As I wrote in my last post, Just Press Send, I’ve taken the first step in my publishing journey and started querying: sending my work out to literary agents in the hope that one of them will want to represent me as a writer. While there are other routes to getting a novel in print — self-publishing, indie presses — I’ve always wanted to be traditionally published and see my books for sale in a real-life bookshop, and for that a literary agent is essential. So three weeks ago I got all my files together, wrote a kick-ass query letter, and sent a volley of emails to agents who I hoped would be interested in my dark, female-focused psychological thriller, THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND.

And… that was it.

I was nervous about pressing send because that one click represented all my fears about this journey — from receiving nothing but rejection to the potential stress of mega-success, and all the cringey social interaction in-between. But that one click is also significant because it’s the very last time I get to have any control over my submission: once it’s sent, there’s nothing else I can do. An agent will like it and request the manuscript, or dislike it and reject it, and the only way I can sway them is with the words already on the page.

Once the query leaves my email account and lands in theirs, its fate is completely out of my hands.

So while a lot of writers talk about querying like it’s an on-going process or a state of being — “Oh yeah, I’m querying right now, too,” — it’s actually more like a form of stasis. It’s a verb in the sense that we actively cause it by sending the emails, but the effect has a huge delay. There’s a gulf between pressing send and getting an answer — an anxious, swirling gulf.

So I’m not really querying right now. I’m in querying limbo.


This is not a drag on literary agents, but querying sucks. Agents are, quite rightly, too busy dealing with their existing clients to spend all day trawling their inboxes for new ones, so it can sometimes take weeks, months, years to actually get a response — if they send responses at all. Many agencies have a “no response means no” policy, meaning they don’t send out rejection emails, so you could’ve been rejected in thirty seconds without knowing it and yet still be refreshing your emails, hoping Dream Agent gets back to you soon, like some wartime sweetheart awaiting the homecoming of a lover who will never return.

The unpredictability of querying, the fact that I could hear nothing for six months or get twenty emails in a single afternoon, causes my anxiety to multiply like bacteria on a petri dish. All writers struggle with this — it’s common to hear of people refreshing their email every five seconds or checking an agent’s Twitter account 236 times in one day — because humans crave control over their own lives, and by querying we’re basically handing that control over to a group of strangers, indefinitely. We want to hear back soon, to know what’s happening, to have some hold on our own fates — but all we can do is cross our fingers and press refresh.


When you’re querying, you’ve written Schrodinger’s novel: simultaneously a success and a failure at the same time. Every single query has the potential to be an offer, even though the likelihood of rejection is far higher, so there’s always a chance an agent will see the good in your work. But the truth is, you have no way of knowing if there is good in your work until the responses come in. Even the most meticulously edited manuscript, one that’s been seen by dozens of beta readers and critiqued by trusted writers, could fall flat when it comes to agents’ opinions.

So limbo becomes twofold: the anxiety of waiting, and the paranoia that your beloved book is laughably unpublishable.

This paranoia builds on itself as rejections start to pop up. Agents don’t have time to send personalised rejections or feedback, so most writers get a form email and a stock phrase in response to their lovingly crafted material: “wasn’t right for my list,” “not for me,” “I didn’t feel passionately enough to take it on”.

As understandable as form rejections are, it’s absolutely maddening to have no idea — or a whole paranoid bucketful of ideas — why it’s a no. It sends a lot of writers spiralling, so just one unspecific rejection can ruin entire days as that person scrambles to figure out what’s wrong with their book and why is isn’t something to be passionate about.

And even knowing about subjectivity and differing tastes and how competitive the market is, it kills your hope. Suddenly you’re not waiting for responses, you’re waiting for rejections — rejections on your piece of shit book that nobody in the world is going to want to read — and you’re embarrassed for ever thinking you could do this at all.

But hope is a fire, and it never dies entirely. Sometimes you just need a good support network of friends and fellow writers to help clear out the ash and stoke the flames, and then you’re ready for the next email to come.


So querying limbo is a rubbish place to be, basically. There are fun parts — researching agents, the thrill of a request, the burning hope that survives even when you’re down to the embers — but it all comes with a lot of anxiety and pain.

But the thing is… querying limbo isn’t the only limbo. I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again. I drafted a version of this post last year, back when I first sent my book to my critique partners, and it contains a lot of the same thoughts and emotions. Back then, waiting to hear from my writer friends was all I thought about. I assumed they hated it — because I hadn’t heard back in five minutes. I raised my eyebrows at their book tweets, wondering how they could be reading a published novel when they said they were reading mine. Even though I knew I’d put in enough work for it to be at least a definitely-not-terrible book, I still half-expected to get scathing replies.

So if I do get an agent, limbo doesn’t disappear forever — it transforms. Suddenly I’ll be worrying about what an editor thinks, if any publishers will ever want the book, if the public will buy it, what the reviewers will say… The same old anxieties and insecurities, just redirected. Leveled-up.

Because the anxiety I always feel when others are reading or considering my work comes with the territory of being a creative, especially one who wants to create for money: put simply, I’m scared people won’t like my novel. I’ve birthed this deeply personal book of pain and promise, and I’ve stuck it on stage in front of a tomato-carrying crowd.

Limbo is standing alone and exposed, not knowing if that entire crowd is going to hurl its throwables or if someone will start applauding.

So in a lot of ways, querying limbo is preparation for a whole career of uncertainty. It’s a feeling that’ll be there during every step of the journey to publication, clawing at me each time I take a fresh stride along the route — the route that is the only way to get to my destination.

However much I want to turn back and escape the constant anxiety of limbo, I want to be published more. It’s my dream, and I will never stop chasing it. I’ll learn to live with the frantic butterflies, the thumping heartbeat, the sleepless nights. As bad as this anxiety is, as much as I hate putting my fate in the inboxes of others, what I stand to gain makes it all worth it.

So limbo, you better get used to having me around.

I’m here for the long haul.


Querying can be utterly soul-destroying, so I set up this little system to soften the blow of rejection. The purple eggs are for requests for more material, the fancy red eggs are for rejections, and the gift card is for Very Bad Days (multiple rejections, rejections on the full manuscript, etc.) when I need some guilt-free retail therapy. The chocolate bar is for Very, Very, VERY Good Days Indeed.

I started querying three weeks ago, and… Well, let’s just say this display looks a tiny bit different now.

But you’ll have to wait for my next post to find out how. 😉

Published by Lucy Goacher

Psychological thriller writer from Worthing, UK.

One thought on “Limbo

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