I even began preemptively turning MYSELF down to spare the poor girl the awkwardness of saying what was obvious to everyone but me. Made me sound like a Jedi.
"You don't want to go out with me. I'm not the man you're looking for. Move along."
Do you have ANY idea how unappealing that is as a pick up line? If you hung out at yo-yo conventions, Oliver Platt look-alike contests, or anywhere they were giving out free donuts in the late 90s, you do. I was the guy in the corner trying to make denim overalls happen, sitting with a bear claw and a wilted corsage on the table before me. Oh, I wasn't meeting anyone. The corsage was aspirational.
I'm just glad I got my act together and married better than I deserved well before Internet dating took off. Seriously, can you imagine my bio? Or my profile picture?
I didn't appreciate it at the time, but the remarkably good taste exhibited by single LA females helped me get my act together, and taught me the following DON'Ts:
1. It's disingenuous to tell a girl at a Super Bowl party that you're "totally into football" when you didn't know it was a Super Bowl party, don't actually know what "football" is, and just thought your friend had a yearly soiree to give out his amazing 7-layer dip (which, in my defense, came in a huge-ass bowl and that's why I thought--you know what, never mind)
2. Girls know you're not an "aspiring director" because real directors don't actually wear jodhpurs or carry around comically oversized cardboard megaphones
3. Close talking, parroting back everything you learned about her in a Google search, and pulling out age-progressed photoshopped images of the two of you kissing on the moon are NOT endearing
Querying is kinda like that. You put on your best font, wash behind your commas, check your teeth for flecks of passive voice, and make sure you don't smell like stilted dialogue. Then you head out, bright and cheery, into the world.
Some of you will go on arranged "dates" with an agent who's a friend-of-a-friend. Or maybe you'll head to where lots of agents hang out (like conferences and pitch contests), in hopes of making an impression on "the one." Still others will go the online route, trying to determine the perfect match based on past sales and wish lists.
Whatever your process, it's about impression management. Is my story out of place at this party? Does my grammar make me sound unapproachable? Does this first act make my butt look big?
The lucky ones will get rejected right away. Yes, lucky. No sense wasting anyone's time if you two aren't compatible. We all want to hear "Yes!" but, honestly, sometimes the next best thing is a firm "No thank you." We understand no. We can handle no.
What's more, rejection brings about its own clarity, in a way no amount of revising can. You might be absolutely sure your manuscript is perfect in every way. But there's nothing like a 'no' from one of your top agent picks to get you back to the page, where you realize you walked out of the bathroom with a muddled midpoint stuck to your shoe, or you're wearing mismatched genres.
Then there are the near misses. An agent likes your story, or your voice, or your characters, or your premise, but, unfortunately, not all at once. Just like dating, you'll find people who are pleasant, intelligent, attractive, and funny. But when you make out, his nose makes a weird whistling sound and suddenly you're all, "It's not you, it's me."
The best scenario is you make a connection with someone who absolutely loves your manuscript. Would you want any less from someone who has to go out and get other people excited about your novel? That's what you should be shooting for, someone who WANTS you, someone who understands you, someone who won't look at you weird because you eat pudding with a fork, or have back issues of Cat Fancy Magazine dating to 1987.
The worst scenario is, of course, a false connection. You know what I'm talking about. Things are going really well, he's telling you how attractive you are, that he's never felt like this about anyone before, how this is so silly, but he really sees you two together for a long, long time.
So you go home with him and wake up next to PublishAmerica.
Querying can be hard on the ego. But it turns out we shouldn't fear rejection, we should embrace it. It's true that each rejection puts you one step closer to acceptance. It can give you insight into your story, your pitch, your agent picks, even yourself. 'No' is a crucible where you melt the process down and re-cast it in unbreakable form.
I'm probably preaching to the choir, of course. If you're online, looking for insight into publishing, agents, storytelling, pitching, etc, and made your way here, you probably don't need to be encouraged to embrace rejection, you're already on a first name basis with it because you've accepted that the reward is worth the risk. If that's you, then congratulations, you're on the same road successful writers navigate to their dreams.
If you haven't embraced rejection out of fear, past experience, doubters, haters, or others, who cares? You can begin right now. Here, I'll start.
See? Wasn't so bad, right? Now go forth with your bad self.
Oh, one final thought. There's already enough creepiness in publishing from people who can't manage boundaries. So please don't read too much into my comparisons between querying and dating. It's an ANALOGY!
Hm, maybe now's a good time to tell you the DOs I learned from dating rejections, because I think they apply to querying as well:
1. Be respectful
2. Be present
3. Be yourself
Good luck, everyone!