relevant lyric:

Santa Baby, just slip a sable under the tree, for me, been an awful good girl. Ba—ba-boom, A 54 convertible too, light blue. Think of all the fellas [agents] I haven’t kissed. [Emphasis mine]… Santa baby, I want a yacht, and, really, that’s not a lot… Fill my stocking with a duplex. And checks.

So that’s it. Repeat as needed. And Query on, Writer Friends. Query on.

For a heartening look at the woefully misguided literary world who rejected (complete with scathing condemnations) blockbusters and literary giants ranging from The Da Vinci Code to Moby Dick to Lord of the Flies to Lolita to The Color Purple, click here.

Originally appeared on Dead Darlings.

Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page