Query Letter Madness

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While I’m in the midst of reading the commented version of my edited manuscript (more on that later – what an eye opener!), I’m busy putting the finishing touches on my new and improved query letter.

The inspiration to write a new query letter was the result of going through the process of hiring an editor. I figured my manuscript was getting a make-over, so it made sense for my query letter to go through a similar transformation. After all, my previous manuscript and query letter were rejected six times. I know that is a very small number of rejections, but deep down I knew I could do better on both fronts.

At the same time, the fact that I got any sort of response from six agents told me I had something worth pursuing. Even though they rejected my work, they took the time to give me a written response (most agents don’t bother with queries they aren’t interested in representing). One agent even went as far as to encourage me to keep searching for the right agent for my work. It was that response that made me realize I am not chasing a lost cause.

Despite getting those responses, I understood I had to take things a step further. That’s when it dawned on me: If I could get multiple responses with a fourth draft manuscript that was never touched by an editor, imagine what could happen with an edited manuscript and a better query letter.

After reading so much about query letter formats, do’s and don’t’s, and countless articles on the subject, my head was stuffed with information. Too much information. Every time I sat down to write a new query draft, I went into panic mode from worrying too much about writing the so-called perfect query letter. The result was a stiff, hesitant query letter. Who wants to read that??

I decided the best way to escape the panic was to sit down with the same ease I had when writing my novel. I didn’t care about whether I was doing it right or if everything fit into some prescribed format. The story mattered to me and nothing else. So, that’s the attitude I decided to take on when writing my query letter. I let go of all that stuff that was making me nervous and just started writing.

The letter I now have is decidedly different from any other draft. The stiffness is gone and the personality my writing style is much more vivid.  A strong voice is key in selling any novel, so it makes sense for my query letter to match my novel on that level. In addition, I think I’ve laid the story out with more clarity. In the past, beta readers have told me the summary didn’t tell the complete story. Now that I’ve identified the holes, I think I’ve got the leaks plugged!

The only problem I’m struggling with is length. A standard query letter is usually around 250 words, but my current query is 325, (and will potentially go up to 340 when I add personalized details for each prospective agent). I’m tempted to go in and start slashing words, but I’m also trying to remember that I purposely let go of the rules. Perhaps, its time to go with my gut and see what happens.

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c.b.w. 2014

2014 Goals: August Status Report

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I’m a little late with this update, because I was way too excited about finishing the read-through of my edited manuscript. Priorities mandated writing about that accomplishment first!

1) Pitch The Muse.

August was all about finishing up the monumental task of reading through the edited manuscript of The Muse, (see The Last Line). Thanks to work and a nasty cold that task took a little longer than I would have liked, but ultimately the goal was achieved.

As I wrote last week, I am immensely happy with the work my editor has done. I have a small list of changes (about 30) to make and I’ll be working my way through that list during September.

In addition, I’m close to finalizing my query letter. Once changes are made in the manuscript, I plan on starting the pitching process once again. The most recent issue of Writer’s Digest has a list of agents looking for writers and a few of them might be a good fit for my novel. Here I come!

2) Outline and start writing The Muse: Lineage

As I wrote last week, the epilogue for The Muse is causing a few problems.  Therefore, most of my focus for the sequel has been on figuring out how to get out of the corner I’ve created. The good news is I’m starting to make some headway.

3) Submit writing.

Tunnel vision regarding The Muse keeps this goal on the shelf.

4) Continue to build author platform.

Facebook continues to be my favorite hangout. This month saw more growth in traffic and Likes. Hope you’re all enjoying the quotes, images, and random quips!

Twitter, however, continues to be my weak spot. Once again, my total followers dropped despite acquiring several new followers. One of these days I’ll figure out why Twitter is fun.

Facebook likes grew from 373 to 375

Twitter followers dropped from 551 to 544

Thanks so much to everyone for clicking those follow and like buttons! Your support is greatly appreciated.

5) Inspire others.

As always, I hope I am a positive presence.

The invisible goal:

6) Be flexible.

My eyes are open and so is my mind. As I start to see out agents, I’m also seeking out other modes of publication. One way or another The Muse will be in print.

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c.b.w. 2014

The Writer’s Waiting Game

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Query letters have been sent. Competition entries have been submitted. Drafts have gone off to beta readers. In the age of instant gratification, waiting for a response in the writing world is a grueling endeavor. Weeks and months are a long time to wait when you’re dying to know whether your work is good enough to get picked up by a publisher. Or at the very least, whether somebody like it well enough to say, “good job.”

In the case of waiting for a literary agent to respond to a query letter, I go in with the assumption that nothing but silence with follow my inquiry. When a kindly worded rejection shows up in my inbox, I’m thrilled. Positive thinking is a powerful thing on this journey. So is keeping busy. The wait for any sort of a response is agonizing and it never seems to end. You’ll go nuts unless you keep yourself occupied with something other than obsessing over that elusive response.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve perfected the art of waiting with distraction. Trust me, keeping yourself busy makes the process a lot easier to take and in many ways softens the blow of rejection. Here’s a few ways to keep your muse inspired and give your patience a boost…

1) Keep writing.

Start that next novel or punch out a few short stories. Maybe even dabble in poetry or non-fiction articles.  Follow your muse and write because you are a writer, regardless of your publication credits, (or lack thereof). Sometimes a “distraction” piece can turn into something great. My second novel began as a distraction and ended up as my passion project. It got me through a number of rejections and ultimately lead me to a new path.

2) Research literary agents.

Finding the right agent takes a lot of work. It takes research, research, and more research. Every agent has different tastes, query package requirements, and personalities. For those of us playing the waiting game, all the work and time required to find the right agent plays right into our hands. It takes a lot of time to compile a list of possible agents and prepare customized query packages. Luckily, time is something we have in plentiful supply!

3) Read.

Every writer I know is also a voracious reader. Between loving a good book and wanting to figure out how published authors crafted a great story, writers are inherently addicted to reading. While waiting for any sort of response to arrive, it’s nice to escape to another world and enjoy the ride. Plus, some authors thank their agents on the acknowledgments page. This ties in nicely to #2.

4) Edit.

Most writers are never happy with a “final” draft. We’re always looking to make a sentence better or find a more perfect word. My final draft for The Muse has been altered (albeit slightly) multiple times since I started pitching it. A word here, a comma there, I’m always tinkering with it to make everything about it a little bit better. It’s time consuming and tedious work, but well worth every hour. While waiting for that one e-mail to arrive, I am happily ensconced in my fantasy world.

5) Find a hobby.

My craft closet has more stuff in it than my clothes closet.  When an afternoon of writing is done, I’ll pull out a craft project to keep my hands busy and my mind occupied. It beats sitting around and thinking about why an agent hasn’t sent an excited request to read my manuscript. Of late, knitting has been my savior as it inspires my creativity and challenges me to try new things. My muse loves it, too. While I’m knitting row after row, she whispers to me and new stories are born.

This weekend, I sent off my entry to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, which means a new round of waiting and waiting has commenced. I suspect my to-read stack of books will get shorter and the sweater I’m knitting will soon have sleeves.

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c.b.w. 2014

2014 Goals: January Status Report

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January was a rather quiet month on the writing front, but a few surprises still landed on my doorstep in terms of my goals for this year.

1. Pitch The Muse.

Four months after sending my first batch of query letters, another actual rejection letter arrived in my inbox. I was pretty excited to receive it as any response is better than dead silence. Despite rejecting The Muse, the letter was actually quite positive.  My novel was rejected simply because it wasn’t the right fit for the agency.  Even better, the last line of the letter told me to keep trying. Don’t worry, I will!

2. Outline and start writing The Muse: Lineage.

At the moment, my day job is taking up most of my time. Instead of outlining, I am planning lessons for AP Art History.  If anything, researching different styles of art is going to help me as my main character Ian has a hand in inspiring some famous artwork. I may not be able to outline at the moment, but I’ll be thinking of Ian as I head into planning a unit on Impressionism.

3. Submit writing.

My last submission was my chapbook entry to the Writer’s Digest November Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge. No word yet on who won.

4. Continue to build author platform.

I have a feeling my playtime on Pinterest is contributing to my Twitter feed more than anything else, but I can learn to live with that! Over on Facebook, I haven’t been around as much as I’d like. It’s blocked at work, so that makes it hard to post! Regardless, both have grown this month in terms of followers:

Facebook Likes grew from 350 to 357

Twitter followers grew from 542 to 544

Thank you so much for the follows and the likes!

5. Inspire others.

As always, I hope I am a positive presence!

Let’s not forget the sixth “invisible” goal:

6. Be Flexible.

Keeping an open mind has already paid off. This month I was contacted by an author who wants to use two of my photographs in her book. Not only am I honored to have my photographs featured, but it feels great to have my work acknowledged with a photo credit.  As soon as I have more information about when the book is being released, I’ll be sure to pass it along.

I wonder what February will bring . . .

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c.b.w. 2014

Let The Query Games Begin!

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Now that the final draft of my novel is complete, it’s time to start pitching! This is no easy task as finding the right agent is a lot like trying to buy the perfect pair of jeans – there is only one that will fit perfectly.

Over the last few months, I’ve compiled a list of possible agencies and agents that might be interested in representing my work. Even with a small list, there is a lot to keep track of in terms of submission requirements and information about specific agents. To stay organized, I created a spreadsheet that lists everything I need to remember before, during, and after my query letter is out of the gate.

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The first column is pretty basic with the agency name, but I get a little more detailed in the second column. This is where I list a specific agent within the agency along with a contact e-mail. In addition, I included quoted material from his or her profile that reminds me why I think he or she might be interested in my novel. I figure I can use this information to personalize my query letter to that particular agent.

The third column includes submission data such as requirements specific to the agent/agency and any actions I have taken. Not only does this save me the time of having to constantly revisit agency websites, but it ensures I avoid making the monumental mistake of sending my query letter more than once to the same agent.

The last column is where I record my current status with a given agent/agency. I suspect I’ll be adding the word “rejected” throughout this column, but the optimist in me knows I only need one box to read “full manuscript request.”

My system might be tad over-organized, but that’s how I roll. Once things start happening, I’m sure I’ll add a color-coding component in the Status column!

Luck has a lot to do with landing an agent, but a little organization can’t hurt, either!

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How do you stay organized in your writing life?

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c.b.w. 2013