Friday, August 28, 2009

Query Letter Hooks

Two weeks ago I sent out a couple of e-mail queries. I know we need a hook at the beginning of the letter to rise in the slush pile. Mine was a wee tad different.

I read about this agent in an interview on Chuck Sambuchino's blog. In the interview, the agent said she preferred to receive e-mail queries with the first chapter attached. I checked out the web site where I learned that the agency preferred snail mail, query and SASE only. There was an "if you must send e-mail. . . " statement. So my query letter began with:

"I read your interview in Chuck Sambuchino's blog today and am submitting a query to ask you to consider representing UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES, a complete work of women's fiction. While the agency web site states a preference for snail-mail queries, I am following what you said in the interview and am submitting an e-mail query, plus the first chapter."

And the response from the agent:

"Thank you for being savvy enough to know to send an e-query--and for
bringing this to my attention. You make a good point: I'll be sure to
fix that on our site.

Thank you for sending your query and sample chapter--I'll take a look."

At least it was a response. And I wait. . . .

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mixed messages

Imagine that you have a novel coming out. Imagine Publishers Weekly giving you a review. Imagine it reads something like this (author, title and character names redacted):

"[Author]'s debut introduces a likable if predictable hero, [Senior Detective], a white knight in the dark city of New York. Though pondering retirement after 27 years on the force, [Senior Detective] is content to nurture a new partner, [Junior Detective], a young NYPD detective who's quickly risen in the ranks through equal parts skill and political opportunity. . . The author excels at moving his plot forward and creating a realistic landscape that shows both the politics and practice of police work. A wonderful husband and dad, [Senior Detective] drops chestnuts of wisdom at every turn. [Junior Detective] . . . comes across as fawning and naive. Through several subplots [Author] lays the foundation for future entries, but their success may require a new dynamic for the syrupy monotony of the two main characters' relationship."

Hmm, imagine your review likening your work to a root canal.

The kicker? After less than a stellar review for a debut novel, this is a 100,000 first printing.

There is no way to underestimate the desire of some agents/publishers to present dull characters that have no originality.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Another rejection

Yes, another rejection. But not from a query letter this time.

I entered a short story in the Sherwood Anderson contest for grins and giggles. It didn't win, but I did receive a very nice letter from the Bland Library, which puts on the contest. Snail mail, blue ink signature.

Time to send out a query letter to replace the rejection. Must keep at least six in queue at all times.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Query Letter Update

My friend and fellow Valley Writer, Keith Martin, received his first rejection for a short story from a prestigious mag on April Fool's Day. He received his second for a different story today. His birthday! Happy flipping B'day, Keith.

As Keith said, the mag will run out of holidays before he runs out of stories. Keep up the fight. It's the only way to win.

I too received a form rejection on Monday. I sent out six queries in the past week. Within 24 hours, I had my first form rejection. A very nice form rejection, but a form rejection all the same.

After checking the agent's site, and learning in advance that s/he was looking for books in my genre, I realized that there was one word missing. The agent wants new authors with original voices and who write women's fiction. The missing word was "blockbuster" women's fiction.

No blockbuster from me, but could be the start of a solid midlist series.

Onward. More agents await my attack!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Querying is Hard Work

Okay, I began my marketing research by sending the short query letter to three agents today.

This is hard work. One wanted a letter only. One wanted a letter, a synopsis, and the first chapter, the synopsis and chapter as attachments. And the third used an e-form. Cut and paste chunks of the query letter into various boxes. Then add 50 pages in the final box. Only problem with the 50 pages is they had to be reformatted from Word into plain text.

I copied the material from Word and pasted it into Notepad. I added all the line breaks and then pasted it into the form, only to have odd lines added in mid-sentence. So, I had to rework the 50 pages into plain, plain text, checking each line break to be sure it fell in the right place. And since I couldn't send it to my other e-mail address first, I have no idea what the final will look like when it arrives.

Three agents for three said, "If you don't hear from us in X weeks, we aren't interested."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Query Letters

Okay, I drafted and redrafted my query letter with the help of several friends.

I reviewed Noah Lukeman's How to Write a Great Query Letter. I reread Chuck Sambuchino's advice on the three paragraph rule, which by the way is similar to Lukeman's but in a different order.

I read Sambuchino's blog daily. He has a new feature - great query letters and why they are great.

And I've read Query Shark faithfully.

Guess what? They all disagree. Lukeman and Sambuchino favor the three paragraph approach: 1. why this agent, 2. description of the plot, and 3. a very brief but appropriate "why me" bio. The order may change, but the gist is the same.

Sambuchino ran an example of a great query letter for a graphic novelist. Let's see, a paragraph providing author viability on the topic, second paragraph with more bio, third paragraph with more author background, fourth introduces the graphic novel (at last!), fifth about the work and plot, sixth about the author's publishing credits, seventh about the illustrator, and last the request to send a synopsis, etc. Hum, eight paragraphs. But the agent liked it.

Why do I write this? Because I have two query letter formats: Lukeman/Sambuchino versus Janet Reid (a.k.a Query Shark) who frequently comments favorably on slightly less formulaic letters. Some agents will get one format; others a different format. I'm curious if either format will work. I will track who gets which letter.

Nothing like a little market research, huh?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Querying for fun and profit

After a wonderfully stimulating day on the water last Saturday, and a rainy Sunday, I dug into the query letter for Mad Max 1. The original query wasn't working. My fellow Lake Writer and boater Sue Coryell reviewed and made several comments. I revised, read aloud, tweaked, and am now ready to send it out.

Why did I ask Sue? Because she is one friend who has actually published using an agent. Most of my published friends did the deed themselves.

Thanks to Sue.

Onward to testing this version. If anyone out there knows a good agent who handles contemporary women's fiction. . . . .

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Writing on a Rainy Sunday Morning

I love rainy days when I can write and edit and rewrite to my heart's content. Today was one such day.

I worked a bit more on tuning my first Mad Max novel, after a wee bit more feedback from one on my best friends. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have changed anything. Besides Mad Max 2 awaits in complete first draft.

Yesterday, four women writers took off on our boat for an afternoon of wine, writing, talking about plot and characters, and other mischief on Smith Mountain Lake. We had hoped for three more, but Sally Roseveare was doing her first book signing for Secrets of Sweetwater Cover, Becky Mushko was over at the Hanover Bookfest, and Claudia Condiff was coughing and hacking and didn't feel at all well.

We had a perfect day of relaxing on and in the water before heading home for a barbeque with our husbands. And then the rains came. And came. And came. Oh well, I was already wet. . . .

So with yesterday's inspiration and today's rain to help, I tackled my query letter. And thanks to Sue Coryell, a fellow Lake Writer and YA novelist, I sent her the latest version for improvement.

August is query letter month. No but firsts.