Query Letter Lessons

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I haven’t looked at my query letter in over a week.  For the most part it’s done and all I have to do is send it out.  Or so I thought.  The more I research agents and agencies the more I realize there is a lot more to this process than I ever imagined!  Most of the agents I’ve pegged as possibilities want more than just a query letter.  They want a one-page or extended synopsis, the first 10 pages, or the first five chapters.  All things I thought would come after I was rejected a few dozen times and then finally accepted by one (wonderful) agent.  It’s funny how my writer’s imagination often tries to paint my future!

My goal was to send out three queries before the end of the year, but the added tasks at hand are a bit concerning. I now find myself scrambling to polish my novel’s minor punctuation errors and fixing a few issues regarding missing “of’s” “the’s” and the bane of my writers existence: homophone mix-ups. It looks like I’ll be spending a few more evenings in my writing spot to get all of this done!

It’s all so maddening, but I can’t help but step back and do a little self-reflection.  I’ve learned a lot since I made the decision to try and get published.  The process is far from over and I have a lot more to learn, but here’s where I stand now:

1) Query letters truly test your ability to not only write, but sell your story.  I truly believe this is the ultimate test of whether I’ve got the gumption to follow through.

2) Writing a synopsis is difficult, but I’m making it much harder than it needs to be. My fears and doubts are holding me back and I need to start fighting.

3)  My novel is done, but I’ll always want to change it no matter what.  My inner perfectionist will never be satisfied and I have to learn to be okay with that.

4) I can’t make everyone happy.  Everyone sees my novel differently and perceives my query letter through an individual lens.  I can’t beat myself up when someone doesn’t get it.

5) Allowing doubt to fuel my procrastination has to stop.  Today.

c.b. 2011

29 thoughts on “Query Letter Lessons

  1. You DO have the gumption to follow through with your query letters. It took gumption to first put pen to paper, and to show up at your writing desk until your story was told. This is just one more step in telling your story. Doubt always wants to spoil the party – show him a seat in the corner, give him a stiff drink, and tell him to entertain himself while you get on with the business at hand!

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    • ” . . . tell him to entertain himself while you get on with the business at hand!”

      I love this attitude! 🙂

      I was reminded a few minutes ago of my promise to Noah (my main character) to tell his story. Even though I’m in the middle of doing something scary, I owe it to him and to myself to take it as far as I can.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

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  2. Congratulations for finishing your query, even if you still feel the need to tweak it. Having just received my first rejection letter, I’m in that limbo of what next. However, just like you, I plan to continue on. Query letters are hard and they are the true test to if you can make it or not. Honestly I’m glad I don’t have to send off a page or more synopsis. I have had a hard enough time with my own little synopsis. But like you said, I’m probably making more work of it than I should.

    Keep up the great work, and I hope you have good results with your first letters off, even if the chance of acceptance the first time around. (for the record, I was hoping for a yes after my first letter, but well)

    Good Luck!

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    • I’m bracing myself for A LOT of rejections. 😉

      Perhaps, once I send a few off and get those “no’s” I’ll know how to fix it. The same thing happened when I gave my novel to a few beta readers. Sometimes you just have to put something out there before getting a clear picture of what needs to be done. 🙂

      Thanks for the encouragement and kind words. I love how writers are there for one another!

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  3. I think this could all be looked at in a much more positive light. So you have to correct your grammar now – you’ll have to do that anyway once you get an agent, so it’s just an earlier opportunity to get some of it out of the way. And the hard part is over; but what you absolutely cannot do is write a novel – a WHOLE NOVEL – and then get so bogged down in the bureaucracy that it never ends up reaching the shelves! I am sure that someone like you, who bangs out thousands of words of a novel, can get through the process of showing someone why they did it.

    Best of luck!

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    • The grammar thing is my achilles heel! I’m lucky in that two of my beta readers are grammar queens and they marked up where I went wrong. At least it won’t be a guessing game of what’s wrong and what’s right. You are so right that I am in fact ahead of the game. My perfectionist tendencies always get the best of me.

      It took three years to write that novel and I realized tonight that I’m willing to put in even more time to get this story on the shelves! I am a writer . . . hear me roar!

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  4. Back in August, you left me a comment regarding perfection…

    “…Over the last few years, I’ve been trying very hard to…simply let my creativity be what it is. And to let my writing be what it wants to be. It’s never perfect, but I’m enjoying the process a lot more.”

    You just have to let your writing be what it is and continue to enjoy the process. You’ve come this far…you can do it!

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  5. I’m confident you’ll find your one wonderful agent 🙂

    As for the query process, I don’t know anything first hand (lol) but last year I did some searches on what it involves. One tip I remember is to think of the synopsis as a sort of short story, which should make writing it more enjoyable, but also “automatically” lead to a better style/narrative = make it sell itself.

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  6. Well said! And the fact that you have finished and polished a novel AT ALL is more than most people will ever do in their lifetime. It’s something I have to remind myself. I think you’ve got a great attitude and the fact that you want your letter, synopsis, and novel to be at its best shows that you do have what it takes. Good luck! I agree that the query letter is true test (I haven’t gotten there yet, but am terrified of it already!), but everyone WILL look at it differently. You’ll do great!

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    • Thanks for the encouragement!

      I told myself a long time ago that I’d be happy if I just finished my novel. Thanks for reminding me that I’m still really proud I reached that goal. Whatever happens next is just icing on the cake. 🙂

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  7. You just wrote the answers to all your problems, now what are you waiting for? You have a billion publishers to choose from, if you make mistakes along the way, fix them & move on to the next. Nothing in this world is perfect, this query letter process won’t be either.
    Something to think about…Could it be that a publisher is looking for potential – rather than perfection?

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    • I never really thought of it that way, but you’re right! 🙂 Sometimes I just have to vent and give an outlet to all the things rolling around in my head. This post and all the comments here have really cleared the clouds and I’m ready to jump in with both feet again.

      Thanks for reminding me there is no such thing as “perfect.” 🙂

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  8. #3 is driving me crazy here too – As I’m printing out a partial manuscript for a contest, I still see little things that I feel I should go back and change, even after so many rounds of editing are over. Will it never end!? 😉 Time to just move forward… good luck on the query/synopsis/partials!!!

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  9. It is a journey. I went to my writer’s schmooze last night and a suggestion that came up might be of interest to you. When you have chosen the publishers/agents/editors you are interested in submitting to see if they will be speaking locally at a bookstore, library, coffee shop…whereever. Go there and make the connection and that will get you a ticket to submit – “Go to the head of the line.” This came from a member who is short of cash to spend on conferences. He said it has worked for him several times.
    Bottom line – you need to be your own greatest advocate!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    • I’m lucky in that my local bookstore has a lot of events like author signings, speakers, and gatherings for writers and readers. I usually go to learn, but never felt like I had anything worth advocating. Now, of course, I’m ready for the next event! 🙂

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  10. You are a writer! Good for you that you have the foresight to keep plugging away to get everything the best it can be before querying. I queried a couple of projects way too soon, and it is a newbie mistake. It sounds to me like you are doing everything right, which will hopefully make your querying process more successful.

    Good luck!

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