[This is a reprint of a blog I wrote near the end of last year for author Cassidy Webb’s blog Twisted Webb.]
Every author dreads them, but query letters are the lifeline to the publishing world, and we have to write them…like it or not. At least, that is, if you plan to go the traditional publishing route, which is what I am currently pursuing. Sure, I could self publish (which I did with one book already) and may yet end up doing so, but for now I am going the old fashioned route and sloshing through the query swamp.
The good news is, creating a query letter isn’t as hard as it used to be, thanks to many, many free and cheap resources. You can Google “query letters” and you’ll get all sorts of tips on what to say, how to say it, formatting, and even warnings about what agents hate. There is software you can buy to help you create the “perfect” query letter (don’t know about that) and all sorts of websites that claim they will teach you the ins and outs of paragraph sequence, catchy openings, plot summaries, and the tricks to get an agent’s attention. That is all well and good until you get to…
The bad news: you still have to write the darn thing. But what do you say? How do you take your 300-page book and summarize it adequately so that the agent will get the gist of your characters and plot? Worse still, how do you summarize it in a way that doesn’t water your book down so much that it sounds like every other book they have ever seen? What danger is there in describing every detail to the point that you realize you could have written a short story instead? And how many agents do you have to send it to before you get a positive response and find someone who actually wants to lay eyes on what you have spent months, years, or a lifetime lovingly creating? (And how come not everyone is as fond of it as you are? Come on, people, it’s great writing!)
We have all heard the stories about best-selling authors being rejected over and over — Stephen King was rejected over 30 times before the right agent came along — and are now reaping the rewards from taking a chance on an unknown whom everyone else said would never amount to much. I bet those agents wish they had that choice to make over! What we are supposed to take away from stories like that is some sort of solace that tells us it is okay if the first agent you solicit says, “No.” But it’s hard. I remember fondly the first rejection letter I received like it was just yesterday. Actually, it was last Tuesday, but you get the point.
I am in the process of finding an agent myself for a novel I began almost a decade ago. The manuscript is finally done and is now collecting dust on my hard drive. No, it really is. I need to clean the vent in the back of the computer. It’s filthy!
Over the past week and a half, I have sent out a total of 49 queries to agents from New York to San Diego and I have gotten rejected six times. In the big picture, it is not a bad ratio. It means that I am only 25 queries away from becoming the next Stephen King. (I can dream, right?) But, over the same 10 days, three agents have requested sample chapters and pages, which I hurriedly sent off. Am I excited? You betcha! Am I am rushing out to buy my new Mercedes? Uh…no. I think I will wait until I receive my first royalty check.
It really is true that each rejection gets you one agent closer to writing success. That’s the attitude we need to have. So stop staring at the computer screen. The e-mail won’t change. The answer is still no, so move on to the next one. The right agent is out there. You just have to fight your way through the weeds to find the right one.
FOLLOW-UP NOTE: Since I wrote this last year, I have received numerous positive query responses, including full manuscript requests. A couple have panned out to be real possibilities. Writing success can happen. It just takes hard work, diligence, and patience.