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Hello, writers. Long ago I got a job as an ESL teacher. A few weeks later my new principal told me the personnel director had called him and said, "I should warn you she interviews terribly."

Once in a while you luck onto a personnel director who can see through terrible interview skills. Mostly, of course, you don't. And the same goes for query letters. They have to be good.

I don't query particularly well either. Hopefully people who do will comment. But I'm going to tell you what I know (garnered from agents' and editors' blogs, experience, and unsubstantiated rumor) and where you can find out more.

Query, Synopsis and Pitch, Oh My

A query is a letter (or an email) to an agent or editor offering to sell one (1) particular story. It has two jobs: to prove that you are able to write a coherent sentence, and to get the reader interested in your story.

A pitch is much like a query except that it isn't written in letter form.  Pitches should be brief. They are sometimes delivered orally-- so-called elevator pitches. You can go to pitch-sessions at writing conferences (usually you have to pay extra) and speed-date an agent or editor with your pitch. Problem is, if she likes it, quite likely she'll tell you it sounds nice, send her a query when she gets back to the office.

Sometimes pitches are written, as with the pitches that entrants in the Amazon contest are asked to post. Brevity is important. Make the reader want to read more.

When you're writing your query or pitch, don't think about everything that's in your story that you want to get onto the page. Instead, think about what it is about the story  (eg character and conflict) that's likely to make someone want to read it.

A synopsis is much longer than a pitch or query. You generally do not include a synopsis with a query. Sometimes when an agent asks for a partial, they'll ask for a synopsis as well-- and they may specify length. See Donald Maass's Writing the Breakthrough Novel Workbook for a description of how to write one, or this article. And check out Miss Snark's Crapometer for Synopses to see nearly 100 synopses dissected.

Who?

So whom do you query-- editors or agents? Up to you, but the important thing is not to query both at the same time. It's hard to get an agent to try to sell a manuscript that's already been rejected by scads of publishers.

Many of us have found that it's much easier to get a publisher than an agent. Cuz why? Two reasons. One, an agent may only take on two or three new clients a year, while a big publisher buys a coupla hundred manuscripts. Two, publishers are often thinking in terms of filling slots on their lists, while agents are often thinking of bestsellers. An agent only gets 15% of what you get, so she has to think big.

Natheless, agents are more often reading queries, and are more likely to consider simultaneous queries. So check out agentquery to find an agent who matches your specs. (And from there, google to see if your intended agent has a blog.)

There are, all rumors to the contrary, still quite a few publishers who read queries from unagented writers. In the last two years I've queried Scholastic, Henry Holt, and Penguin--they were all accepting queries. (Then I got an agent.) Just check the publisher's website-- or, for better info, check to see if any of the editors has a blog.

(If a publisher says they aren't taking "unsolicited submissions" that usually doesn't mean you can't query them: a query isn't a submission. If they don't allow queries at all, they'll usually say "agented writers only" or words to that effect.)

(By the way, there are even publishers that still take unsolicited submissions, for example Tor,  Daw,   and Baen.)

For short stories, check out Ralan.com and duotrope digest. The latter will even tell you how long you can expect to wait, and what your chances are of being accepted.

How?

When you look at agents' websites (or listings on agentquery) you'll see that a lot of them have very specific directions for querying. You'll also notice a lot of these directions contradict those of other agents. I think this is intentional. They want to know that you queried them on purpose.

Most agents seem to be taking e-queries these days. A lot of short-story markets are too. Almost no book publishers are. The main difference between an e-query and a letter query is that you should not put your snail-mail address (or the publisher's snail-mail address) at the top of an e-query.

For more on querying, check out
Query Shark
How to query an agent (this article also contains good examples of pitches)
Sample Query Letters (plus a ton of links)
Query Letter Mad Lib

And two good how-not-to's:
Nicola Morgan's Bad Query Contest Winners
A Scholastic editor's Annotated Query From Hell

Brevity Is the Soul of Query

This seems to be something all of the blogging agents and editors agree on. Short queries are good. A page is tops, less is better. You should talk about your story, but not in excruciating detail. You shouldn't talk about yourself at all, unless you have sold* previously, have an MFA in creative writing, and/or have won an award. Er, except for this one agent I queried who wants a one-paragraph bio.

You also shouldn't praise your manuscript or quote other people praising it. Waste of space, looks unprofessional, and it won't get you anywhere. Especially, in the kiddylit world, you shouldn't say that the 3rd grade class at PS 73 loved it. Editors and agents hate this.

(*Btw, you probably also should not mention self-published books. Some of the blogging agents and editors say this is neutral-value, but others say it actually counts against a writer. Safer to leave it out.)

Partials And Fulls

In response to your query, you might get a request for a partial (anywhere from five to 30 pages) or a full. The partial request is a holdover from snailmail days. It might be followed by a request for the full manuscript... more often, alas, it is not. The thing that really bugs me? They'll request a partial, then request a full, then send you a form rejection. God's own truth.

(Btw, here's a good guide to the five types of rejections--just in time for Valentine's Day. And a reminder that a rejection doesn't mean you're bad.)

Whatever they request, and however they may waffle on the subject, chances are they won't read past the first page. (She said encouragingly.) Unless that first page kicks donkey elephant. So make sure it does. Read the Anonymati blog for a real editor's reax to real first pages.

Don't Try to Stand Out from the Crowd

..except in your writing, ability to tell a story, and professionalism. This probably doesn't need saying to most people, but editors and agents have seen it all: unusual fonts, scented paper, rosewood manuscript boxes, gifts (the most common one seems to be a teabag, but cookies, toys, cash and edible lingerie are not unknown). Then there are novelty queries, dropping in in person, and an apparently common one: sliding the manuscript to an agent under a bathroom stall at a conference. The word on the blogs is they don't like any of this stuff. And they can get kind of paranoid.

Similarly, don't try to shock the reader of your letter (eg by using explicit sexual language). But you knew that.

Oh, and do wait till your manuscript is really ready (a mistake I've made how many times) and this is just funny.

Write On! will be a regular Thursday feature (8 pm ET) until it isn't. Be sure to check out other great lit'ry diaries like:
sarahnity's books by kossacks on Tuesdays
plf515's What Are You Reading? on Wednesday mornings.
cfk's bookflurries on Wednesday nights.

Your happy writing links for the week:

What's next for the kindle.

Submit the first two pages of your novel to win free admission to NYC's Backspace Writer's Conference. Deadline March 1st.

Editorial Anonymous explains that how hard your manuscript will be to edit is a consideration in taking you on.

IMHO, this is no way to deal with your overused words, 'cause it interrupts the flow. But YMMV.

Tho' the burial was slated-- Kirkus Reviews, like Don Gato, has become reanimated.

Not writing-related, but we love him so: Terry Pratchett on what he calls assisted dying. Sad and funny, and whoever transcribed it for him didn't know the diff between "proceed" and "precede". You can bet tp knows.

Originally posted to SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:04 PM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.

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Comment Preferences

  •  And yes, I do agree that the whole process shows (29+ / 0-)

    a lack of appreciation for our brilliance. Thanks for asking.

    -9.0, -8.3 MSF for Haiti-- they're already there, they won't waste your money, and they have a cool name.

    by SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 04:58:02 PM PST

    •  Awesome diary! Thanks! (9+ / 0-)

      And - fool that I am - I still intend to release my Platinum Moon novel via Create Space and e-book.

      But at least I will be able to write a series of diaries about my soon to commence POD and e-book publishing experience and perhaps scare others away.

      This e-book business is fascinating since none of the major publishers seem to have a clue how to deal with it.

      Governing well shall be the best revenge

      by Bill White on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:22:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It certainly is interesting watching it play out (8+ / 0-)

        and it will probably take several years for the smoke to clear.

        From all I hear if you're going to go the self-publishing route, Createspace is a wise choice.

        -9.0, -8.3 MSF for Haiti-- they're already there, they won't waste your money, and they have a cool name.

        by SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:26:17 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I intend to write diaries about my experience (7+ / 0-)

          for better or worse.

          I have also nurtured contacts within the on-line space exploration enthusiast community allowing me at least the potential of spreading the word virally.

          My book has a Twitter account (no posts yet) and my daughter promises to help me master Facebook and I have a blog about the subject matter of the book and on February 1st NASA gave me a perfect back story imaginable by actually canceling plans to return to the Moon.

          Governing well shall be the best revenge

          by Bill White on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:33:09 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm always looking for Kindle food (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, Bill White, cfk

            let us know when it's available. I might as well find out how all this cancelling the moon business will turn out.

          •  That will help me a lot, Bill (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, Bill White

            Thank you.  I will watch for your diaries!!!

            Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

            by cfk on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:45:59 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  This guy (IMHO) groks the e-book business (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk

              better than anyone. Mark Coker of Smashwords.

              Sadly, he needs better web servers since his site loads very very slowly for me. Unless he invests more in servers and computer support he is going to have problems selling lots of books.

              (I intend to sell e-books on Kindle, Smashwords and perhaps Scribd with Scribd having the best functionality for embedding book excerpts in places like Daily Kos diaries, except Scribd is primarily pdf, not the most convenient for book buyers)

              Anyway, here is recent news

              http://www.sfwa.org/...

              Book View Café partners with Smashwords

              (National)-Book View Café, a digital publishing cooperative for professional authors, today announced it has partnered with Smashwords to distribute Book View’s growing ebook catalog, including titles by from such well known authors as Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Sarah Smith, Seanan McGuire and Laura Anne Gilman.

              And, Smashwords offers a free marketing guide for self-published and e-book publishers that makes a great deal of sense to me.

              And (perhaps because of Apple iPad) Kindle apparently will start paying authors/publishers 70% of list price if list price is below $9.99 for an e-books.

              Governing well shall be the best revenge

              by Bill White on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:19:52 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  More on the Kindle royalty wars (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                decembersue, Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk

                http://arstechnica.com/...

                Amazon hikes Kindle royalties to 70%, with a catch
                By Jacqui Cheng | Last updated January 20, 2010 4:15 PM

                Amazon dropped a bomb on the publishing world Wednesday morning by announcing a new royalty program that will allow authors to earn 70 percent royalties from each e-book sold, but with a catch or two. The move will pay participating authors more per book than they typically earn from physical book sales so long as they agree to certain conditions—conditions that make it clear that Amazon is working on keeping the Kindle attractive in light of upcoming competition. Still, authors and publishers are split on how good this deal really is.

                Amazon's old system will remain in place for those who don't want to participate in the new arrangement, but the carrot to upgrade is pretty attractive—a typical $8.99 book would pay an author $3.15 under the "standard" system, while an author or publisher would get $6.25 under the new 70 percent scheme.

                * * *

                Amazon has long been criticized for taking too big a cut of Kindle book sales, and the 70 percent option is sure to quiet those critiques for some. Cesar Torres, Ars reader and author of an upcoming fantasy book called The 12 Burning Wheels, told Ars that the deal is definitely good for self-publishers and small presses.

                Smashwords pays 85% but they need better servers. Scribd pays 80% and they primarily use Adobe pdf for delivery.

                Kindle remains king, pending Apple iPad and Sony and a few others.

                Governing well shall be the best revenge

                by Bill White on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:30:28 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  As ever, (6+ / 0-)

    Ms. Shoesie, you have assembled a gorgeous smorgasbord chockful of yummy links and info absolutely pertinent to what I am doing right now this very minute.

    Mercy buckets.

    If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.--A Boston cabbie, to Gloria Steinem, in the 1970s

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:22:32 PM PST

    •  Oh good :) yr welcome (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GussieFN, Mnemosyne, cfk, trashablanca

      So you're at the querying stage then? Or synopsing?

      -9.0, -8.3 MSF for Haiti-- they're already there, they won't waste your money, and they have a cool name.

      by SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:25:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sort of. (5+ / 0-)

        Going to a small writers gathering next month, wherein one gets to pitch to The Power That Be. So not only do I have to Finish the Damn Book, I have to write the synopsis, and whittle down a pitch into a sparkling 30 seconds.

        Oh, and get the laundry done, and a few other things in the meanwhile. I'm going to be busy.

        I don't really think this is going to sell, it's more for practice. I am, however, perfectly willing to have the Cinderella Factor come into play.

        If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.--A Boston cabbie, to Gloria Steinem, in the 1970s

        by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:28:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I think you've just gotta remember (8+ / 0-)

    your goal, at every stage, it simply to get to the next stage. So a short taste that doesn't give them a reason to say no is perfect.

    "Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror."

    by GussieFN on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:28:17 PM PST

  •  A few agents post advice about queries right on (5+ / 0-)

    their own websites.  As part of the process of choosing an agent to query, you should scour every nook and cranny of their website.  I have found all sorts of useful info hiding in those pull down menus and links.

  •  Haven't yet finished all (5+ / 0-)

    the links, so it may be answered therein--in your pitch, is is helpful to mention that you have written for food, albeit in another genre, just to let them know you can meet a deadline? A brief mention, no more than one short sentence.

    If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.--A Boston cabbie, to Gloria Steinem, in the 1970s

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:32:11 PM PST

  •  This reminds me of what a fellow student (7+ / 0-)

    at my mfa program told me about our literary magazine.  She said she used to be really nervous about query letters and such until she helped edit the magazine, which is pretty competitive and pulls writers from around the country.   Apparently, anything other than a nice, professional cover letter or query is immediately annoying, and the volume of truly atrocious, overlong and often rambling letters is much higher than you'd think.  One person wrote a letter talking about how they would improve their crappy writing if they were accepted.

    I suppose we can all be very nervous about these things, but if you just put together something tight and to the point you haven't sabotaged yourself...

    •  The college I went to for undergrad (7+ / 0-)
      Small College, had a famous magazine, Small College Review. There was a query hanging on the wall that said (only without the redacteds)

      Dear Redacted,

      I am trying to collect a rejection slip from every important literary magazine in the country. Enclosed is my story, (redacted). Please send me a rejection slip in the enclosed SASE.

      Sincerely,
      Redacted

      Someone had scrawled on the bottom "OBLIGED HER 10/3/86"

      -9.0, -8.3 MSF for Haiti-- they're already there, they won't waste your money, and they have a cool name.

      by SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:43:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  long ago and in (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      decembersue, cfk

      another lifetime, I edited some of the stuff that came in as columns (on paper) for a newspaper. We got all sorts of goodies, but my faves were from the people who would pull the rank of what they used to do and inform us that we couldn't publish their glorious writings if we changed any little thing.

      Given that the main offender for this wrote in non-AP style, it was easy to file his long-winded efforts in the circular place.

      If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.--A Boston cabbie, to Gloria Steinem, in the 1970s

      by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:37:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you...a wonderful explanation (8+ / 0-)

    and very helpful!!!!

    What I told James the other night:

    I finished my space story...54,104 words before editing which I will do after it cools. This is the first time I have had a triumphant, but sad ending. It worked very well. Everything came together at the end perfectly.

    It sounds as if I am bragging, but truthfully, I am just amazed.

    Farewell, Mando...

    It is hard to leave that world behind.

    Note to sarahnity...In my story, there was a huge explosion in space...

    Join us at Bookflurries: Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:44:38 PM PST

  •  I did 2 1/2 years of query letters (9+ / 0-)

    and they were revised, extended, re-written, revised, snail mailed, e mailed,

    to agents, publishers, editors.

    I am oddly proud to say after 30 months my record was perfect..... not a single offer of representation! Over 100 letters sent out. 62 bothered to respond via rejection form letters.

    3 requests for partials. 1 for a full. The full was returned (I kid you not!) rejected because (due to an e-mail glitch) only my index was initially received...... and they didn't like the index. Phewww! A legendary rejection.

    But by sheer dumb luck, Norm Coleman and Al Franken ended in a virtual dead heat. I put up a diary here on the recount....and another....and another. And a publisher saw it, liked, and noticed I also had a novel.....and published both.

    I appreciate what you put up here, but sheer dumb seems to trump hard work. Depressing and despairing I know, but I don't find much reason for an alternative.

    Anyway, if you have a good book (and have Finished It.....and totally re-written it at least once) here's my publisher's contact:
    http://www.melangepress.com/...

    Not a traditional publisher (yet) and yet not self-publishing either. A new hybrid/partnership model.

    FWIW.

    Shalom,

    WineRev (Carl Eeman)

    "God has given wine to gladden the hearts of people." Psalm 104:15

    by WineRev on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:50:53 PM PST

  •  The dreaded Author Bio (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GussieFN, Mnemosyne, cfk

    SS, you didn't mention anything about the Author Bio section of a query letter.  Most guidelines for querying state that it's important to list your literary accomplishments to build up your street cred, but what kind of a bio can you write when you're new and unpublished?  For NF, you need to state your credentials, but for fiction writers, it seems silly to state that you're a complete newbie.  If you don't list anything, won't they just assume, correctly, that you're unpublished?

  •  Coming in late this eveing- (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GussieFN, Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk

    but just in time for cfk's good news!  Your story sounds really cool.
    54,000 in two weeks-I'm impressed and I have to say, a little jealous- in the last two weeks I have zip word count.

    But I have gotten a fair amount of research done, so that counts for something.

    "Real History is not for Sissies" Barry McCain

    by Hill Jill on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 05:56:40 PM PST

  •  Thanks for sharing (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk, Hill Jill

    I've been at this for many years, but it's still kind of a mystery how to get the right query. After you get all the basics down I think it's important to just be yourself and not try to over-analyze and mind-read too much.

    Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

    by citisven on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:00:41 PM PST

  •  What if I'm a really arrogant writer (5+ / 0-)

    who thinks his work is unquestionably brilliant, but I'm totally unknown and I have no desire to feel like a supplicant?  How can I get published (or get advances, etc.) or without learning the kind of humility that would be potentially damaging to my work?

    "What is great in Man is that he is a bridge and not an end." - Friedrich Nietzsche

    by Troubadour on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:24:16 PM PST

  •  I've been sending queries out for about... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mnemosyne, cfk, citisven

    .
     1 1/2 months.

     According to the rejecting Lit Agents (damn them all to hell, by the way):

      1.  I'm an "obviously talented writer."

      2.  My writing has "strength."

      3.  I have an "interesting viewpoint."

    . . . but . . .

      4.  They're not interested because:

           a.  even if they say they're looking for
               non-fiction/travel/relationships (me:
               all of the above), they don't really
               mean it unless,

           b.  you already have a "Platform", i.e.,
               you're already famous.  Catch-22.

    A successful writer friend of mine -- (he posts here from time to time), successful novelist, has a film, you'd all know his name -- basically says that the agents are only looking for sure things and that new authors can break through, but that it's very, very tough.  

    Also, although most of the Lit Agent websites say that they're open to partial manuscripts, they're not.  My friend (paragraph above) says the book needs to be completed, too.

    Also, don't get sucked into those testimonials on the Lit Agent websites about how the Agent/Agency "nurtured" the author and helped "develop" them and all that.  Maybe, but for the MOST part the Agents want it all done, finished, and presented to them in a nice, neat, finished package AND some even want to know who you have lined up to do the book's blurbs for you and where you're prepared to travel to to promote your book -- you know, all the things that you expect the Agent to line up.

    I've grown cynical, as you can see.  I won't quit writing, but will quit worrying about getting an Agent to "get" my work:  I have too many friends and friends of friends who enjoy what I write.  Maybe someday I'll self publish.

    Good luck to all -

    BenGoshi

    "I have to go now. I feel . . . sticky." Anthony Bourdain

    by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:36:27 PM PST

    •  self-publishing is not a bad idea (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mnemosyne, BenGoshi, cfk

      I did that with my first book. But then you're still stuck with having to do all the self-promotion and the other stuff you mention. But it's a good start because at least you have something to show for and you know that all the work you've done won't be for naught. But for my second one I think I will try to get an agent, just because it's...well...worth trying. Also, good to get as much of your stuff published on blogs and in magazines, that way you get some publishing credits, hone your chops, and also collect a bunch of material for a possible book. The key is to keep pushing it without burning out. Kinda like politics. ;-)

      Live life. Not too fast. Mostly walk. (or bike)

      by citisven on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:45:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hm. Yeah, I gather nonfiction (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mnemosyne, BenGoshi, cfk, citisven, Hill Jill
      has to be platform-related these days. Sucks, 'cause I would love to write American history books, but I have no platform for that, so have to write historical fiction instead.

      But a platform doesn't mean famous-- for example, a blog can be a platform. So can a presence on dailykos. Or membership in a Civil War rifle collectors' club.

      Agents are a damn tough sell. I had sold two nonfiction books and three novels before I was able to snag an agent, and even then had to be introduced to her by a friend. Publishers are an easier sell. (And I would describe my first fiction editor at Random House as someone who "nurtured" me, or at least taught me half of what I know. But that wasn't her job, of course-- just a lucky extra.)

      IMHO, to have gotten anything other than form rejections from agents in only 1 1/2 months of trying is pretty impressive. From what you say it sounds like you're doing good writing but trying to sell the wrong book.

      -9.0, -8.3 MSF for Haiti-- they're already there, they won't waste your money, and they have a cool name.

      by SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:46:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I was going to say (5+ / 0-)

        getting personal responses is promising, and 1.5 months is nothing!

        •  According to my novelist friend... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          decembersue, Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk

          .
           (and I quote from an email of his):

           

          "Agents almost never give a straight "no" because if someone else sells it for you and it makes a billion dollars they want to be able to say "'I liked it, but he didn't have the platform.'"

            Heh, heh.

            Although I'm not really a big fan, I love J.K. Rowling's story and admire her and love the notion of all those asscrank agents and publishers that rejected her, eating their hearts out as they tossed themselves out of their 21st floor windows in London, saying, "Why did I reject her?  Why did I reject her?" all the way down.

            O.K., now you see my dark side.  My work is actually light and much of it is romantic and poignant and all that cool stuff.  Really.

            ;o).

          .

          "I have to go now. I feel . . . sticky." Anthony Bourdain

          by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:58:41 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  . (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk, Hill Jill

         Heh.  A couple of things you say:

          *  "... even then had to be introduced to her by a friend."

          *  " -- just a lucky extra."

        There you go.  Not saying that the writing and polishing isn't work, by damn it is.  But the breaks are, well, breaks.

        Re:  "the wrong book".  Email me sometime.  The funny thing is that I've got a laundry list of books that've been published and on the NYT Best Seller List over the past 10-12 years (up to this very day) which mine lines right up with, genre-wise.  But mine's no cookie-cutter version.  And, by the way, a couple of the chapters/stories have made people cry.  No, not because they were bored to tears, because it got to them.  I take no small satisfaction in that.

        Congrats on all your work and accomplishments.

        BenGoshi
        ________________

        "I have to go now. I feel . . . sticky." Anthony Bourdain

        by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:53:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It can still be (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mnemosyne, BenGoshi, cfk, Hill Jill
          the wrong book for the moment, the market, etc. And, as I said above, agents seem far less willing to accept books than publishers do.

          You know luck plays a huge part in every human endeavor-- jobs, relationships. Yeah, it plays a huge part in writing too, but we all know luck is 90% being ready. And the thing is: most people write for years without getting personal rejections, and sell their third or fourth book, not their first one.

          In fact, the number of years that elapsed between my first query letter and my first book contract was 13.

          Not that this is wonderful, mind you. Just saying how your sitch might look in other writers' perspective.

          You could have a success with self-publishing it, if you've got a way to market it... and that might be the way to go. But if I were you I'd be inclined to keep trying, while working on another book.

          -9.0, -8.3 MSF for Haiti-- they're already there, they won't waste your money, and they have a cool name.

          by SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:02:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think its a combo of hard work and luck (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mnemosyne, BenGoshi, SensibleShoes, cfk

          but keep in mind- "Chance favors the prepared mind"
          (Louis Pasteur)

          The J.D. Salinger kind of author- brilliant yet reclusive-days are long gone.  You have to be if not brilliant, at least very good and hard working, but you also have to get out and sell yourself, even after you have representation.

          Its tough because writers tend to be rather solitary

          "Real History is not for Sissies" Barry McCain

          by Hill Jill on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:03:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, and we know that these days... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cfk

            .
            . . . if it has teen vampires in it, is about a diet, or is "written" by Paris Hilton or Sarah Palin, agents/publishers will crush one another in the rush to fall at the feet of such drek/"authors".

            Up on D Kos this morning (still) as a "book" (I use the term loosely) ad:

             Independent Theodora Lestrange leaves 1858 Scotland for Transylvania, where tales of vampires still linger.  She meets brooding Count Andrei Dragulescu. Will she fall prey to more than desire?

             Gad.

            "I have to go now. I feel . . . sticky." Anthony Bourdain

            by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:09:52 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Have you looked into (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          SensibleShoes, cfk, Hill Jill

          membership in the appropriate genre-writing group?

          There are lots out there, for mystery, romance, thrillers and so on. The benefit being that you get to network with people who have done some of the ground work and have useful information.

          If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.--A Boston cabbie, to Gloria Steinem, in the 1970s

          by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:10:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  funny that you cite (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cfk

      Catch-22

      b.  you already have a "Platform", i.e.,
                you're already famous.  Catch-22.

      I believe that's one of those often included in lists of books that became famous only after having been turned down by skatey-eight publishers first--the Moby Dick Harry Potter syndrome.

      If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.--A Boston cabbie, to Gloria Steinem, in the 1970s

      by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:42:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hotlisted for future reference, thank you. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    decembersue, Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk

    I may try again some day.  My agent dropped me after five books that couldn't find a publisher.  I didn't blame her.  All those mailings were expensive.  Still, I had fun writing, and I'm (quite a bit) older and more proficient now.

    "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." Will Rogers

    by tovan on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 06:46:26 PM PST

  •  Great timing! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk

    I just completed a new Query letter yesterday, trying to work up the nerve to send it out to agents.  Mine is non-fiction, and I wonder if there are important differences.  

    For one thing, you mention that citing others' praise is a no-no, but I decided to do so in my query, as a portion of my work has been on-line for awhile, and I've received many very positive e-mails, particularly from key target audience (e.g., teachers and students).  If it's such a turnoff, however, I may send out two versions, with and without quotes.

    Thanks!

    Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set... -- Gandalf

    by dnta on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:01:57 PM PST

    •  The thing about quoting others (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mnemosyne, dnta, cfk, Hill Jill
      is the agent is going to make up her own mind, and gets annoyed at having someone else tell her what she should think. (They're a cranky lot.) It's a "show don't tell" thing.

      The rules may be different for nonfiction-- I don't know. But since the agents are often the same people, they might not be.

      On Nathan Branford's blog tonight he suggested querying 5 to 7 agents at a time and seeing what kinda response you get. If you get 5 to 7 form rejections, you know you need to rework your query.

      Good luck, hope this helps.

      -9.0, -8.3 MSF for Haiti-- they're already there, they won't waste your money, and they have a cool name.

      by SensibleShoes on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:08:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I HATE writing queries (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mnemosyne, SensibleShoes, cfk
    and cover letters.  They all sound generic, and my "real" writing isn't.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 07:32:30 PM PST

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