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Parts of the Query Letter

There are three parts to the actual query letter and each part is only one paragraph. Query letters must be short. They should never, EVER be more than a page.

The first paragraph is a short intro, with one sentence that lists the title of your novel, the word count, and the genre. The second sentence should explain why you chose to query that particular agent. Personalize it if you can; agents like to know you didn’t just randomly pull their name out of a hat. If, however, the only reason you are querying them is because a search engine said that the agent represents your genre, then I would strongly suggest you leave that sentence blank. Some agents say that you don’t need to do this, that you can jump right into your query, but I will say this: 90% of the request I have gotten are from agents that received personalized queries.

The second paragraph is a short (and I mean SHORT; no more than THREE sentences) synopsis of your novel. It should read like the blurb on the back cover or jacket flap of a book; short, to the point, and most of all, interesting. We will discuss this section of the query letter on Friday.

The last paragraph of the query should have a short author bio, with any publishing credits you might have. What’s that you say? You don’t have any publishing credits? That’s okay; we’ll discuss what to put here on Monday!

And, finally, you have the closing, which I tack on to the author bio. It should read something like this: “Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. Upon your request, I would be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. I look forward to your response.” (You have your manuscript done, right? Because you might need to send it in IMMEDIATELY. The partial request I got the day before yesterday came only TWO HOURS after I sent the query. You need to be ready to send it out almost immediately. Some agents say they expect your manuscript within the week, but really, the sooner the better.)

Then you sign your name and include you mailing address, your phone number, your email address, and your website address if you have one. You want to give your potential agent as many ways as you can to contact them!

And that’s you’re basic query letter. Tomorrow, we’ll cover a list of do’s and don’ts for a query letter. Trust me, there are a lot of mistakes a new writer can make that will irritate an agent. Luckily, you have me, with my hard-won experience, to tell you what NOT to do. (To bad no one told me! My mistakes could fill a giant bucket!)

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Do Agents Understand What a Writer Goes Through During the Query Process?

You know, I’m not really sure they do. I follow a bunch of literary agents on Twitter, and yesterday, one of them was saying that you shouldn’t tell the agent that you’re going to be waiting breathlessly by the computer, hitting the refresh button every two minutes because it makes you sound desperate.

So, I can see why you wouldn’t want to say that to an agent. It’s not professional. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to do it. And honestly, it’s not desperation, at least not for me. It’s impatience. I imagine I’m not alone in this, but for me, being published will be the culmination of an almost life-long dream of being an author. I’m justifiably impatient when waiting for an answer that may or may not take me further down that road. If someone is ever given permission to incessantly hit the refresh buttons on a computer, I think it should be us writers.

I know agents say they get it because they feel the same way when they start to submit our projects to publishers, but honestly, do you think they feel the hope and fear at the same level that we do? When their projects get rejected, does it sting as much as when our projects, those manuscripts we’ve slaved over, writing and polishing until our eyes threaten to bleed, get rejected? I don’t know. Maybe they do. I don’t know any agents personally (not yet anyway!) so I guess I can’t really say.

What do you guys think? Is it desperation or impatience for you? Are any of you going through the same thing?

In other news, I received another full request from an agent yesterday. This one is one of my top choices, and I’m extremely nervous about it. I would love love love an offer of representation, but honestly, I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed with a revise and resubmit from her. At least it would be the next step forward!

Also, I’m wondering if you guys like the interview series I’ve been doing. This week’s Saturday Poll will be asking for some feedback from you, so help me out and vote and leave comments!

Writing: When Should One Give Up?

Well, I think that does it! We’ve covered everything there is to know about querying an agent. Did I miss something? Is there something you would like covered? Do you have any questions about the writing process you would like to discuss? I’m open to suggestions, so please let me know.

There’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I was wondering if anyone else had gone through it in the course of their writing career. As those of you who follow my blog know, I’ve finished four novels and have maybe six more that I started and didn’t finish (from the early days of my writing). I’ve written five picture books as well. I’ve yet to land an agent, despite receiving interest. Currently, my most recent novel is making the rounds with the agents; and I’ve been wondering; what do I do if it doesn’t pan out again? Other then being a wife and a mother, writing and being a successful author has been, and continues to be, my biggest dream. But there’s no sugar-coating it; breaking into the publishing world is hard. Sometimes, I feel like it’s impossible. So what do I do?

It takes me an hour and a half to type 1200 words (on a good day). That means that it’s taken me at least 250 hours to type just my four finished manuscripts. Revising those manuscripts more than doubles that total, probably taking it to about 700 hours. That’s like working 17 ½ weeks for no pay, no agent, nothing except for improving my writing with each finished manuscript. And yes, that improvement is huge and important, but if I can never land an agent or a publishing contract, it’s still for nothing.

Yes, I enjoy writing, making up worlds, and living vicariously through my characters. But I’m nothing if not honest, and honestly, I want other people to read and enjoy my work. That’s why I’m really doing it. And so I have to ask myself; why do I put myself through the stress, and the worry, and the rejection over and over, if there is the potential that I will never have anything to show for it? There are some easy answers here, but I don’t think they’re the truth. The truth is; I don’t know.

Hope plays a big part in it, and also the unwillingness to see my dreams die, but I can’t come up with an explanation other than that. I could give it up and be content being a wife and mother; I know I could. But a small part of me would also die. As I sit here, waiting to hear back from the agents who have my manuscript (three fulls and four partials!) a part of me is contemplating all of this and wondering; if this doesn’t work out, do I have it in me to start all over again? Honestly, I’m not sure. I want to say yes, my heart says yes, but my brain says I might just be wasting my time. I feel like the two parts of myself are at war with each other, and at this point, I’m not quite sure who’s going to win.

Saturday Poll: Where are you in the Query Process?

Partial Request of my Manuscript!!

Sorry folks, the query letter series will have to wait one more day, because yesterday I got my first partial request for my new manuscript! WHOO HOOO! I totally wasn’t expecting it either, because I’ve only sent my query out to a select few agents. I was SHOCKED to see it in my inbox yesterday!

Okay, okay, I know I shouldn’t get my knickers in a knot. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much, because then they’ll have so much farther to fall. But I will say this. This partial request couldn’t have come at a better time. If you follow my blog at all, you know how discouraged I’ve been lately. A small part of me was even wondering if I should throw in the towel, while a much larger (and much louder) part of me was yelling at the smaller part. This yelling was mostly made up of unsavory names, such as “quitter” and “dream crusher,” among other, much worse names I can’t repeat on this blog.

Anyway, this was exactly the boost I needed to get back to work. My sprits are lifted and hope has sprung eternal once again.

What Genre of Fiction do You Write?

Well, everyone, I’d like to wish you all a “welcome back!” after the holiday season. I don’t know about you, but if your holidays were like mine, you probably have a stomachache from too much food, a headache from too much to drink, and a few too many pounds around your waist. What? Did you say it’s NOT smart to try to force your belt into its normal hole when the belt buckle is straining against the leather like a hot air balloon against its tether?? Hmm….

My new year came with some resolutions (mainly to lose a few pounds and to clean up my language which is very mild compared to most people I know, mostly just hell and damn. However, I’ve discovered it’s NOT funny when your year and a half year old says “damn it” in front of your relatives.), but I’ve always found the new year to be a time to contemplate the direction my life is going in and decide if I want to make any changes.

 

My writing life is included in this contemplation, and I’ve found myself wondering if I’m writing in the right genre. As some of you may know, my most recently completed manuscript is young adult-contemporary. I enjoyed writing it but…  I’ve also written manuscripts that were YA-fantasy, contemporary romance, and historical romance. I enjoyed them all but… I just don’t know what I should be writing. I’m not sure if I’ve hit my stride.

I think part of my problem is that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and, in a sense, I’m looking for the perfect writing experience. I know that, much like a man (or a woman for that matter!), that doesn’t exist. But still, I wonder, should I be writing something else?

So You Think You Can Write Contest: Wish me Luck!

Well, it’s time again for Harlequin’s big yearly contest. Contestants submit a full manuscript and first prize is a publishing contract. I just submitted my entry yesterday, after a lot of good help from my new critique partner. The winner(s) will be announced sometime around February 14th, which is appropriate, since it’s a romance manuscript contest!

 

I’m not expecting too much. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my own advice from the other day. I don’t know if I stayed in the box well enough. I entered the Romantic Suspense division, but there isn’t much of a mystery, more a “Woman in Jeopardy” plotline, which they do say they accept… I don’t know. I’ve got my fingers crossed! There’s no harm in entering, but I’m not going to hold my breath!

 

Writing is kind of an odd profession. You have to work and work for months or years (which is my case! I started writing seriously in 2008, with about six months off when I had my son) and there is no guarantee you’ll ever get anywhere with it. And every time you send something to a contest, or an agent, or a publisher, you get to hope that maybe this time will be the time. Maybe this time you’ll get noticed, or even get some sort of encouragement.

 

So far, I’ve only had detailed rejection letters, and two full manuscript requests from agents, which ultimately resulted in rejections. This was encouraging, but it was way back in May. I haven’t had anything encouraging happen since, and it’s hard not to feel discouraged, like I’m trying to move a mountain, one grain of sand at a time.