Stranded in the Trenches 

by Sarah Ainslee

Hello. My name is Sarah, and as of writing this post, I’ve been stuck in the querying trenches for 629 days. To break it down, that’s two years, four manuscripts, hundreds of rejections, and at least fifty sad “I DESERVE THIS” glasses of wine. (Fifty. Hahaha…)

I know compared to some people, 629 days is nothing. A mere blink to creators who’ve been pitching their stories for well over a decade, if not longer. Yet, if I could so bravely speak for all of us, I think it’s safe to say one day in the trenches sucks just as much as nine thousand. Querying is one of the most exciting yet discouraging things you could ever do. It’s exciting because the mere idea of a ‘yes’ exists, and discouraging because you’ll likely be waiting forever to hear it—if you hear it at all. 

Do you remember that movie Cast Away? It’s a lot like that.  

A quick synopsis for those who’ve never seen it: Tom Hanks plays a FedEx worker whose plane crashes on a deserted island; His character is the sole survivor. 85% of the movie is focused on how he makes it on this island, learning how to make fire, catch food, and care for critical ailments. He also becomes besties with a volleyball he claims from the wreckage. (He probably would’ve thrived in March 2020, now that I’m thinking about it.)

Miraculously, he survives on the island for almost five years before his repeated escape attempts are finally successful. The rest of the movie is fairly depressing. He comes home to find he’s been declared legally dead and that the love of his life got married and moved on. It’s basically the complete opposite of the HEAs I adore so much. 

‘What does this have to do with querying?’ you’re likely thinking.  

Pitching your story can be stressful and emotionally isolating. Sure, you can vent to people about it till you’re blue in the face, but until it’s their work sitting in inboxes ready to be adored or rejected by agents/editors, there’s little understanding of what the process feels like. It can be long, lonely, and often, you wonder if you’ll ever find yourself out of the trenches and on solid ground. You know, the kind that isn’t ‘subjective.’ 

It’s not all horrible though. Just like how Tom Hanks learned to survive on the island, we find skills that help us adapt to the pressure. A few in particular: 

  • Patience. So. Much. Patience. 
  • Thick skin. It sounds cliché, but the ‘no’s really do make you a stronger writer. After your first, you realize the world isn’t actually going to end. 
  • Correction. You learn what works in your story and what doesn’t. 
  • COMMUNITY. An oxymoron when you consider the whole isolating thing, but who better to understand the frustration of the trenches than people who are stranded there with you? Even Tom Hanks had Wilson the vollyball, after all… 

I don’t love being stuck in someone’s slush pile, but I can also see the value in it, and for every hard moment here, there is the fierce determination to get out one day. It’s what keeps me improving—it’s what keeps me writing. I hope it’s what keeps you writing too!

How long have you been in the querying trenches? What has been one of your biggest takeaways?


Sarah Ainslee is an aspiring YA author. When she’s not writing, you can find her coffee shop hopping, running, overthinking, or posting every single one of her in-depth thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe over on her Instagram.


	

11 thoughts on “Stranded in the Trenches 

  1. Nice post, Sarah! I think my biggest lesson from querying was perseverance. It’s not easy to keep going when it seems there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, and this makes us writers the ones with the most chance of surviving the apocalypse.

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  2. I’ve being in the querying trenches for quite a while myself, about a year plus! So this post is very relatable and heartening. Thank you for sharing 😊

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  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. This is really encouraging! I’ve been in the querying trenches since May; it feels like a long time in some ways, but maybe it’s not too bad, relatively speaking. In the meantime, I just keep writing. 🙂

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  4. Decades ago, when Steve Martin first burst on the scene, a TV personality asked him what it was like to be an “overnight success.” He looked a bit exasperated when he answered the question. He replied that he had been carefully packing his bag for ten years at the corner when the bus finally swung by and picked him up.

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