So at the beginning of 2010, after I visited the folk-singer psychic-healer coffee-obsessed lady, I wrote another book. I had a very grand scheme to write a book in a month, a la my own private Nanowrimo in March. I even bought a book, A Novel in a Month, took notes on it, and put together a schedule for plotting and revision and word-count and and all that great stuff.
This was in February. I did not actually start this book until the end of March, and I didn’t finish it in a month. It took me about three, and by me and my son’s birthday at the end of May, I had another draft.
If Query-Process No. 1 had taught me anything, it was that I shouldn’t send out something until I was sure it was ready. Really sure. So I let a few family members and friends read it, made some revisions, and then did it again. I stopped working on it for a few months and spent all my free time swimming in the killer mid-summer heat of the South (yay!). I read some other books. And then I re-read my revised manuscript, pondered all of the remaining problems, and decided it was time to query literary agents, anyway.
Of course, querying meant that I had to construct the all-important query.
If you’ve never heard of the all-important query, there are many, many resources to get you caught up. There’s a nice little overview on agentquery.com. There’s Queryshark, where literary agent Janet Reid posts query critiques regularly. There’s Nathan Bransford’s Post(s) on Querying, which has links to everything else on querying. And finally, there’s Query Letter Hell on Absolute write, where people post their queries for critique.
All of these sources say (essentially) the same thing: a query is a short, 200-300-word letter designed to get an agent to look at your material. It must include:
1–a “hook”–something to interest the agent in your material, usually a short description of the book
2–the book’s title, genre and word count
3–your publishing credits or platform, if you have any
HOW you go about doing all of this–and how you go about doing it in an effective, clear, and concise way–that’s the big problem. It seems like it would be simple. You’ve written thousands of words already, what’s 200 more? But therein lies the problem. Thousands of words describing your book are much easier than 200. Especially 200 that an agent somewhere will look at for approximately 3 seconds and decided yay or nay on in less than that.
Needless to say, there are a whole lot of resources out there to craft a query. The reason? Something to do with stuff like this, from Richard Levangie’s Blog (which I just discovered, like, ten seconds ago):
Kathleen Ortiz, at Lowenstein & Associates, reports that her agency received 12,819 queries in 2010 and, from that, requested 478 partial manuscripts (a 3.7 percent success rate for the mathematically challenged). After reading the partials, the agency requested 87 full manuscripts, and offered representation to just seven authors, five of whom accepted. (So 0.05 percent of queries were successful.)
So approximately one-half of a person, per year, gets through the Slush Pile and gets picked up by a literary agency.
I do think this statistic is slightly skewed, though (as all can be). This imaginary half-author is not competing solely with other qualified query-ers. Because this statistic does not account for The Uninitiated. Query letters from The Uninitiated read as follows:
At the turn of the 17th century Alessandra van Doorheaven goes camping in the fraught wilderness of North America. She is a governess but she doesn’t love her life, she wants to find her true love on the plains of the unsettled American wilderness.
But when she meets Journeyman, a strange, unlikely man with great height and a strange accent, she abandons all of her dreams in rustic Spanish-America and falls deeply in love with him. The only problem is that he is a time-traveler. He’s come from the future to find her in the past. And he wants to change her future by taking her back with him to his present.
When Alessandra arrives, though, things are not as she expected. Journeyman is not just a man but a totem of his people and they have completely destroyed the U.S. and rebuilt it as a teeming underground metropolis. How will Alessandra survive in the underwater future, with only her governess training to help her?
THE WALK FROM THERE TO THE HERE is part memoir, part noir-thriller. At 375,000 words it is complete and has great series potential.
I have never studied history but have an intuitive understanding of the past. I’m also extremely well-read and I am confident my novel is much better than everything else that’s ever been written.
I have attached the first thousand pages of my manuscript to this email. Please respond as soon as possible. This manuscript won’t be available for long!
Oh, and there are pink bunnies and dancing flowers in the background. And the font is really large, in big ole scripty-format.
Now, I’m not trying to be snotty. Especially when it comes to writing. Writing is a SKILL–even writing fun stuff about aliens that you read on the beach–that takes time and practice that I will forever be trying to figure out. But like any skill, one needs to ascertain their specific level before they can take the next step. And when you have a HUGE discrepancy between your perceived level of mastery and others’ perception of your mastery, you gotta problem. (Case in point: the made-up query, above.)
I am convinced that The Uninitiated are just that… people who just haven’t yet figured out what their skill level is, and henceforth have not yet ventured into the realm of trying to raise it (cause, yeah, really? Wouldn’t a book about a time-traveling governess be kinda cool? I think so). And these people *must* send lots of queries before they’re ready. Right? They must. I am convinced.
So The Uninitiated send lots of queries. The Crazy sends lots, too. Great writers who have good queries who are querying and agent who doesn’t represent their genre send queries. Great writers who have good queries who are querying an agent who last month signed somebody with the same idea send queries. Great writers who have good queries who don’t have a market for their work send queries.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if you’re a decent writer with a decent query who’s sending a query to an agent who represents your genre, your chances are greater than .05%.
All thanks to The Uninitiated. And The Crazy.
So I did some research on agents and I workshopped my query letter on Query Letter Hell. After some revising I came up with something I was more-or-less happy with, and modified it to suit each agent I queried. This is the one that landed me an agent:
Dear Mr./Ms. Agent
Maria Graham is accustomed to unfamiliar territory. As the daughter of two military officers, she’s spent most of her seventeen years as a transient. But in Section R there’s no sky, no earth, and no new place to go to if things go bad. For the first time in her life, Maria doesn’t have the comfort of the next town.
Her captors claim she and her ninety-nine companions are on an alien vessel, taken there to protect them from forthcoming events on Earth. Beyond that, information is sparse. No human has ever seen an alien. They’re encased in atmosphere suits and refuse to give information about themselves or the purpose of the human abduction.
Maria isn’t surprised when the first riot happens, but she’s baffled when she risks her life to protect an outnumbered alien. She can’t save the alien but she learns they can be killed. They’d also rather die than risk losing a single human. Armed with this new information, Maria knows the humans have more bargaining power than they think.
She can’t seem to win the trust of the abductees, so she tries to win the trust of the aliens. Maria grows closer to them—one, in particular—and more detached from the human population. When she figures out what Section R is and what the aliens want with her, she finds herself facing a dilemma she never expected: to save her people, and return home, or to save the species that imprisoned her.
A ROOM OF STARS AND ASHES is an 82,000-word work of young adult fiction. This novel is a stand-alone work with trilogy potential. I contacted you because I believe my book fits in with your interests—it’s YA sci-fi with a big helping of gothic elements, including a Rebecca-esque killer braid, a few towering infernos, and an enigmatic love interest.
I’ve attached the first five pages of my manuscript in the body of this email. Thanks so much for your time!
Of course, before that happened, I had to wait a bit. I do hate waiting.
(but now I have FAR exceeded my 1000K blog-post limit, so I guess I’ll write about that next time!)Read More