I, among others, have an intense fear as well as total lack of confidence of querying my work. And I don’t have a reason in the world to feel so shy. I know I’m a good writer. I have a fairly good education. And I have a pretty good network.
Not much scares me, from flying airplanes to riding motorcycles (yes a Harley with a club) to breaking in young horses. Not even facing a room full of high-schoolers – or kindergarteners – will make me blink an eye. But sending out a query gives me bad dreams.
I enjoy hawking my wares, whether crafty or written, in craft or book fairs. I love meeting new people and talking up the things I do and how I do it.
I’m not afraid to speak to a group, large or small, old or young, on a wide variety of topics – after all, I’m a teacher. I can even do a ‘shoot from the hip’ talk about just about anything and make it funny. But I’m unsure of querying.
I’m not afraid to write outside my comfort zone and then present that work to my critique group, both online and local, in person. But writing a query letter sends me shrinking to the shadows.
So why am I so afraid of sending a little letter and a few lines of my latest book to an agent?
Could it be that I feel the agent is this great and grand (Wizard of Oz) wise and powerful keeper of the keys to the Magical Kingdom of Publication? I suppose so.
Wow, was that an example of pre-judging? Doesn’t that sound a bit like prejudice? Perish the thought, especially in this day and age! The truth is, I think they (the agents and editors) are just as nervous as we are. Like, what if they happen to be the one who rejected Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. But they do read an awful lot of material. And they do have at least a little bit of experience in the game.
I have to get it through my head that agents are not gate keepers, they are skilled members of the industry actively looking for the next great work which they can sell to the big guys and make lots and lots of money. So I have to be the one to write – and send – that amazing book.
Could it be that I feel I’m only a small, unknown beginner. I have no idea what I’m doing, and all my rejects prove that little fact. So maybe I don’t deserve to keep trying. (Oh, don’t ever fall into that trap.) I bet Dr. Suess can tell us something about keeping on keeping on. I’m so glad he didn’t give up.
We all start out an unknown, uneducated beginner. The difference between then and now should be education, workshops, clinics, conferences, and practice, practice, practice. That means the BIC index. How long you keep Butt In Chair. So maybe that will take care of my self-esteem issues. At least it should. I still hesitate in clicking the ‘send’ button on my query.
So what’s my problem? Ah, clue one – it’s my problem, my mindset, my choice to change it.
Ok, so I took a course from Writer’s Digest. I also attended a few conferences, and I follow several agents’ blogs and twitter. Here’s what I learned.
1. Most agents tell you exactly what they want and how they want it on their agency’s website. And you can see what that agency reps in your research. Don’t send if it doesn’t fit.
2. No two letters are exactly the same, so there isn’t one hard fast format to follow and achieve instant success. But remember KISS – Keep it simple
3. Keep practicing – read – write – read – write – repeat as needed.
A query letter is a tiny bit of information about the work. It needs to be read in under a minute. And it needs to capture the attention of someone (actually the right person at the right time). We’ve all heard it a hundred times – and we should have been hearing it since we took that journalism course way back in high school. The query letter should answer the five ‘Ws’, who, what, when, where, and why. In this case ‘how’ (your extensive research and education) isn’t needed.
Practice writing an entire story in one hundred words. I mean a story with a main character, a plot with action, a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end. Did I say keep it at exactly one hundred words? It’s a great exercise. Also practice tweeting meaningfully.
Try this format. Title is a Word Count Genre about gender of MC and overall action . Then condense your main plot to one hundred words. (Remember that little exercise I just told you about?) Basically, write the back cover blurb or a cable TV style description of your book. Less is better, but make it so interesting that the reader simply can’t continue life without reading the book. Follow this with a sentence about you and include your contact info – the agent will look you up and you can prove that by looking at your statistics on your website. AND don’t forget to say thank you for your time.
This format got me my very first personalized rejection! Yea, after I can’t tell you how many years or hundreds of rejections, a personal note – with suggestions for making the manuscript a little better. I count that as a huge success and soul-lifting step forward.
I heard a children’s book author speak at a conference. He sends out five queries a month, or was that a week. And then he works on the next book project, or researches more agents and publishers. Then he sends out five more. Then he works on revisions. He said that if you never hear anything, then the trouble likely lies in your query letter. Redo it. If you get a written reject, especially a personalized one, then your query is fine, it’s either the content of your book, or the timing is actually wrong for this agent or editor.
I also learned to never take it personally. But I can tell you: It sure was fun receiving that personalized rejection. So onward I go.
I welcome your comments and I’m willing to take a look at your own query if you’d care to share.