Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting for querying responses: A question of coping

For this month's Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog, Laura asked the following question:
If you're querying now, or have in the past, how do you develop patience to wait for responses?

To me, this question is ALL about coping. I remember querying, and man, was it a roller coaster. At times I was elated, at other times, crushed, and at most times, just trying to deal with silence and waiting. Querying can be stressful.

Coping is defined as specific efforts we take to master, tolerate, or reduce the impact of stressful events.

Two broad types of adaptive strategies have been identified:
  1. Problem-solving: efforts to do something active to deal with the stressful circumstances
  2. Emotion-focused: efforts to regulate the emotional consequences of the stressful circumstances
Those are the more approach-oriented coping styles/strategies. Most people use both types, but of course, some people are more prone to use one or the other more. For example, Lydia's response to this question is here. She writes and CLEANS, which are both active, more behaviorally-oriented coping strategies. Laura's response is here. She has a plethora of coping strategies, several of which are cognitive in nature. But, interestingly, both of them are describing more emotion-focused efforts--because, with querying, once you've done it and you're just waiting for a response, there's little you can do other than emotionally-focused coping ...

Except for avoidant coping, in which a person engages in behaviors or mental states that keep him/her from dealing directly with the stressful stuff (alcohol and drug abuse often falls into this category). Research shows that avoidant copers report more depressive symptoms than do approach/active copers. There's also a host of non-productive strategies, including obsessively worrying or ruminating over the stressful circumstances. These are generally not the best strategies if you want to feel better in the long term.

Now, waiting for a response from somebody is a pretty helpless place to be sometimes. Querying is NOT the only time I've experienced this in my life, and I suspect many of you are the same. I waited to hear from colleges. Grad schools. Internships. Post-docs. Jobs I'd applied to. And that's just professionally speaking. Sometimes I got good news, sometimes I didn't. Same thing with querying, of course (and submission is very similar).

How I cope:
My chief strategy for this type of waiting is cognitive. Put simply, I think about the worst thing that could happen: a rejection. And I imagine how I will cope with that, how I will go on living my life, how I will move on and survive emotionally even though this thing I want means a lot to me. I experience those feelings in a sort of simulation, walking myself through what it's going to be like, anticipating the emotions I'll have, thinking about how exactly I'm going to deal.

Please note: this is not the same as worrying or rumination, both of which just lead to uncontrolled bad feelings and a focus on how terrible things are. No, this is a kind of active, controlled, emotionally-oriented coping strategy with a focus on the fact that yes, it could be bad, but regardless, I'LL BE OK. This strategy got me through the entire querying process without shedding a tear (in fact, I didn't weep until the week I had to juggle five agent offers--THAT sent me right over the edge, I tell you).

Once I've gone through my little cognitive process, I move on to more behavioral strategies, most notably writing something new, beta-reading, blogging, and engaging with writing friends who are experiencing similar things. I turn to them for support on a regular basis, and WOW, have they ever been there for me (by the way, thank you to Justine, Stina, Brigid, Jaime L, Jennifer W, Dawn, Matt, and also to many of you with whom I've had more fleeting--so far--yet incredibly positive, interactions). The support available in the blogging/Twitter community is truly incredible.

That's how I do it. Now, your turn. Tell me how you cope with waiting for a response, whether it's querying, submission, contests, jobs and other professional endeavors, interpersonal relationship stuff, whatever it is. Are you an active coper, or more avoidant? Are your strategies more oriented toward problem-solving, or are they more emotion-focused?


  1. I think over the last few years I've found pro-active ways of playing 'the waiting game'. Reading, for one. Blogging- because it keeps you in the loop and focused and provides creative outlet. Outlining a new project- if I have a flashy new idea and I feel mentally and emotionaly ready to delve into a new MS. Beta reading or critiquing other people's work is a great way to pass the time while I wait for word on my MS. I also watch teen shows- for research purposes ofcourse, noting changes in language and intonation. - Keep up with the changing times:) And then there's 'real life' which often provides more distraction than I'd like.

  2. I try to do the whole "what's the worst that could happen", but I always go WAAAY over the deep end with it and end up making myself feel worse.

  3. This is great, Sarah.

    Um...being in the thick of it is tough and it's the radio silence that can be the worst for me.

    Yeah, reaching out to others is vital (what a great community we have) but sometimes I have to turn OFF social media too, to get my head back on straight!

    And of course writing a new project makes me happy and gives me hope that I can keep charging forward!

  4. This time last year I'd just begun by second adventure in querying, but this time I was actually getting requests. Very emotional indeed. At one point I had four different agents reading my ms at the same time. Much of that time period is a blur to me now. I did start a new novel project, and I was still blogging 5x/wk, so I'm sure that helped distract me. I also had a short story deadline in the middle of it that kind of snuck up on me. So I guess you could say I "worked" my way through it.

    I did my best to stay positive, too, despite all the rejections. And I'm sure that having other things in progress helped with that. I told myself, it's okay if this one isn't "the one" because I'll always have something else to offer as long as I keep writing new things.

  5. I have terrible memory so I forget I'm waiting to hear back on something. :D

    Okay, maybe not. But I get so busy with writing and blogging, that it's easy to forget I have outstanding queries or requested material. Or maybe I'm hoping it will take a while to hear back so my dream is keep alive a little longer.

  6. I also try the "imagine the worst" scenario and make a plan for what to do next if the worst should happen.

  7. You've got it so together, Sarah. I envy you. I try to cope in a constructive way like you said--think about the worse possible scenario, process it, and do something about it, but then I get sidetracked again. I need to read this post more often, I think. :)

  8. My answer? Self medication.

    Just kidding.

    Seriously? First: AHHH! You mentioned me. I'm glad to have you as a friend Sarah, and if I ever helped you cope with anything, that's awesome.

    For me I think the best thing is to focus on something else. When I first queried my novel (I was completely ignorant at the time) I kept on working on revising it, which even though it was not how I should have gone about it, did help me to not refresh my inbox every five minutes.

    When I do finally query again I'll make sure my book is actually done this time, and I'll re-balance my focus by working on things like beta-reading for others, critiquing queries and so on. I could also start another book, I suppose, but I kind of need to know exactly what will happen with this first one before I can set aside the mental and emotional space to be okay with that.

  9. Man, this post will be a hard act to follow. I'd better go ponder this subject more deeply than I have so far. Every time I try to answer your question, I remember some part of the query process I'd rather forget. ;-)

  10. well, since I've already played this game before and am currently doing so now I already know the worst that can happen: nothing. And yes, it's disappointing to receive yet another thanks but no thanks and frustrating to hear nothing at all even after months have gone by. But I feel very certain that perseverance and hard work will win out in the end. For me, giving up is not an option.

  11. Believe me, it's the same thing when waiting for submission news. In fact, I think querying agents is bootcamp for subbing to publishers. Good practice. I haven't been coping well this time around at all! Need to use some of your tips above. LOL

  12. Can I just say that this: "These are generally not the best strategies if you want to feel better in the long term." made me crack up? :D LOL. Waiting is HARD. But it's part of the whole process. I try to throw myself into a new project and write. Avoidance? IDK. If it is it doesn't work too well because I still think about it! But it's manageable.

  13. In some ways, I think submissions are harder. There's a stronger sense of finality to it, I think. But at least you have someone working with you. I definitely employ coping strategies. I tackle cleaning out closets, landscaping in 103 degree weather, painting--all big projects. It doesn't actually take my mind off anything, but it helps me feel a sense of accomplishment while waiting.

  14. I think this is a case in which avoidant coping is the best plan, in fact.
    I work on my next project and let the queried project go.

  15. I coped by sending more queries. Eventually, I also got good at putting them out of my mind--or maybe I just reached a critical mass of enough queries out there that no single query was make or break for me. Eventually I came to figure that everybody who didn't reject me was one more person I could nudge when I did get around to getting an offer. Once I hit that mindset, I stopped being annoyed at the "no response equals no" agents. Until they'd said no, every agent with my query was still a "maybe."

  16. wow, your approach sounds good and healthy. I 'cope' by trying not to think about it and move on to other projects. When I think about it I stress about it too much.(I'm a little stress bunny--so much so my hubby bought me bunny ears). I'll have to give your approach a try :)

  17. I've always focused on what I could control when waiting. Not sure if that is good or bad but it's worked for me. During the querying process, I'd take my mind off the wait but diving into writing my next novel.

  18. Agreed with Liz: I also kept writing the next novel. And now, on submission, I am doing the same! :)

  19. I cope by writing the next novel and cleaning (so I'm definitely like Lydia). This means my house is immaculate (HA!) and my new novel runs rampant with emotion (UGH!).

  20. I can't comment above but just wanted to say 'enjoy your days off!' I think I'm going to end up doing the same. Nobody's really around on Friday's anyway;)

  21. Whew - i just tried your cognitive method (or what I could imagine it was) and my chest started hurting! I'm definitely a more active-doer coper :)