Tag Archives: query letter

Optimizing the Query Process with Fewer Mistakes

Eldest leaves for college tomorrow. We–or should I say, I?–have a ton of checklists to keep us on track. And yet, I’m not overly concerned because a giant Walmart lives four blocks from his dorm and he’s only 45 minutes from home. Even if he forgets his tennis shoes, he or we can easily make the trek–on a weeknight if need be–to get them returned to their rightful owner in a timely manner.

And yet, after years of writing, I can’t help but check my lists to make sure we do this thing right the first time.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard exasperated, frustrated or terrified cries of, “Oh for the love of all that’s holy, guess what stupid query thing I did now?”

Yep, more than I can count.

So I thought it would behoove us all to remember that move-in day isn’t the time to first start thinking of how to make a smooth transition. Rather, we need to bear certain things in mind long before we show up at the dorm room with only  Doritos, goldfish and pony keg in hand.

The first and only truth of querying is that first time queriers are often impulsive. We’ve worked hard to polish our manuscripts. We’ve researched agents and have A, B and Z lists. We’ve even had our query letter beta-ed, line edited and tweaked to near-Godliness. We’re ready to go.

And so we forget things like our names or the agent’s name. We attach the wrong file or send blanket queries to a thousand and one agents–only to realize we never changed the agent’s name, so Agent Awesome, Super Agent and Agent Incredible all received a query addressed to Dear Mr. Agent.

We hang our heads in shame, climb back into the closet and vow never to query again–or at least not until our pain subsides and we can once again look ourselves in the mirror.

To help curb those last-minute mistakes, keep a checklist close at hand. Because nothing is worse than showing up for the main event ill-prepared. This list can be used for agent or editor submissions, though I use the term agent almost exclusively.

LAST MINUTE CHECKLIST

  • Start by sending only one query at a time, and start each query new. It’s easy to forget that each agent might want a little something different.
  • Go through the checklist with each new query. Until querying becomes second nature, it’s important that you pay close attention to each detail with each new query. Fast fact, the mistakes we make generally occur when we send batches at a time.
  • Check to make sure your agent information is current. Even if you compiled your list two weeks ago, things do change. In fact, agent/editor shuffling might be the only thing in the publishing arena that moves quickly–at least from our point of view–and it does us no good to shoot an email to Uber Agent when he’s been replaced by Agent Incredible.
  • Check the spelling of the agent’s name (and address if snailing it). Nobody likes having her name misspelled and it leaves a bad first impression. In fact, some agents get quite jaded about it over the years. Not that I blame them, as nothing irritates me more than telemarketers massacring my name. Now multiply that by 100 times per day and you’ll understand the importance of getting it right.
  • If you are sending a different query/submission package to each individual agent, double-check the guidelines of the agency and make sure they match the query you are sending. Agents get good at sniffing out blanket submissions. Especially when a query tailored to someone else finds its way into their inboxes.
  • Imbed, paste, attach or collate hard copy sample pages only after you’ve checked and double checked your guidelines. Yes, some agencies still require snail mail submissions and it’s just as important to send the right info to them as it is to e-agents.
  • SASE if snailing it and the agency requires it. The self-addressed stamped envelope is sent so agents can respond with ease. In fact, many agents will leave you hanging forever and ever amen if you don’t provide one for them.
  • If submitting by snail, sign your name. You laugh, but don’t. This is a frequent mistake.
  • Now hit send or hike it down to the post office. Just make sure you have enough postage or your precious letter will never make it to your intended destination.

One of the things I do when researching my agents is create a graph that tells me step by step what to do. It makes it easy to know who gets what, when and how. For example:

  1. Agent Awesome
  2. Address/Agency Info (for snail) or Web Address and email for e-queries
  3. Submission Guidelines (query, query and synopsis, query and 10pp, etc…)
  4. Special Notes (such as attachment directions, credential requests, request for clips, etc…)
  5. Simultaneous or Exclusive Submissions and SASE requests
  6. Time Frame on when to hear back (if this info has been imparted in guidelines)

By combining both lists, I’ve kept my mistakes to a bare minimum. Just like I hope I can do with Eldest tomorrow.

What query/submission mistakes have you made? If you know the outcome of making such a mistake, please share it with us, so we can learn. What things have I forgotten?

Curious minds want to know.

Growing Up Too Fast!

My baby girl turned sixteen yesterday. Lucky for me, she’s not a debutante kind of gal, but a fun-loving, young lady who asked for a Hello Kitty cake instead of a car.

Yet, despite holding onto her childhood, she’s talking college. Obviously she’s figured out how to balance growing up with staying young.

Writers, yeah, you know. You can go far by learning some balance on your writing journey. And if you don’t believe me, head over to From the Write Angle and check out Sophie Perinot’s post.

Hugs to you all~

Scattered Thoughts

Still getting my land legs back after vacation.  Ironed all night for senior pictures for Eldest and will spend the day watching his personality unfold in front of the camera.  Fun, fun.

My new post on E-Queries for Picture Books is up at From the Write Angle.  It supplanted my Blogvel post only because I haven’t had a chance to polish that one yet.  Please look for it in September, and in the meantime, browse through FTWA because it’s a great writing resource by some great peeps.

The newest chapter of THE SKELETON KEY is available at Greenwoman’s Blog.  Check it out, she’s amazingly talented and knows just how to tickle my funny bone.

Another blog to peek at this morning is Digging with the Worms by Eric Trant.  It’s a hard look at what you want out of your writing: All of nothing or half of something.  Check it out.

And while you’re at it, I ran across Creepy Query Girl’s blog post about waiting for the pass.  She has a wonderful link there to some great pass lines garnered by successful authors.  It happens to the best of us…

Sock Dog comes home today, so on top of everything else, I’ll be picking up my family’s footware and hiding it.  Which reminds me: if you’re writing a mystery and are in need of a private tutorial on private investigators, please go to Patricia Stoltey’s blog tomorrow.  Her guest team is actually a real life PI team.

 How about you?  What does your day look like?  Will you have time to sneak in a bit of writing between Real Life duties or are you set for a fabulous day of penning prose?

Curious minds want to know!

PS: If reading is on your agenda, pop on over to Ready.  Write.  Go. for a list of book give-aways.

A Swift Kick in the IE-OCD

This morning my DH asked what I planned to accomplish today.  Without thinking, I said, “I would like to get out two submissions.”

“Let’s get it done.”  DH settled in next to me and my computer.  He leafed through a golf mag, oblivious to what he was getting into.  Oblivious to the fact that he was initiating a task I had been putting off for weeks months. 

I am a perfectionist when it comes to querying.  And yet, no writing is ever perfect, not even with critique groups and beta readers.  Completed manuscripts still need tweaked or totally rewritten once an agent or editor is on board with the project.  Even with editorial departments and galley proofs, typos and other mistakes make their way into published books.

Nothing is ever perfect in writing.  But by golly, I was trying.

DH riffled through his mag twice, heaved half a dozen sighs and tried to give me some management advice on saving appropriate files for each of my completed manuscripts.  He may have been raedy to beat me with his golf magazine a tad bit frustrated by the fact that I was searching an AQ thread for my dissected query last spring.

“But you don’t understand,” I wailed.  Yes, I actually wailed.  One hour later and 250 words in, I was frustrated by my lack of the perfect query letter.  “I have 300 words to sell this idea.  Three hundred.”

“Yeah?”

I attempted to put it in his terms.  “If you had to sell a tractor in 300 words, which ones would you use?” 

“Here’s my tractor, here’s how much it costs.  Now buy it.”

Talk about economy.  I’ve never seen an eleven word query letter before.  Nor was I satisfied with his version, even though he was fundamentally right.  Here’s my book, this is what it’s about.  Now rep it.  Please.  Let us not forget the please.

I struggled some more.  DH snatched up one version.  “What’s wrong with this?”

Everything.  Yet I couldn’t possibly explain the anxiety that went into perfecting those sparse paragraphs.  They had to be PACKED with goodness to have an agent request the manuscript.  They were all I had.  I read him a slightly different version–one with four changed sentences. 

“Oh, yeah.  I like that one much better.”

And that’s when it dawned on me.  I have IE-OCD.  My Internal Editor knows full well that there is always a better version.  It refuses to quit tinkering.  It refuses to approve.  It refuses to give me permission to take that next step.  So I don’t.  I read and reread.  I compulsively change one or two words.  I let my queries simmer.  And I wait for my Internal Editor to tell me that I am finally done.  That all is good. 

This morning my DH gave my IE’s OCD a swift kick in the rear.  With his golf club.  “It’s just a five iron, Baby.  You’re a hundred and eighty yards out.”

Now, I’m not obsessed with golf like he is, but I know he was telling me to relax and swing.  To let it go.

I did.  I hit send, fought the impulse to call my queries back and walked away.  DH may not read often, but he’s got the real world figured out.  And so I leave you with his words of encouragement:

“It’s just a five iron.  You’re a hundred and eighty yards out.” 

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten to kick your Internal Editor’s rear?

Enough Already

Snow has been a pain in my rear this winter.  In the past five days, we’ve had two missed school days and one late start.  We had to cancel DH’s Christmas party due to icy roads and the internet and cable hibernated on Saturday. 

Enough Already!

Which makes me wonder, do editors and agents feel this way about our deluge of manuscripts? 

Today I checked out the Kidlit blog this morning to refresh the rules for the first chapter contest.  I browsed the comments, trying to size up the competition and saw a few questions that made me wonder just how attentive we writers are to submission guidelines. 

My guess is not very. 

Every once in a while, an agent or editor might be delighted with an unexpected submission.  However, my guess is that more often than not, they get as crabby as a mom with four school age kids after the fifth week in a row of snow days. 

In short, it gets tiresome to field queries that don’t follow basic guidelines.  To review:

  1. Unless you are writing non-fiction or are a super-star, do not query an incomplete manuscript.  Period. 
  2. Do not submit the minute you complete your manuscript.  Manuscripts need rounds of edits and “just finished my first novel” is a sure sign not to sign.
  3. Send only what is asked for.  We are in love with our own writing and want everyone to see it in its entirety.  Quash the urge.  Go to agent or editor websites and find out what they want sent and how they want it to arrive on their desks.  A snail query to e-queries only is a waste of trees and agent patience.
  4. Don’t tout your first place win for the International Society of Poets in your bio.  Everyone owns the plaque and has been invited to spend their money on $60 anthologies of really bad poetry.  If you don’t have writing credits, it’s okay.  There are agents and editors hungry to find the newest best-selling author. 
  5. Likewise, don’t tell them your grandmother loves your manuscript more than her nightly martini.  She’s your grandma (insert at leisure: kids, mom, spouse, best friend, neighbor) and will lie to stay on the Christmas list. 
  6. For the love of all things holy, do not send a picture book to a YA contest or a romance novel to a horror agent.  To do so is to clutter up cyber space and eat up everyone’s time.  It’s like adding six inches of snow to a forty mile an hour wind.  Unless you’re God, don’t do it.
  7. Know the very basics of manuscript formatting should you include more than a query letter.  Most websites that cater to writers (including agency and publishing house sites) have sections devoted to double spacing, one inch margins, chapter breaks, cover pages and fancy fonts.  If you don’t know these things, check out Agent Query asap.

Please follow these basic guidelines to keep the slush at a minimum.  In the long run, it should help staunch the blizzard of queries to agents and editors.  This should lighten their moods and make them more apt to read all of our queries more closely.  Henceforth giving writers a better chance of actually having their manuscript requested, read and repped. 

Willy nilly submission practices only garner rejections.

If we all do our part, we can stop the hands-in-the-air, enough-already expletives from those we wish to woo. 

Have you made rooky mistakes when querying?  What tips can you provide other writers to help the right manuscripts make it to the right desk?

Query Letter Considerations

Call me particular, but when I open a banana, I like to eat a banana.  Not an orange.  There’s something about truth in advertising that strikes me as the best way to go.

Likewise, when I buy a book, I want to open the pages and read the promise from the back cover.  It’s not to say I don’t like surprises of the good variety: she fell in love with the unexpected, the murderer wasn’t who I thought it would be or the ghost was really the groundskeeper’s aunt’s nephew and not a zombie.

I imagine agents and editors feel the same way.  Our query letters are back cover promises to the pages within.  I wonder how often we fail to deliver.

Granted it is difficult to condense an entire manuscript to two paragraphs.  However, it is essential that we do so while providing the most pertinent information to the project.  So what does a good query need?

  1. Main Character.  It might be hard to do at times, but it is best if we can focus on ONE for the query.  Two paragraphs is a tiny space to introduce everyone in a manuscript.
  2. Main Conflict.  Yes, our books are often complex with several subplots shooting through the main story arc.  However, space is limited and the agent/editor needs to know the gist of our novels. 
  3. What stands in the way, or what can our MC lose/gain by resolving/not resolving the conflict?  The girl of his dreams, his family, the end of the world, a promotion?  We must write some sort of tension into our queries or there is no need to read.

And all these components need to fit neatly into your banana peel.  That way we don’t receive an automatic rejection based on our inability to deliver.

Truth in advertising is essential when presenting ourselves to agents and editors.  Otherwise we look like that bad knock knock joke.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?