Tag Archives: query letter

The Dreaded Query Letter

9492597487_3dc77c1d94_bQuery letters. If you’re familiar with query letters, you probably cringe at the thought of writing one. The query letter is a no-more-than one page document that writers send to literary agents, in an attempt to grab an agent’s interest.

In essence, a query letter distills an 80,000-some word novel into its barest components. The query isn’t even a full synopsis! And with agents being swamped with query letters, making yours stand out is a challenge.

That’s why some individuals decide to write their query letters in first person, especially if their novels are first person, rather than third person. Third person queries are recommended.

Yes, the protagonist’s personality comes across easier in first person point of view. When you’ve got such a limited amount of space to grab a person’s interest, you really want personality to come across. However, first person point of view in a query letter is not something you want to be doing.

Why?

Because first person query letters lead to confusion. Is your query a memoir? Are you threating the agent? Are you insane?

Agents read so many queries that they will not take the time to figure out whether your novel is a fantasy, science fiction, non-fiction, etc. Your query will be deleted the second an agent is unclear with what’s going on.

Here’s a great article explaining why first person queries are a big, fat NO: The First-Person Query Letter.

(Photo courtesy of Freaktography.)

Quotes and Rejections: Surviving the World of Publishing

It’s safe to say writing is my passion. I like the act of writing, reading about writing, learning about writing, reading in general, both fiction and non-fiction, adult and young adult. Without writing my life would lack a vital component, but there are times when I don’t feel like writing or I feel like I’m not any good at it. Sometimes I’m tempted to throw down the pen and quit.

Writing isn’t easy. Shelling out an entire novel, revising, getting it critiqued, and revising a few more times is a long process. Then, having to write and revise the synopsis, blurb, and query letter all in the hopes of having an agent declare your book worthy of being published is another arduous step in the very long process of finding a place for your work among the shelves of other published novels.

Sometimes it all just feels futile, like you’re bashing your head repeatedly against a brick wall.

Long_and_Winding_Road_by_anonyms_one

When these moments of futility occur, I turn to quotes by published authors. It helps to know that I’m not alone in this process or feeling like I can’t find the right way to describe something…or that my work is a load of crap that should be burned.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite quotes:

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
– Lawrence Block

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E. L. Doctorow

“You can’t write a novel all at once, any more than you can swallow a whale in one gulp. You do have to break it up into smaller chunks. But those smaller chunks aren’t good old familiar short stories. Novels aren’t built out of short stories. They are built out of scenes.”
– Orson Scott Card

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
– Ernest Hemingway

“It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. So, in order to exploit one thing or another, you may have to do research. You may have to find out more about Chinese immigrants, or you may have to find out about Halley’s Comet, or whatever, where you didn’t realize that you were going to have Chinese or Halley’s Comet in the story. So you do research on that, and it implies more, and the deeper you get into the story, the more it implies, the more suggestions it makes on the plot. Toward the end, the ending becomes inevitable.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

“We writers are apt to forget that, as the gunsmoke fogs and the hero rides wildly to the rescue, although the background of this furious action is fixed indelibly in our own minds, it is not fixed in the mind of the reader. He won’t see or feel it unless you make him—bearing always in mind that you can’t stop the gunfight or the racing horse to do the job.”
– Gunnison Steele

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”
– Ray Bradbury

“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
– Jim Tully

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
– William Faulkner

“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.”
– Leslie Gordon Barnard

“Don’t be dismayed by the opinions of editors, or critics. They are only the traffic cops of the arts.”

– Gene Fowler

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
– Leigh Brackett

At times it may seem like published authors were immediately successful. Agents and publishing houses love advertising their wildly successful writers. However, most writers didn’t get an agent after they queried only five agents. They didn’t sell millions of copies of their debut novel. Most authors worked hard and diligently for years and received countless rejections before finding success.

Probably one of the best examples of this is J.K. Rowling. Though she got an agent quickly, she was rejected by almost every publishing house in the UK before her book sold. On top of that, she was told to get a day job because she wouldn’t make any money off of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

J.K. Rowling is now a billionaire and one of the most well-known authors in history.

Some other examples:

The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series received over a hundred rejections. I don’t know about you, but I owned several of those books when I was younger, and the ones I owned were only a few of over a million copies that sold.

C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” spent years getting rejected before it sold. Not only is this series famous, several movies have been made of it.

Dan Brown was told his “The Da Vinci Code” was too badly written to be published. Millions of sold copies and a movie later, he’s doing just fine.

H.G. Wells was told his “The War of the Worlds” was “An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’” It was published in 1898, is still in print, and was made into a movie both in 1953 and 2005.

The list goes on…

This isn’t so common nowadays with most literary agents preferring email query letters instead of paper, but authors will talk about how they received enough rejections to wallpaper a room or that they have drawers full of rejection letters. Yet, despite being told their work isn’t good enough to be published over and over again, they persisted, and enough they became published.

As Isaac Asimov says, “You must keep sending work out. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”

Got any quotes on writing or rejection you turn to?

(Photo courtesy of Deviant Art.)

7 Things You Should Know About Agents

Agents may seem like an elite society, one that’s closed off to the general public, but they aren’t. They’re very busy and have individual interests, and will only select novels they enjoy and think will sell, but they are looking for that next novel. Here’s some things you should know:

  1. Complete manuscript. Make sure your manuscript is complete before you query an agent. If an agent requests a full manuscript, it’d be a major bummer to not have one ready. It’s rare for an agent to even request a full, so if and when it happens, be ready.
  2. Do your homework. Know what the agent represents before you send them your query. If they’re into comedy, don’t send them a dark and gritty story that has no comic relief. Also, try to keep up to date with what agents want. What they were looking for last year, they probably aren’t still looking for this year
  3. No fees. You don’t pay agents. They look at your submission, decide if they’re interested, and then choose to either represent you or not. They get a slice of your book deal. If an agent asks for a reading fee, don’t give it to them. In fact, don’t continue to contact them. They’re either a scam artist or are really bad at their job.
  4. Be professional. Your query needs to look good. No spelling errors. No grammatical issues. Make sure to include word count, genre, book title (in all caps), and a way to contact you. And don’t send an angry email to an agent when they reject you (and if you are like most people, you will get rejected). It’s not personal. The agent doesn’t know you, and they know very little about your book. They just weren’t interested in what they read.
  5. The Reminder. Sometimes you’ll send out your query and hear nothing from an agent. Most agents will give an estimated response time (i.e.- 6-8 weeks). If you don’t hear anything from them in that time frame, send a very concise and polite reminder email. (Waiting a week or two after the estimated response time doesn’t hurt either.) However, if you don’t hear anything after that, then it’s time to write the agent off.
  6. Social Media. In today’s world, social media is important, whether you want it to be or not. Agents are on social media, which is a good thing. You can follow them on Twitter, see what they up to in agent interviews, find out how to query them via their website, and find out if they’re going to be at any upcoming writing conferences. Also, get active on social media. It’s very unusual for an author to not be an active member of today’s social media scene.
  7. Agents aren’t required. You don’t need an agent to get published. You can self publish or go straight to a publishing house (though this is more for small publishers). Agents may make your life easier (I said may), but you won’t be ostracized for getting published without an agent.

All in all, the relationship between an agent and an author is give and take. If the relationship isn’t synergetic, then that agent may not be right for you.

Writing that Query Letter

A query letter is a one-page cover letter used when querying literary agents. It introduces your novel and yourself. There’s a hook, a blurb (not a full synopsis), and a little bit about you.

The query letter is very important. If it grabs an agent’s attention, that agent will request pages, possibly even a full, which may lead to an offer of representation.

When writing a query letter:

  • Address the specific agent you’re interested in. Nowadays, most queries are sent via email. Good for the trees and response times (sometimes), but there is a downside. Agents are bombarded with query letters. If you don’t take the time to address a specific agent, they’re not going to look at it.
  • Include your novel’s title. Don’t forget to include the title of your novel in your query. After spending weeks or months working on your query, you don’t want to forget something as vital as the novel’s title. Also, put the title of your novel in all caps.
  • Mention word count and genre. This gives agents a clear idea of novel length and targeted readers.
  • Cut to the chase. Don’t start your query with introducing yourself. You need to hook the agent right away, so dive right in about your novel. Some agents read all the way through the query. Many with stop reading immediately if you don’t get their attention right away.
  • Explain why you chose that particular agent. Let the agent know you’ve done some research and she’s not simply a random person you queried. However, don’t get carried away. Some agents like you to mention why you queried them. Others only want to hear about your novel. But if you met the agent in person or have been in contact with her, mention it.
  • If you’ve got a successful platform, mention it. If you speak at writing conferences yearly, have a blog with thousands of page views a month, a large Twitter following, etc. put it in the query letter.
  • Include your contact information. For a snail mail query, you’ll include that information at the top of the letter, along with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). For an email query, include your information at the end, beneath your signature.
  • Revise. As you did with your novel, revise your query letter and have other people critique it. Typos are a huge no-no. Even if an agent is interested in your premise, if you’ve got typos, many won’t request pages.
  • Study. Read query letters that snagged agents. AQ Connect has a ton of examples of successful queries. Learn from what they did.
  • Keep it professional. Send only what the agent says to on their website. Some agents only want the query letter. Some want the query plus sample pages or a few chapters or a synopsis.
  • Include only what’s relevant. When introducing yourself, only include what’s pertinent to your writing. Having been published before, have a degree in writing, are part of a critique group, or having a successful platform are some examples. Don’t talk about how many cats you have or that you love long walks on the beach. If you find that you and agent so and so are both obsessed with Doctor Who, go ahead and say that.

The query letter is your chance. You could have written the next bestseller (don’t mention that in your query), but if your query is subpar, then no one will ever know how wonderful your novel is.

What tips do you have for writing a query letter?