Saturday, October 2, 2010

Query Quandaries

For anyone who is also in the query stage of their work, remember.... you are not alone. My most recent story I queried about twenty different agents back in June and out of those twenty I got one partial request. Three months later the partial was rejected (in a very nice way) and that made me realize it was time to revamp the story and the query.

So I have. I now have a totally different first chapter where the inciting incident is VERY clear. My query has been polished and I'm almost ready to go out into the fray again. I still want a couple more pros to review the query for me. Anyway, isn't it insane how much research that querying alone requires?? I thought I'd share a little of what I've learned so far in case it helps anyone else.

 I can't post it all in one sitting, but I'll start with some good info my mentor gave me. I'm part of a YA mentor program and my mentor, published YA author Jennifer Hubbard, has given me the formula that worked in getting her agent, Nathan Bransford, and her novel, The Secret Year, published:

Greeting to agent, brief line about why I was contacting him or her specifically (e.g., I liked his client's books or saw her speak at a conference or whatever).

Gave the book's title, genre and subgenre (contemporary YA), and a hint at the topics/themes ("secrecy, loss, and obsession").
This is where most people seem to put the book's word count, too. I'll confess that I have never included a word count in a query. I couldn't see how it mattered. Probably the main thing someone can glean from the word count is whether you have any idea of the typical word lengths of books in today's markets--and if your book is in the ballpark, fine. 

2-3 sentences telling who the main character is, and what sticky situation he has gotten involved in (the setup for the main plotline).
1-2 sentences describing the first complication/setback for the main character.
1-2 sentences mentioning one of the subplots that affects the novel's climax in another major setback, & describes that climax.
1 sentence discussing how the MC dealt with the climactic event, what he learned, how he did or didn't change.

Brief paragraph about my previous publications (short stories). This is also where you would include relevant platforms/experience, if you have any (e.g., if your book is about Iraqi doctors and you spent 3 years as a medic in Iraq, or if your book is about dog shows and you have experience running a dog show, or if you happen to host a radio show whose thousands of listeners are likely to buy your book). But if you have no previous publications or relevant experience, it's fine to just say, "This is my first novel."

Closing with contact information.

If anyone else is wallowing in the bowels of query hell, perhaps this smidgen of info will help. If you get a chance, check out Jennifer's website above.

BTW Georgia McBride of YALitChat just got herself an agent after querying for 13 months!! So happy for her, and that goes to show.... persistence and patience are number 1 when it comes to getting published.

So keep at it! I know I plan to!

Now, I'm off to start writing my 1k word horror story for Hannah Kincade's contest. I've been swishing ideas around for the last week and last night it hit me...... I'm looking forward to stepping outside my comfort zone and trying my writerly hand at something different. :)


Quinn said...

Great advice! I like how you break down the query letter. I'm in the process of writing the query letter for my book.

I'm interested in the YA mentor program you're in ... if you can give any information.

Adina West said...

There's a reason it's called Query Hell. Sigh.

It does take a long time (and much revision) to make a query really strong. I know I was incredibly frustrated by the whole process partly because it seemed like I was wasting valuable time I could have better spent writing. But in the end I did see how arriving at a strong query also helped me clarify the key issues in my novel and make sure they were evident to the reader.

Jennifer Hubbard's basic run down on what to put in a query sounds pretty thorough. I know mine was very similar to this basic format and it was successful (eventually).

Good luck!

M.L. Mansfield said...

Thanks so much PK! That helps immensely! I've always known the direction a query was supposed to go, but to know the specifics is awesome. I'm copying and pasting right now :)

JEFritz said...

Awesome advice. Thanks so much for taking the time to think about it and write it down for us hopefuls.

William Kendall said...

Outstanding advice!

Talei said...

Hi PK, great tips - thanks for sharing! And also I wish the very best with your querying. I'm not up to this stage yet but I'm learning from everyone's experiences too. ;)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great post. Hanging in there. Never give up. Back to the old query and make it new. :)

Kathryn said...

Great post - it's so important to really take any advice we get from agents, even if they reject us.

Talei - I really recommend you check out the community at Writers Digest. We have a group there that does query critiques, and it's been incredibly helpful for me.

Talli Roland said...

What fantastic advice. You're so right - patience and persistence are what it takes! Good luck with the querying!

Lydia Sharp said...

Great post! I've been querying for three months now and have had a decent request rate, but still waiting for that special someone to click with me and my work and give me an offer. This is definitely a very frustrating stage of the game.

Also, I wanted to let you know that I've chosen to feature your blog on the WD Writing Mothers group for October. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, it was great. There is so much info to weed through online and conflicting advice!

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