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.