The reason why I think “People to Learn From in the Trenches” is such an important blog series, is that all of the people who are interviewed are dedicated writers. I love getting to recognize all of these wonderful people who put so much time and energy into their writing careers, even though they don’t have a big publishing contract to show for it. They are writers in every sense of the word, and I hope you love hearing from these people as much as I do.
Today we meet L. Ryan Storms. She may have degrees in science and business, but all she really wants to do is write…and perhaps travel and take beautiful photos of the world around her. She’s also a mom, and in her words this makes her good at almost everything, “because that’s the definition of a mom, isn’t it?”
J: It’s great to have you on my blog today. Will you please share with us how long you’ve been querying and what genre you write in?
L: I’ve been querying for 3 1/2 years, but sometimes it feels like 15.
J: Sometimes querying does feel that way, doesn’t it? It makes the years very long.
L: I have 3 completed manuscripts. (4 by the end of this week, if all goes as planned!) I’ve been querying one story for 3 1/2 years, though truth be told that manuscript has been completely rewritten from start to finish at least twice, so it’s almost an entirely different novel than it was when I first started querying. And I just began querying a second manuscript about a month ago. After finally psyching myself up to query, I shelved my very first manuscript before I even started. It needed a lot of work and I wasn’t ready to show it to the world. I don’t think that one will ever see the light of day, and that’s okay. That was my practice novel.
J: I had a practice novel I never queried either. It was terrible, even by my own standards.
L: Right now, I’m very close to shelving the manuscript I’ve been querying for 3 1/2 years. It’s hard to feel as though I’m not just begging at this point… I’ve racked up 112 rejections on this manuscript. I’m half-proud of that number and half-mortified. At some point, you just have to accept that, even if the story is good, the timing and the environment just aren’t right.
J: It’s such a personal thing to know when to put away a manuscript. Some people find an agent after 150 rejections and others shelve manuscripts after only a few queries. All rejections are beautiful battle scars (even the really bad ones.) You can wear those 112 battle scars proudly!
L: As far as genre, I’ve dabbled in Adult Speculative Fiction, but my heart really belongs to YA Fantasy.
J: What’s the hardest thing about querying, in your opinion?
L: The hardest part about querying is not taking the rejection personally. How’s it possible not to? An agent is literally looking at something you put your heart and years of effort into, so when you get it back with a “not quite what I’m looking for at this time,” it’s crushing! It’s heartbreaking and it feels super personal. But it’s not, and that’s something that all querying writers must learn. When I hear stories about people who lash out at agents after a rejection, I’m mortified for them. I understand the sting that comes with being told no, but writing is a profession. And if you can’t conduct yourself professionally, maybe you should hold off on querying until you can.
J: It’s so hard. I appreciate your honesty.
J: What is your go-to thing to cure those rejection woes?
L: Hmm, my go-to for querying woes… Probably venting to my other writer friends in the querying trenches. Writing is a lonely profession and I do a lot of online chatting with writer friends on a daily basis. Commiserating with them really helps ease the sting.
J: I completely agree! Writer friends are the best to help ease the sting. I think a lot of the people who lash out, as you mentioned, could benefit from having a safe, secure place to talk about their feelings, instead of ruining their careers. Rejection is hard and can feel isolating without support.
J: What was the best moment during your querying/writing journey so far?
L: The best moment in my querying and writing journey was probably when my manuscript was rejected, but came with some incredibly positive feedback after a full manuscript read. To be told by an agent that nothing needs to be changed, it’s great as is, and my world-building was impressive? That was an incredible feeling and I was on a high for a week afterwards. It was such a refreshing change from form rejection letters! I was so grateful that that particular agent took the time to list out those strengths. It really rejuvenated me after being in the querying trenches for a while. (And if I’m that happy after a personalized rejection, can you imagine what I’ll be like the day I’m *not* rejected?)
J: That validation from an industry professional is the greatest feeling ever!
J: What was the worst moment during your querying/writing journey so far?
L: It’s hard to pinpoint a ‘worst’ moment. Early on, I made some very stupid (and very creepy) mistakes, like mentioning more personal tweets in my query letter or telling an agent I loved her curly hair. (Yes, I did this. Yes, it’s something I think about at 3 a.m. when I am reliving all the stupid and embarrassing things I’ve ever done since 3rd grade.) Let this be a lesson to you. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t. Just don’t. Otherwise? Querying is hard from start to finish. I think the scariest part of it is not knowing where the ‘finish line’ is. Some writers send out a single query and get an offer of representation a week later. Others spend a decade or more querying and may never get an offer. It’s hard not to give up when you’re feeling like maybe you don’t have what it takes after all. That’s where friends and family really become important. Having that support keeps you motivated even on your worst days. And it’s okay to have a day where you want to throw in the towel and walk away. But it’s important to come back the next day with fresh eyes and a go-get-em attitude. In this business, there’s really only one way to fail, and that’s by giving up.
J: Yes! I love this! I think we’ve all made some mortifying query mistakes. I have to admit, the curly hair thing had me laughing. I’m sure they’ve seen much worse though! Don’t let it keep you up at night haha.
J: Have you participated in any contests? If so, what did you learn?
L: I have! I’ve submitted to Pitchwars, PitMad, Query Kombat, and Sun vs. Snow–all to no avail! And that’s okay. I see a lot of writers who place too much importance on these contests. While they are tons of fun, they aren’t the way most writers find their agents. It’s really important to get your query game on and not rely on contests to get your manuscript requested and seen.
J: Yes! I think a lot of querying writers overlook this. Contests are fun and you learn a lot but they don’t necessarily land you an agent, though it is flattering to have your work recognized.
L: If there’s one thing online contests are great for, it’s building community and making friends. I have met so many wonderful writer friends and gained so much support through contests. It was really eye-opening and made me feel so much less alone in the writing/revising/querying process! The online writing community is truly amazing.
J: What is your favorite writing resource?
L: There are so many good ones! I really like checking out the #askagent hashtag on Twitter because there are so many wonderful literary agents who dole out free advice on their personal time. I also really love the #MSWL hashtag and the corresponding website. (There’s a great newsletter with the website, too! Check it out!)
J: You can find the link to the manuscript wishlist website here.
L: I almost forgot, Brandon Sanderson has a wonderful lecture series from his 2016 course at Brigham Young University that is available on YouTube for free. It’s an amazing lecture series that’s good for more than just sci-fi and fantasy writers, despite the title of the course being ‘Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy.’ Really, it’s a course for *everyone.* And Sanderson is a wonderfully talented speaker. The first of the series can be found here.
J: Thanks for sharing. That’s one I’d never heard of!
J: Share your best piece of writerly advice.
L: . If you want to succeed, keep going. No matter what, keep going. There’s only one way to ensure failure and it’s by giving up. It’s fine if you can’t get a manuscript agented. It’s heartbreaking, true, but it’s fine. Write another manuscript. Query again. If that one doesn’t work? Do it again. Again. (I kind of feel like writers would benefit from a personal writing coach…like personal fitness trainers, but people who push you to hit a word count goal or a query goal every week. You know, someone who would scream motivations at you as you break into tears while typing… No? Not a good idea?)
J: I actually think that’s a great idea! I totally need a writing personal trainer. Someone get on that idea, stat.
Did you love L. Ryan Storm’s candid answers as much as I did? Connect with her by following her on Twitter at @LRyan_Storms. You can find L. Ryan Storm’s website here where she blogs about writing, supporting a cancer-survivor, and random silliness.