Writing, Sharpening, and Preparing My Query

Three things accomplished.

1) Finished the second draft of the WIP. Beefed it up a little, added a couple of things the story needed and did so in a way that advances the plot a little quicker.

2) Performed one of the most pleasurable things an author can do. Wrote the first draft of the query letter, the letter where you’re trying to get an agent excited at the prospect of representing your book to publishers.

It’s a very specialized kind of writing, with a very specific audience. All you’re trying to do in it is get an agent to request you send the full manuscript. It’s gotta be short, sharp, and give enough of the story that the prospective agent will “get it,” and be interested enough to want to read it.

If you don’t know how to write a query or what “the rules” are, but have a manuscript you’re ready to pitch, I strongly recommend you visit the Query Shark, a service provided by literary agent Janet Reid. At query shark she evaluates queries and provides feedback for why one works or doesn’t. Just reading through the archives will prepare you to write your own.

Why should you follow some arbitrary set of rules? Because you’re trying to attract an agent, who will (with luck) sell your book to a publisher. You can’t ignore it when an agent says “this is what I want you to supply so I can decide whether I want to represent you.”

Why do you need an agent? I don’t have time for this discussion right now. Just suffice to say – YOU NEED AN AGENT. If you don’t think you do, good luck to you but you’ve reduced your likelihood of getting published from slim to virtually non-existent.

Oh, and this is very important, a legitimate agent will NEVER require payment up front. An agent gets paid when you get paid, as a small percentage of your royalty. Good agents are worth every penny of their commission. If they ask for money up front, they ARE NOT a legitimate agent. As seductive as it is to hear someone say, “I really like your book and think I’ll be able to sell it,” if they ask for money up front, they are not legitimate. Run, don’t walk, for the exit.

Moving on …

3) Began the less fun but equally important task of compiling a list of agents to whom I will submit my query. It’s not as easy as just compiling a list of every literary agency in New York (they’re almost all in New York, and there are hundreds of them.) You’ve got to go through each firm’s list of agents finding the one that represents what you’ve written – contemporary fiction, romance, adventure, middle school, young adult, whatever – and is currently looking for submissions. I’ve been at it all Saturday afternoon and have come up with ten so far.

With my last novel, “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” I eventually ended up sending out 82 queries. The one that ended up deciding to represent me was the 77th I sent out.

And just to cut to the question you’re already asking, no, that agent no longer represents me. Technically, he never represented ME, he represented the book. It’s sort of like a high school romance. At first the agent is hot in love with your book, and is convinced he’ll be able to sell it and make a little money for both of you. But it’s a long process and a lot of work and at some point, if there’s no pay off, the agent “falls out of love” with you and your book. So after a year and a half of trying to sell Chrissie, the agent waved the white flag on both the effort and the book. You part ways, and he/she goes on to fall in love with other authors and other books, leaving you to sit up late at night eating a tub of Ben & Jerry’s finest while weepily watching old rom-com movies. Or whatever the literary equivalent is.

And that agent was actually my second. A different agent had fallen in love with the book of pirate humor I had written with Cap’n Slappy – “Pirattitude!” – and was able to get it published, along with a sequel that wasn’t as good and didn’t do nearly as well. Then he was in love with my first novel, “Chance: A Tale of Caribbean Buccaneers,” which he called “‘Treasure Island’ for a new generation.” But a year and a half later, after he’d almost gotten it sold to a very big publishing house (seriously, I would have pissed my pants if he’d placed it with them), he fell out of love with both me and “Chance” and it was another breakup.

Both of those agents are on the list of ten I’ve come up with this afternoon. Because you never know, and at least we have that old relationship to fall back on. It’s like going to the prom with your old girlfriend. Maybe not your first choice, but at least you’re at the prom!

Anyway, I have a lot more names to add to the list. I’m using a spreadsheet with columns for the agent’s name, the agency, the address, any special instructions for submission, and a column to check off when I sent and if I ever heard back. You’d be surprised, only about a quarter even write back to say “no thanks, not what I”m looking for.” And I don’t blame them, they probably get hundreds of queries a week. They can’t spend a lot of time on things that don’t have potential.

I am NOT sending them out yet. I suspect the WIP will need at least one more pass before I think it’s agent-worthy. I just want to be ready.

One thought on “Writing, Sharpening, and Preparing My Query

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s