Keeping a Hook in the Water: How the Querying Process is Like Fishing

I spent a lot of time as a kid out fishing with my dad. I learned to cast my line and reel it back in (usually with a weed). Sometimes we trawled along slowly (definitely an effective way to catch weeds). I haven’t gone fishing in years since, but as I’ve been sending out my monthly quota of queries, I’ve been thinking about how the querying process is like fishing.

First, you start with the hook – no secret there, since we even call it a hook. This is the short encapsulation of the novel or project you’re querying about. But, I think other than the hook, we also need to remember that the rest of the query is itself a hook, and should be the right color and type to fit the fish (ie: tailored to the agent / publisher we’re querying). Usually they’re more than happy to help you with this, and you can figure it out by checking out their page, blogs, tweets, other postings – some often very specific about what they want in their query. After all, they’re going to be happier if the “hook” is right for them.

Then, you have to have the bait. To me, I feel that instead of a slimy worm, we tend to include a synopsis and sample chapters. Just as the tailored hook is important, the right bait is necessary to catch what you’re after: some want only the query, some want five pages, others five chapters, etc. Some don’t want romance, or sci fi, or fantasy, or whatever.  Use the submissions guidelines to help ensure that your “bait” is exactly what they’re hungry for.

Now, you cast that baited hook out into the waves and tidewaters of the postal service, or more commonly now, the internet.

And then you have the part of fishing (and querying) that I’ve always found the hardest: the waiting. Your little query bobs along out there with the thousands of others. Sometimes it will get caught on the boat (like when it gets trapped in a spam filter or the post office loses it). Sometimes you’ll catch weeds or the wrong kind of fish (rejections of course, along with agents and publishers who may not have the best intentions).

If you’re like me, you’ll get impatient, you’ll want to reel it in faster, but here’s where the fishing analogy doesn’t quite carry through: we have no control over when or if we’ll receive a reply. All we can hope for is to land that perfect, prize-winning fish: the agent or publisher that fits us the best, and we them.

Because of course, agents and publishers aren’t really fish (and I hope you didn’t expect me to carry through with the catching and eating of said fish.) What we’re really hoping to find –  particularly when searching for an agent – is a business partner. It’s just that in this industry, it doesn’t quite work the same as others.

And if you get down, because your hooks all come up empty and no one is biting or too many weeds, maybe you can comfort yourself with the idea that there’s some big fish lurking down there who really wants your hook and bait – you just have to cast it a bit closer. Remember too, that as my dad always reminded me when I started to whine and get bored, that you can’t catch any fish with your hook out of the water. So, keep sending out those queries, keep baiting your hook perfectly, and when you catch weeds or rejections, clean the hook off, re-bait it, and cast it out again. Who knows what – or who – is waiting out there for you.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

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