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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Query Process Part Two: Writing A Query Letter For Fun And (Hopefully) Profit

Howdy Blogfans!


This post is for my wbw friends again. Next week everything should be back to, what passes for, normal here in (on?) the blog. I am still taking post suggestions.


So last week we discussed (okay I discussed- you either read or skimmed the post) sending pages to a publisher (and why it's a bad idea if he/she didn't request pages from you) and learned that the most professional way to go is to find an agent.


I'm not going to tell you how to write a query letter. Sorry. The info is out there and you can find it if you're any good a'tall at research (if you have money take a class- your favorite {living, working} author may actually give one.) I will give you some excellent sources though- sources that took me a while to try and find my way around. You can use 'em or not. I have no stake in your response. A list of useful links follows this post.


The best, most indispensable by far, source is querytracker.net [ http://querytracker.net/index.php] 


Why is this the best source?


I fumbled around looking up the top agents in my field for about six months before I found this site. My search took forever and didn't yield much. When I searched QT's list of agents, what do you know? There they were- all the agents on my carefully culled list. Better yet, QT has all kinds of info about these agents with links to many of the *other* great sites I found through exhausting trial and error. Best of all? Other queriers leave comments about their submissions. This is incredibly useful. For instance:


Say I query Chad X. I've chosen Chad X because he is interested in my genre. I've looked up his website, I've checked him out on Predators and Editors and PM, I know some of the authors he represents and I think he may have an interest in KMS. I send out my, carefully fine tuned to his specifications (which can take a huge amount of time- you have no idea what some of these agents ask of the wbw!) query and he sends me a rejection that looks like this:


Hi, Subtle Hubris,

Thank you for your query. While your project certainly has merit, I'm going to pass. ... I'm sure you'll find others who feel differently. I hope so!

I wish you the very best in your search for representation.

Warm regards,
Chad
 X XXX Publishing NY,NY

And I'm all excited because my project has merit! Oh woohoo I'm *awesome* and minutes from a real publishing contract- right? *

No. Chad X is a gentleman. He probably knows that a crappy author (or, more truthfully, crappy query letter writer since that may be the extent of what he's read of my stuff) may improve and someday need an agent. He would like to keep his options open. He may like my Q letter but not want my MS for whatever reason. Also, Chad X likes to be nice because he understands that (most) authors are batshit crazy and pissing off people who have a lot of time on their hands, and your email address, is not a great idea. Chad X is no dummy. He's also super busy and uses ready made rejection letters.

So, how do I glean any useful information from this? 

My brave and intrepid fellow queriers have cut and pasted this very same rejection in the comment section about this agent. I am not, in this instance, unique :-( Why must I burst my own balloon? Why not just take the response at face value?

A) This response is easy to take but can give me false feedback. Dude may say this to every query. It doesn't help me make my query letter better. 

B) I hope Chad X really loved my stuff and I read the comments left by other queriers. Turns out he uses a few form rejection letters and mine is the most encouraging. That's good info. I'm probably on the right track with my Q letter. I look through the recent comments/ stats  and see that he doesn't ask for partials often. Probably my query letter isn't the problem so much as the book I'm trying to sell so I keep my letter pretty much the same and send it to Chad Y. 

When I get a positive response from Chad Y and look up his stats I see that my Q letter was intriguing enough to catch Chad Y's interest. Chad Y doesn't request partials from just anybody either (he actually turned my first Q letter down flat a year ago) and I know that when Chad Y says it's going to be "some time" before I hear back it's no lie. Most other queriers had to wait 3+ months for a rejection of their partial. A fellow querier suggests that, If 3 months go by and I hear nothing, I should resend. I did and got this back:

"Please email me the full manuscript. I’m enjoying this book!"

If I hadn't read his blog (a link conveniently provided on the QT website) and the other querier's advice, I would never have re-sent the requested materials; being too pushy is a super bad idea. No, I haven't heard back from Chad Y but hey- he reads a lot and he enjoyed the first three chapters of KMS. Even if he rejects me I know that my book (well the first 3 chapters or so) doesn't totally suck. Rejection (in case you're wondering) doesn't bother me much anymore unless I lose a contest- that's always terrible. 


The query process is slow and depressing. The querying wbw aches for useful feedback that never really comes. QT offers a needed service (oh and it's *free* unless you want to pay for the extra features.) It's wonderful to have access to a community of people going through the same living hell you are. You'll find some pukey braggarts on the site ("oh I queried two agents and received an offer of representation after  my second submission") Yeah. Good for them. Keep in mind that most of the people who use these sites are hoping to lie for a living. They practice a lot. They may not have been very picky about their choices for agents either or they may just be *that* good. And rude enough to brag about it. Most of the comments are down to earth, encouraging, and helpful.


Anyway. QT also has a good resource section about writing Q letters and polishing your MS. I already wrote up a Q letter that felt right for my MS before I started using the site, so I can't speak for the quality of that info, but a quick review shows that it says pretty much what everyone else does.  A query letter should have certain elements and they should be written a certain way. Yep, I'm going to be that stingy with info. 


Is my query letter perfect? Nope. I constantly tweak and rewrite the basic letter and associated, frequently requested, elements. It's an ever evolving document. The process is exhausting and probably futile. Sliding through the slush pile is an awful way to find an agent but it's cheap and, if you're really good, and/ or lucky, it'll hook you a quality agent who will then reel in a quality publisher. Nobody is going to knock on my door and say "hey I hear you want to be a writer- how may I assist you?" Maybe that will happen for you...


Are there other ways to find a publisher? Sure. Win reputable contests. Meet the right people. Sell short stories. Get famous. Go indie. Then write to me and tell me what you did so I can do it too.


Good luck. I hope this helps.


Yours,
S.H.


 P.S. Here are some other sites you may find interesting:


http://editorialass.blogspot.com/
http://misssnark.blogspot.com/
http://pred-ed.com/
http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/agents/
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
http://www.duotrope.com/howto_basic.aspx


* Most query rejections are like the following (based on real form rejections):


Dear Author,

I'm sorry that the volume of unsolicited material we receive makes this sort of form response necessary.  We've read your material, and I'm sorry to say that we don't think it is right for the XXX Agency.  We wish you the best of luck.

Or this:
Dear Subtle Hubris:
Thanks so much for your query. Unfortunately, this does not sound right for me.
Best of luck.

Or this:
Thanks for the query, but this project isn't right for me.
Chad 

Or this:
Thanks, but not for me.

Chad

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