a bit of grace

The random musings of Kate Grace

For the Query Weary

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from fellow aspiring authors… whoa, I just realized how close I am to dropping that “aspiring” prefix and simply calling myself an author. I just blew my own mind!

But back to you, dear weary Queriers. I’ve been there. I was there just two weeks ago and had lived in Query Weary’dom for roughly seven months. It seemed I was going to be living there for a while. I put up Ikea curtains.

When I did eventually receive the offer of representation from the fabulously stunning Bree Ogden I had already become so desensitized to rejections I instantly went into shock. For more on THAT experience, see my previous entry. So now that I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that this is not a dream (I have bruises from all the pinching) and that I am, in fact, awake, I’ll revisit my Query Journey in hopes to answer your questions and offer some hope to keep you going.

When did you start querying? I first started querying back in November of last year shortly after finishing the first draft of my manuscript. BIG MISTAKE! And lesson learned! I had so much riding on making this dream a reality this year that I jumped the gun. What I should have done was take some time and get some distance from the monster manuscript and then go back to it with a cleared vision to edit and revise where needed. The problem was the first quarter of my manuscript was murky and ick. I write chronologically so the first few chapters were me as a writer amping up and playing with ideas. So in the end, those chapters were scattered and the pacing was slow and didn’t match the later chapters when my ideas finally clicked and I took off running.

The main problem with this was I wasn’t putting my best foot forward to agents. With the little time they have to go over queries and with the sheer number of queries they get, you HAVE to grab them in those first few chapters. That doesn’t mean you have to start your novel in the middle of your climax, or insert a prologue that essentially says “I promise action is coming, just hold out for it.” It does however mean that your literary voice and your characters and tone must be clear and draw them in. If they’re drawn in, they’ll keep reading.

So after a few months of queries and rejections, I stopped and committed myself to reworking the manuscript. I uploaded it to wonderful sites such as Authonomy and Inkpop and got great feedback from other writers and professionals. With a clear vision, I went back into writing and overhauled the first third of my manuscript, and in so doing, found some fabulous new characters and additional layers of complexity to those that already existed.

I started querying again in mid June with far more success this time and received my first offer of representation on July 4th.

How many queries did you send? A LOT! But I’ll be honest, a majority of them were sent back in the Fall. In the Fall through the Winter I sent nearly 60 queries. Querying “take 2!” included roughly 15 queries with far more promising statistics of requests. In this round the number of requests nearly always outnumbered the rejections which was a great relief AND proof that revising, editing and a strong beginning are essential.

What was it like when you were first asked for your ms? I know exactly where I was the moment I received the first request for a full. (To be clear, when querying, there are four potential responses you’ll get – an immediate rejection in a form rejection or no response at all, a request for a partial whether the first 100 pages or first 3 or 4 chapters, a request for the full manuscript or an offer of representation… though the offer will always be proceeded by a request for a full.)

The first request for a full I received was back in the Fall (so for my jacked up ms, remember). I was in Arizona with my friend Shannon. We had just hiked Pinnacle Peak just north of Phoenix – ALL of Pinnacle Peak, not the halfway version reserved for the less daring – and were insanely sweaty, dirty and hungry. We had just gotten back to the car, cranking the A/C when I checked my phone and saw that an email had come through from an agent requesting the full. I believe there was some serious screaming of excitement from both myself and Shannon echoing through the valley. There was happy dancing, but absolutely no hugging… that came later after we had both showered! We stank!

The rest of the day I spent editing the ms in search of typos. (AGAIN! I cannot say this enough… I never should have queried until that FULL ms was polished and sparkling!)

Needless to say, that rejection found its way to me roughly two months later.

What was it like when you received the offer of representation? Unreal. I went into shock for days and was convinced I was dreaming. I realize people say that and it’s sorta cliche, but I actually DID think I was dreaming. It’s been a problem all of my life where oftentimes my dreams are mundane and far too closely resemble my day-to-day life. Therefore I will be at work or school or eating my cheerios (depending on the age I was at the time) and suddenly I would wake up and realize I was viciously late for work or school and had no time for a REAL bowl of cheerios.

I’m plagued by this, and have been my whole life. So when I say I thought I was dreaming, I really thought I was dreaming.

The offer came through in an email on July 4th. The next day Bree and I spoke on the phone for nearly an hour, which sparked (what I can only imagine will be) a lifelong friendship and literary partnership. Having Bree as my agent now and into the future is beyond worth the weight of every rejection I received.

I can’t stress that enough. Do not let rejections get you down! Each time a rejection comes through do whatever you can to focus on the silver lining that YOUR agent, the one that is perfect for you and for your ms, is still sitting off to the side somewhere just waiting for you to ask them to dance!

Did you have to travel to meet the agent? No, although I’ve never been to Seattle (Where Bree lives/works) and will at some point go visit after I have a signed contract from her promising to, under no circumstances, take me to that horrible fish market. I’m an Icthaphobic. No joke. I have a phobia of fish. It’s ridiculous and oh so very real!

Thanks to technology, and Bree and I use just about every form of it, you can communicate and get to know your potential agent before you sign. She then emailed me the contract and after a few days I signed it, scanned it and emailed it back to her. “Signed, scanned, delivered… I’m yours!”

In the first week of my courtship with Bree we have used phone, email, text, blogs, Facebook and Twitter to communicate. She’s bound to get my mail pigeon in a few days if she doesn’t see my smoke signals first!

How did you query? There are a couple ways to query. The most recommended I guess would be to go to conferences where agents are in attendance and meet with them. Since I generally do things the more difficult way, I went the traditional query route which means sending a query letter (nowadays an email) along with whatever material the individual agent requests with submissions.

Lucky for me, my background is in journalism so doing massive amounts of research was fun for me. Pre-query research is absolutely essential. I cannot stress that enough. Do NOT mass email a bunch of agents with the same, generic query. Think of it as woo’ing them. Do some homework… get to know what they like (what they represent), get a feel for how they prefer to be approached (read interviews with them on the web, check out their agency’s site, etc.). Then, and only then, send each ONE a query letter. Make ‘em feel special. Show them you put in that effort to get to know them. Don’t lump them all together in a cattle-car mass email.

A lot of agents are on Twitter or write blogs about publishing. Familiarize yourself with them through these outlets. Join in on the conversations! So many agents are utterly generous with their time by blogging or answering questions through Twitter (#askagent) or through live chats hosted on sites like Inkpop. Bree does a fabulous and continuous Q/A with anyone through Formspring.

So you queried… then what? You wait, and you do it patiently and professionally. After watching agents Twitter feeds and blogs for months now I can’t help but feel terrible for them in regards to the number of angry and venomous emails they get from queriers post rejection.

Let me stress this as much as I can: You  DO NOT WANT an agent who isn’t madly in love with your manuscript, and it is not an agent’s fault if they didn’t fall in love with your manuscript. It’s not necessarily your fault either. This is a creative field and everything is subjective. They have every right to have their opinions without receiving emails filled with “YOU’LL REGRET THIS” or “FRICK YOU” sentiments.

Beyond that, every time I would see a tweet come through from an agent I had queried venting about such an email from a rejected querier, my heart would sink. “Dear Lord, please… please… PLEASE don’t let MY query be the next one they read!”

So have some class, for the sake of agents and the work they do, for the sake of all the other writers out there, and for the sake of yourself. Don’t be that person. Be patient. Be professional.

And ALWAYS have a bit of grace! (Oh SNAP! Check out that plug!)

Feel free to send more questions, and just keep at it!

Happy Querying!

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This entry was posted on July 13, 2010 by in regular.
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