My motto for querying was: do your research, stay professional, and be kind.
Let's jump right into it.
I queried TWO books before I landed my agent. It's not uncommon to hear of people querying more than one book before shelving and trying again. So, if you're querying your first book or your fifth, don't be discouraged. You always have more books in you.
My first book, YOU'RE NOT THE WORST, was a third-person, dual POV young adult book with a queer cast. I queried over fifty (50) people, received only one (1) full-request, and a rejection on that full-request. I shelved it afterward, realizing that it wasn't the book I wanted it to be.
My second book, JUDE SAVES THE WORLD, is a first-person POV middle grade book with a nonbinary main character and a queer cast. I queried in organized chaos, randomly sending out queries when the mood struck. Within the first week, I had my first full-request from an agent and an editor. I already knew that something was different about this querying process, because more full requests came in. I started querying on the last two days of August 2020, and by December 2020, I had seven (7) full requests, two (2) partials, and a whole lot more hope.
My agent, Andrea Walker, was the second person to request a full manuscript from me in September 2020. I followed up with her after I received an R&R. I had edited an entire character out of the manuscript, and made some other lighter changes. I asked her if she'd want to read the R&R version instead (since it wasn't an exclusive R&R). She said yes. By December 2020, we had The Call and then signed the papers to make it an official partnership!
SUMMARY OF STATS
HOW DID I KNOW I WAS READY TO START QUERYING?
I'm pretty sure I wasn't ready to query when I did. I had written JUDE two months before I queried, had my critique partner go over it, and then I shoved JUDE into the world. Don't do it like this, folks. Sure, it worked out for me, but only because I had a great R&R feedback.
Get a beta reader or six. Have it critiqued thoroughly. Make your edits. Work on it. Don't over-edit. Let it sit for a while. Review it. Tweak it. Polish it. Query it.
THE QUERY LETTER
I'm too embarrassed to show the query letter for my first book. But JUDE's query letter? I'm pretty proud of it. I got lots of feedback on it from entering critique contests from various agents and writing community friends.
Jude might be in over their head.
But they’ll never admit it.
Jude tries to do it all: befriend the ex-popular girl, come out as nonbinary to their grandparents, and create an all-ages queer club at the local library.
When the club becomes an overnight success, friendships crumble, and their grandparents act like they’re stuck in the Stone Age, Jude fights to keep their world from tearing itself apart. But a twelve-year-old can only handle so much.
JUDE SAVES THE WORLD is an #ownvoices contemporary coming of age middle grade novel, complete at approx. 45,000 words. JUDE is #ownvoices for nonbinary, queer, and ADHD representation. It is a stand-alone, with series potential.
I personalized each query when I could, but I didn't stress too much about it. I loved agents who had QM forms to enter in because everything had a spot and I didn't have to stress about what to include/not include.
Not only did I read every "HOW I GOT MY AGENT" post, every article on how to write a query letter, and every piece of advice I could get my hands on, but I took my time to absorb it. With YOU'RE NOT THE WORST, I took almost three months before I sent out my first query letter, hands trembling. With JUDE SAVES THE WORLD, I was a lot more confident.
I poured over all the hints and tips (see below for resources), but when I started querying JUDE, I focused on the agents I queried and why I wanted to query them. I asked myself the following questions:
Your mileage may vary here, depending on what you're looking for. For example, not every agent has a Twitter, but I would look in my research to see if they had a finger on the pulse of publishing, and to make sure that they didn't have any ideas/views that are against my own ideals (i.e. are they a TERF?). Querying as a trans author, these are things I definitely had to consider.
I kept a spreadsheet that I made myself.
It includes the following categories:
STATUS - query sent, query rejected, partial request, full request
AGENT - their name, linked to their personal website
AGENCY - their agency, linked to the agency's website
METHOD - email or form, form linked to their query form
COUNTRY - Canada, US, or UK
REQUIREMENTS - Q for Query, S for Synopsis, # pages
START DATE - the date that I sent the query
END DATE - based on their timeline on their website
DETAILS - if they require other information like comps, for fans of...
RESPONSE - similar to status, just with dates
Here's an example below:
At the time I queried Andrea, she was with Oslwander Literary, and moved to Azantian Literary while she was signing me. But as you can see, I queried her on September 4th, 2020, she originally requested my full on September 14th, 2020, but we didn't have the call until the beginning of December 2020, and signed the papers on December 27th, 2020.
Publishing moves slow, kids.
If you want a copy of this spreadsheet, hit me up on Twitter @mxronnieriley.
If you found this helpful, please feel free to leave me a tip on ko-fi.
I don't know why he stopped being my friend, all I know is that he did.
This man was like my brother. I would've done anything and everything for him if he needed me. I watched him grow from an awkward, adorable boy into this strong, confident man. He saw me at my worst, and still loved me more than anyone else. I never once doubted how he felt for me, because he never gave me any reason to do so.
One time, when we were both in college and messy people, he pulled me aside at a Halloween party. He put his hands on my arms, looked me directly in the eyes, and told me that he loved me, that I was like a sibling to him, and that he hoped we'd grow old together. He made me promise that I would never forget that.
I clung onto those words during my darkest moments. At least, I knew someone, somewhere, loved me. And trust me, I had dark moments. Moments where the end was all I could see.
It was late October when I last saw him, last heard his old man laugh, and last hugged him close. Had I known that day would be filled with lasts, I might have hung on a little tighter. We talked about our futures that day, something I assumed we would be experiencing together. Because I never expected that he would ghost me after all those years of friendship.
It's not like we haven't drifted apart before, but we always managed to find our way back to each other. He never used to ignore my messages. In fact, that's one thing I could always count on: a response. So, when they stopped coming, my heart started breaking.
I reached out to him during one of my darkest times, and we made plans to visit each other after a few years of not seeing one another. I didn't know it then, but I soon learned that those plans to see each other would save my life over and over again. Every time I would feel like letting go, I would remember that I had plans to see him.
When I saw him, after all that time, I felt like our hang out was soul-healing. Because I knew, and I trusted, that no matter what, this man loved me. He loved me like family. He loved me unconditionally.
We ended up back in our hometown around the same time, and it was like I was coming alive again. Slowly, but surely, I was coming out of the dark and into the light. And he was there, waiting, with a hand held out for me to grab.
I came out to him, told him I was nonbinary, and he was so kind. It was, for the longest time, my favourite coming out. Now, it just leaves me with an ache in my chest. How could someone so kind break my heart so fiercely?
Maybe his girlfriend doesn't like me. Maybe he was tired of me. Maybe his phone broke and he assumed we're okay. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I keep coming up with excuses for him, because it's easier than believing that he just doesn't want to be friends with me anymore.
The last time we saw each other, we made plans to hang out in the following month when things weren't so busy for him. He sounded so sincere.
What does it all mean?
I don't know. But I love him. I love, love, love him. I wish he'd come back to me. He's my family, whether he likes it or not.
All I know is that we used to be friends, and now we don't talk anymore.
Content Warnings: discussion of suicidal ideation, anxiety, depression, PTSD, SEID/ME/CFS
I think to truly understand how my symptoms affect my daily life, you have to know a little bit about me before this happened. I went to George Brown College, graduating with honours, for Special Event Management. Events are something that I’m extremely passionate about. I loved the hustle-and-bustle of the industry, the way that I had to solve problems on my toes, and took charge of situations. I loved the immense hard work that goes into an event from start to finish, and got a huge sense of pride from a great job.
And now, at twenty-eight years old, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to manage that job again. Let alone a less stressful one. I thrived under pressure and was constantly in motion. I rarely stopped to take a break, because I just wanted to keep going, keep pushing forward.
Unfortunately, this led to my second-hardest battle with a major depressive episode. By twenty-five years old, I was struggling with my mental health, working in a toxic work environment that left me with an out-of-control anxiety disorder. I had hit my first road block: a major depressive episode that brought along suicidal ideation. I wanted the world to stop moving. I wanted peace from the prison in my mind.
So, I quit my job. I moved back in with my mother after living on my own for six years, and I accepted that Prince Edward County would be my home again. I had a month and a half off. I worked a part-time job, focused on getting my mental health back, and before I had a real chance to put in the work, I got sick.
In June 2018, I got the “worst case of mono” the ER doctor had ever seen with a really bad case of sinusitis. The sinusitis alone had me awake for days as I struggled to breathe; my sinuses were full, my throat sore, sore, sore. In just a month, I went from being a busy bee, working 50+ hour weeks, to taking a short break, to becoming completely bed-bound for months.
Mono changed my life, and not in a way I’d wish on anyone. I could barely manage to get myself to the bathroom most days, and if I did, it would knock me out. I didn’t sleep a normal schedule like I used to; I would be awake at all hours, unable to sleep for 48 hours, to sleeping over 24 hours at a time. All because of mono, the “kissing disease” that I had very little knowledge of before contracting it. Exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and PTSD overtook me.
By the time I had mustered up any energy, four months had passed. And all I had energy for was getting in the passenger side of the car and going for a drive with my mother. I passed out the first time we did it. I was drained of any life I had.
And as I got a little more energy, as I was able to get out and move a little more, the exhaustion never went away. The depression never went away. The anxiety only grew stronger. I went into a very dark place, mentally, and physically.
And it’s barely gotten any better, almost 3 years later.
It’s so hard to write this now. I’m twenty-eight years old. I had big dreams. I was going to get back on my feet, score a job as an event planner, and maybe write a book or two. I would be able to hang out with my friends without a single care in the world. And now, it all feels dashed away.
I can’t make any concrete plans (pre-pandemic) because I have no idea how I’ll feel on a day-to-day basis. I wake up without knowing if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day. And a good day is doing dishes for fifteen minutes and taking a rest for an hour or two in response. I’m struggling in a way that I have never struggled before. It’s more than just being majorly depressed, with no hope for anything. It’s more than the crippling anxiety of doing anything.
It’s about the fact that I have no energy anymore. It’s like once a day, someone comes and pops my balloon of energy and bam. That’s it. I’m done. I’m panting and struggling to keep my eyes open. I never know when they’re going to pop my balloon of energy. Sometimes, I have good days when I can manage to get out of bed and to the couch, sometimes I have good days where I manage to leave the house for grocery shopping. But most days?
Most days are filled with a dark cloud hovering above my head. I never know how many spoons I’m going to have in a given day (Read: The Spoon Theory). I don’t know what I’m capable of anymore, because the smallest thing can make me crash. And when I crash, I crash hard. It’s like I’ve hit a wall and I can’t do anything but lay down and pray that it won’t last longer than a few days.
Between my mental health and my physical health, I cannot work. I can’t even tell you which is harder to deal with, because they both have their own con lists a mile long.
But I’ll try to explain why I’m applying for disability and why I can’t handle a job.
Let’s cover the physical stuff first.
I’m pretty sure I have SEID/ME/CFS (systemic exertional intolerance disease/myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) - something that I won’t receive a proper diagnosis for at least two years (that’s when I have an appointment with the Toronto Womens’ College). The reasons for this are that it is thought that mono can trigger this, I have unexplainable fatigue that haunts me, I have constant headaches that make it impossible to stare at a screen for too long, unexplained muscle and joint pain, unrefreshing sleep, problems with my memory and concentration, dizziness when moving positions, and I’ve struggled with enlarged lymph nodes in the neck (even going to the hospital for it because I struggled to breathe). I, with my family doctor, have exhausted pretty much every other option of what this could be. I had hoped it’d be an easy fix like an issue with my thyroid, but the shoe doesn’t fit.
What’s the cure? you may ask. There isn’t one. You can only treat the symptoms of SEID/ME/CFS. That’s what we’ve been doing, but it’s not enough to slap a bandaid on it and expect that I’ll somehow be okay. Because I’m not. I struggle with all these things on a daily basis, and that doesn’t even cover the mental hurdles I’m struggling with.
The anxiety, the depression, and the ADHD would be enough alone for me to be eligible for disability. Because I have severe anxiety, about particular things, and in general day-to-day anxiety that make it really hard to do just about anything. I used to be fearless, and now? Now, I’m struggling in a way I never used to, in a way that I feel like there’s no way out of. Sometimes, on my best day, I have a hard time leaving the house because I don’t know what’s going to happen. It doesn’t matter if I’m driving my girlfriend to the grocery store to shop for us; I’m filled with high anxiety about things I cannot control. I’m doing everything I can - taking meds, meditating, journalling, etc. - and I’m still struggling.
My depression comes in waves; some hit harder than others. Sometimes, the undertow is so swift I can’t even see it coming. Mostly though, I recognize the signs when it’s happening and I do everything I can to control it. However, more often than not, I am reliving the lesson that I cannot control my depression. It will always be there, lurking, waiting for me. It will always be something I fight.
My PTSD is another story for another #MeToo movement. I thought I was mostly over it, thought I had moved past it, only to have the flashbacks and nightmares start up again. It’s not something I like talking about, so I’m going to leave it at that.
I could go into detail about how every symptom I have makes my daily life harder, but I think I’ll save that for another day.
This journey began three years ago, and it doesn’t feel like there’s an end in sight. So, here’s to turning twenty-eight, applying to disability, and hoping for a brighter, less painful future.
first things first: language is important. while I write trans below, I mean all trans people: trans girls and boys, trans women and men, nonbinary folx, genderqueer folx, and anyone else who does not identify with their assigned gender at birth.
secondly, I write this with personal experience, passion, and a broken heart. I've been seeing some things on Twitter that are just... not okay. so without further ado, let's get you educated!
let's start with Frequently Asked Questions.
01. what genders are there? what are the terms?
trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer are all umbrella terms that can include the following identities:
trans girl/woman = someone who identifies as a girl, not their assigned gender at birth
trans boy/man = someone who identifies as a boy, not their assigned gender at birth
nonbinary (also shortened as enby) = someone who does not identify as their assigned gender at birth, can be an identity in itself
genderqueer = someone who does not identify as their assigned gender at birth, can be an identity in itself
genderfluid = the experience of moving between genders
agender = someone who identifies as having no gender at all
bigender = someone who identifies with two or more genders
demi girl/boy/enby/trans = someone who identifies partially as a girl/boy/enby/trans but not all the time
pangender = someone who identifies with two or more genders, may experience all genders
cisgender = someone who identifies with their assigned gender at birth
AFAB = assigned female at birth
AGAB = assigned gender at birth
AMAB = assigned male at birth
gender expression = how one expresses their gender through clothing and other identifers
click here for a full list on different genders & terminology
02. pronouns 101.
pronouns are she/her, he/him, they/them, or other neo-pronouns (like ze/hir/hirs, xe/xem/xyrs).
they/them is grammatically correct to describe one person. jane austen used them in her books before she died in 1817.
there's no excuse to not use them. for example, you have a party. there's an umbrella sitting at your doorstep after everyone's gone. you turn to your friend and say, "someone left their umbrella here."
boom. you've used singular they/them pronouns. it's already in your vocabulary, now you just have to apply it to someone you love, know, respect, and are talking about.
pronouns can change. sometimes she/her suits a person better than he/him or they/them. all you have to do is ask what someone wants to use.
people can have multiple pronouns. you might see that someone uses she/they in their twitter bio, for example. when someone has pronouns like this, use them all. say, "oh, she's going to be late to the party. i'll make sure to put some food aside for them."
people know you're going to mess up. don't worry. we're used to it. mess up, sure. but correct yourself swiftly and move on. don't give us a major apology where we have to tell you it's fine. then we're comforting you, instead of having you acknowledge that you messed up and correcting yourself.
03. dead names and chosen names.
dead names are names that people no longer use.
chosen names are names that people currently use.
dead names are for legal documents only until the person has chosen to go through a legal name change. and even on legal documents, you can put "deadname (chosen name) lastname" to be inclusive.
dead names are dead for a reason. there should be no reason to ever use them, except for legal things.
chosen names may change. so when someone says, "hey, I don't feel like XYZ suits me anymore. can you call me by ABC?" say yes.
when you mess up, correct yourself and move on swiftly. again, you don't want to make it about you. you don't want to put a trans person in the position of comforting you.
04. what is an appropriate age for someone to know?
there's no age limit on knowing. I could've told you something was wrong with my assigned gender at birth when I was four, had I had the knowledge and education. I felt something was wrong with me, but I didn't have the words to describe it. I knew something was wrong at twelve, at fifteen, at seventeen, at twenty. I didn't come out until I had been educated on different genders outside of the binary. it was an emotional day when I learned that nonbinary was a thing I could be; because finally, finally, something felt right to me. the day I asked my friends to start using they/them pronouns for me was a big deal. I was terrified they'd reject me. they, being the wonderful and supportive people they are, did not. instead, they embraced me fully and let me have a special space to be.
it doesn't matter what age you find those magic words that make everything fit into place like a missing puzzle piece you've been searching for. you can be 4, 7, 12, 15, 19, 23, 34, 46, 58, 63, 78, 81, or 99 years old.
when you find those words that describe how you're feeling, how you've been feeling, it feels like a light has come on in a pitch black place in your heart. and suddenly, you don't feel so scared and alone. you find yourself a community, a group of people who know exactly what you're going through, and how you're feeling, and it matters.
05. what if it's just a phase?
so what if it is? you know what people are going to remember? how you treated them during that "phase," how you loved them during that "phase," and how you supported them. they'll remember and hold onto that for the rest of their lives. so if it's just a "phase" - how are you going to react is important.
embrace them. love them. give them space to learn what it means to be themselves, in their body.
and if it's just a "phase," what's wrong with a person exploring their gender?
also, what if it's not a "phase," because if it isn't, they won't want to keep you around if you treat them like it is.
06. what if I mess up? what if I ask the wrong questions?
first and foremost, all trans people accept that people are going to f*ck up. it's just part of the package. they're understanding...to a point. as long as you're trying and you're doing your best, they will understand. it's when you don't do your best to acknowledge and affirm who they are, that it becomes a problem.
if you have to ask questions, make sure you're taking the time to consider what you're asking. if your question is about how you will tell other people or how you will explain it to other people, then you're not asking the right questions. the right questions are about how you can make them feel better, safer, loved, and comfortable to be themselves. your job is to create and foster an environment that allows them a safe place to explore themselves.
07. what if someone else messes up?
if they are in the know, then correct them! it's important that trans folx are talked about with their name, pronouns, and gender identity at the forefront of your mind when we are not around! respect us at all times, please!
if they are not in the know, avoid outing your loved one! ask your trans loved one who knows and who doesn't. and only correct people who you have permission to correct. some trans people do not feel comfortable coming out to everyone, all at once. you have to go at their pace.
if you don't know if they're in the know or not, ask your trans loved one later for direction on how to handle future situations with said person.
08. what are other resources? I still have questions!
being a great ally means educating yourselves, acknowledging that other genders exist, and standing up for us when we're not around - and when we are and our voices aren't loud enough to be heard. it means supporting us on our gender journey, because trust me, it's not always an easy, straight-forward path. sometimes it's messy, but that's okay when we're given the space to learn about ourselves and how we want to express ourselves.
being a great ally means that you trust us when we say who we are.
being a great ally means that you don't expect a trans person to hold your hand and educate you on everything. it means looking up resources, reaching out, and making the effort.
being a great ally means that you understand we're just people, trying to figure out the confusing emotions rushing through us.
support us. embrace us. love us. and accept that it's going to be a little messy.
and if that's not enough, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or on Twitter @mxronnieriley with any questions. I promise to answer them within the best of my ability, or direct you to someone/a source who knows better.
To Whom It May Concern:
I wrote JUDE SAVES THE WORLD as an apology to my twelve-year-old self, for the kid who didn’t know that there are more genders than girl and boy, for the kid who didn’t realize that it was okay to love more than one gender, and for the kid who had undiagnosed ADHD.
When I was twelve, I had no idea that anything beyond the gender binary existed. Nonbinary, trans gender, bisexual, and queer were not words that were whispered around between kids like gay and lesbian were. All I knew was one or the other. Never a rainbow, never a mixture of all of the above, never none of the above. I struggled for years, fluctuating between wearing dresses and feeling like I was playing a part and joining auto class in high school to do the things the boys were doing. I was always on the outside, looking in, wondering where I fit.
Because I didn’t fit with the girls, and I didn’t fit with the boys, and I didn’t fit anywhere. When I met someone who was nonbinary for the first time, it felt like my world went from black and white to thousands and millions of different colours splashing everywhere. Suddenly, I made sense. I didn’t belong in the boxes that society had built for me, and I could exhale for the first time.
Not only does JUDE SAVES THE WORLD offer nonbinary kids representation—and maybe answers—but it does so in a way that doesn’t let the reader know whether Jude was assigned female at birth (AFAB) or assigned male at birth (AMAB), doesn’t allow Jude to be misgendered or dead named on the page. These aspects are important to me because Jude doesn’t fit into either boxes—girl or boy—but fits into the third option: nonbinary.
This book is my apology to the kid in me who struggled for so long. I gave Jude my identities: queer, bisexual, nonbinary, trans, and neurodiverse. I gave Jude no struggle over who they are because this is their gift: they know. They know who they are, but they don’t know how to tell the world who they are, and that’s where they stumble. Because had someone given me the representation that I so, so needed as a kid, had someone sat me down and taught me that there’s a whole rainbow of colours out there, I would’ve known. I wouldn’t have struggled with the unknown.
I want to gift nonbinary kids—kids of all genders—with the all the knowledge of gender and sexualities because I don’t want them to struggle like I did. I want them to look at Jude and think, “That’s me! I’m not alone!”
Thank you for your time and consideration.