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Querying from the Trenches: The Art of Believing in Yourself as a Writer

Kacie Renfro, still seeking literary representation, shares her story of querying for years, searching for the right agent to represent her novels.

I know, I know, to anyone other than a writer aspiring to obtain literary representation, this title sounds overly dramatic, but to my fellow writers, aspiring authors, and authors themselves, this is exactly what it can feel like.

Some might call me delusional—masochistic even—to willingly submit myself to this process again and again. Regardless of what some may want to label me, my willingness to throw myself back in, not knowing whether I will be more successful this time, than the first time, which ended in utter failure (with a lovely silver lining, though), I simply call it, inspired.

This guest post is by Kacie LeCompte Renfro. Renfro is a native of San Francisco, CA now living in Kentucky with her husband and daughter. She is an author and human rights advocate, whose career has been predominantly spent in the fields of refugee resettlement through various organizations in the U.S., and domestic and international advocacy for underserved youth demographics through Save the Children.

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Any of you who signed onto your computers this morning, and proceeded to this website, to see if maybe, just maybe, a new agent was being featured, with a request for queries for a book that sounds just like yours, this is the sanity of the process. You have to be willing to submit—no pun intended—time and time again, to the process itself, in its various forms, to see your writing come to fruition.

Writing a book, being published, and calling myself an author, has been nothing short of a life-long dream for me. I have been writing since I was four. I started with a literary flare, preferring poetry to all other forms of the written word, and over the years evolved into writing longer stories, fiction, and nonfiction. I participated in an amazing writing workshop in San Francisco several years ago, and the piece I wrote for the class ended up being the first chapter for my recently published Young Adult novel, Hot Air.

Not long after taking that class, my husband and I moved to San Antonio. I found myself with the gift of time, and decided I was going to turn that chapter into a book. Over the next seven months, I did exactly that, and in my humble opinion, that was the easy part. Pouring your soul onto the page, reading, rereading, editing, re-editing, while at times tedious, is where the magic happens—the world feels alive, and almost anything, like getting an agent and being published, feels like a tangible possibility.

When you finish that book, and then the terrifying, intimidating, utterly daunting query, and finally begin the submission process, the pain finally begins to kick in. The first few submissions to literary agents are a high, and checking your inbox every five minutes for the next two weeks after hitting Send is a high, but then you receive that first rejection. You are resilient though, because you are realistic and thus, of course you expected to receive one, or maybe even a few of those. Again, it’s all part of the process. Any remote sense of defeat is still far off. You submit queries like it’s a fulltime job, or, depending on your approach, perhaps you submit to only a select few. Then, if your experience was anything like mine, fielding rejection letters becomes a second fulltime job.

Occasionally, an agent would give me feedback, and whether it was praise or criticism, anything beyond a standard, cut and paste rejection, was gold, because it gave me insight and perspective on what my book looked like to people on the inside. I wrote a sincere thank you note to every agent who took the time to give me such a gift.

[Want to land an agent? Here are 4 things to consider when researching literary agents.]

Finally, after two years of submitting my query and receiving somewhere between fifty to one-hundred rejections, with a couple agents that loved my book yet still passed on offering me representation, I decided to have a friend, fellow author, and professional editor review my book for me. This helped immensely and took my book to the next level. Once I read through her suggestions and implemented them as needed, I submitted my query to a few more agents and to one small, family-owned publishing house, One Voice Press. Long story short: The agents all passed, but One Voice Press enthusiastically took my book on, and Hot Air saw the light of day, in both print and electronic versions in December of 2016.

All in all, from writing the first chapter to holding my book in my hands for the very first time, the process took about 6 years. The longest part of that period was submitting my query, over and over and over again; but had I given up, at the 50th rejection letter or the 75th, my book wouldn’t exist beyond my desktop. It does, because I persevered.

I recently completed my second novel, which is a multi-perspective adult novel focusing on the refugee and immigrant experience in the U.S. I worked in refugee resettlement for many years, and much of the material in this piece is inspired by the people I met. It is my belief that the perspective of the minority, the oppressed, and the victim who continues to overcome—which is the essence of every refugee I have been honored to know—is needed now more than ever. This belief, that their stories deserve to be told, continues to inspire me to submit this query, despite the rejections popping up in my inbox. If I don’t give up, if I refuse to take no for an answer, if I am willing to bend and sway as the process demands along the way, this book will also see the light of day, and this time around, I know I will find the agent who believes in my book—and the story it passionately proclaims—as much as I do.

Ultimately, my experience in seeing my first novel through to publication has consisted of the magic, heartache, and painful growth present in any worthwhile, life-changing process. I am a better writer because it, and am taking the lessons learned the first time around and applying them in the here and now. My advice to you is simple. Whether it takes six months or twenty years, whether it is the first draft or a complete rewrite of your initial work, if you have a book that you believe in, that you know the world deserves to read, then don’t stop until it does. The path to publication comes in a variety of forms, some with an agent, some with a small publishing house. But if you believe in your book, then you believe in yourself. Use this belief to fuel the process, your process, that ideally will culminate in you holding your book in the palm of your hands.

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