Query Letters

Let me just put it out there…I stink at query letters.  Most of it is probably me and my admirable ability to over-think just about everything — but it’s also the nature of the challenge.

For my non-writer friends, once you’ve *finished* your novel you write a one-page letter to a literary agent.  (You are, of course, not finished, but it’s as good as you can get it before the agent and then publishing house editor take a go at it).  Then, the agent decides whether they want to represent you.  You can’t MAKE the agent.  You can’t BUY the agent.  You can’t (or you aren’t supposed to) DRIVE up to New York for an impromptu appointment.  You can’t just SEND your entire manuscript and hope it will be read.

You get to send one page.  Then, a partial (say, the first 50 pages).  Then, maybe the whole thing.  Then, the agent will say yes, no, needs work, send me your next one or something uselessly generic about how it isn’t the right book for their agency.  And, time passes between each step. And, just to be fun, some agents who are overwhelmed with the number of query letters he or she receives, will say, “I’ll only respond to your query if I want to see more.”  Right.  So, how do I know if you’ve even read my letter yet?  I don’t mean to bother you, but I’d like to know for my own query-tracking purposes.

A writer needs to take their 93,000 word novel and write about it in two paragraphs.  Followed by a short paragraph about personal experience or previous publication credits.  But, for the most part, the writer has never met the agents he or she is querying.  And how the heck do you entice a stranger?  You read their bios on the agency website, maybe you check out their twitter feed.  This takes more time.

Some agents want to know where you heard about them.  Others want you to jump into the pitch.  Some agents say they want a novel that crosses genre lines and others say, “Don’t you dare write that you have a thriller-romance-paranormal–horror book.”  Some say to compare your novel to a well-known author, some say, “It’s such a turn-off when a debut author compares themself to a published author.”  ARGGGG, I say in my best pirate voice.

Some general advice is to send out your queries in batches.  If you are turned down by all in the one batch then you know it is the QUERY letter that isn’t working.  The agents haven’t even gotten to your book yet.  Okay.  That makes sense.

So far I’ve sent out 18 query letters in four batches where each batch has a different query.

Current Total: 8 no, O request for partial or full.

This is a project in which I find it easy to become obsessive.  Seriously, I could spend (maybe have spent?) hours on whether to say, “I’d like you to read my dystopian novel.”  Because, in my novel, New Babylon is a military regime which plans to bring the survivors under a one-world governnment and, between you and me, the leaders of NB are CRAZY.

I could say (and have) that GOW (Garden of Wynterhall for those who don’t speak acronym) is a post-apocalyptic fantasy in the tradition of The Road and The Book of Eli.  But then I always worry that I spell post-apocalyptic wrong.  And some agents, apparently, are bored with end of the world scenarios.

My mind spins and spins about what I should change or say to get through this agent barrier, this meeting the right person, because it’s the gate to the next step of my dream to get “Garden of Wynterhall” traditionally published.

And then I hear about Oklahoma.  I see pictures of such fear and suffering.  I listen to the story my neighbor tells me about her daughter and goosebumps raise on my flesh.  Dreams are important.  So is the rest of life.  Hug your children.  I’ll hug mine.





Happy Chinese Year of the Snake!

I’m in a transition phase and I’m not exactly sure where I’m going to end up, but this feeling of wasting time, of just being a warm body rather than being uniquely situated, is constantly biting and nipping at me.  Chemo is over, although Evelyn has been sick most of the winter.  Pre-school — and the pre-school tuition bills — is almost over. My oldest will start middle school in the fall.  The other three will be in elem. school.  The children are increasingly independent and I’ll have more blocks of time.  Although, the twins volunteered me to help out at Thursday’s Valentine’s Day party.  How can one say ‘no’ to that?

I’m trying to be more mindful of my writing.  What does success mean, to me?  How can I use my talent to bless other people?  Would I still write if there were no financial compensation?  Should writing become more of a hobby than trying to make it turn into a full-time profession?  I asked my friend, and social guru, Mindie Burgoyne if I should stop blogging.  This blog doesn’t really do anything or even have a theme, I said (whined).  She said: 

1.  You must have a blog if you’re a writer who wants to get published.  Publishers look at these things and want to know that you can connect with readers.  

She also told me to get on wordpress, sent me a link, and she might run an online class on blogging.  If she does, I’ll post the details here.

On February 4th I was planning to start a new job as a fitness instructor for the parks and rec department.  The more I thought about it, the more excited I became.  A couple of hours a week, I was being paid to exercise, and the classes went by the school schedule.  No way could anything be more convenient.  Then, for several reasons, the entire morning program was cancelled.  Very disappointing.

I received an encouraging e-mail from a speculative fiction publication about a story I submitted back in August.  Still no final word.  Writers, you understand this frustration.  Especially if the ultimate answer is “Thanks, but no thanks.”  Really?  You’ve kept my story seven months before turning it down????

My voiceover lessons — I’ve fantasized about being a voice for animated films and audiobooks for a long time and only acted on the wish last September — are not going super-well.  In fact, I sound stupid reading the commercial scripts.  Certainly not a natural talent to read an insurance pamphlet verbatim and still come across as warm and human.  Don’t believe me?  Try it.

About six weeks ago I finished a novel titled “Garden of Wynterhall,” had it beta-read, and then submitted it to the Amazon Break-Through Novel Awards.  The contest works a lot like American Idol for writers.  The first round is based on a 300-word pitch.  Second round is based on a 4,000 word excerpt from the beginning of the novel.  Then the actual novel is read by Publishers Weekly.   Finally, voting is open to the public.  Winners and a couple of runners-up will receive publishing contracts with a fixed advance.

Anyway, the announcement about the Pitch round will be made tomorrow.  10,000 entries will be cut to 2,000.  And, whether I make it or not is more of crap shoot than something to celebrate or cry over.  Anyway, either I’ll move forward, or I’ll revise the pitch into a query letter and send it out to five agents that I’ve already identified. 

So, today, I’m sending well-wishes to my fellew ABNA entrants, and also to dreamers who didn’t make it in one day, one week, or one year.