Overcoming Query Letter Frustrations

Hi, Everyone, Today is a big day for me – hosting my first ever guest post! I met Caitlin through Five Minute Friday and found she had a Swap-it Saturday. I was searching for places who would let me write guest posts for them and this was perfect! So, here’s the deal. I sent her a guest post (How NaNoWriMo Made Me a Better Writer) and she swapped it out for one of hers. This may be a tad long, but hang in there – it is totally worth it. Great info, entertaining, encouraging – everything that makes for a great blog article.

So, take it away, Caitlin!

Guest Post @ Rachel HT Mendell by Caitlin Lambert

Hi everyone! Thank you so much, Rachel, for having me. Swap-It Saturday is a monthly blog swap I host where I hop over to a fellow blogger’s site and they visit mine. Rachel is over at my blog, Quills & Coffee, talking about her NaNoWriMo experience, so definitely go over and check it out 🙂

Rachel has been doing NaNoWriMo for quite a long time, and since she is sharing about something with which she has had lots of experience, I thought I would do the same. Today, I am going to be talking about querying – specifically, how to go from being frustrated with your query to being excited/happy with it.

I’ve been in various stages of writing and querying for about seven years now, and am currently querying my second book WHAT LIES ABOVE. This journey has not been easy! Here’s some very honest statistics. So far, for this book alone, I have been rejected 39 times (I’ve kept a list). Within this last week, I have started round #3 of queries for WLA, and have spent nearly a year in the query trenches.

At first glance, this can look very discouraging, from both my perspective and yours. Don’t worry! This post has a happy ending. Honestly, I have learned so much both about myself as a writer and about querying in general, and today I hope to pass on that knowledge to you!

First things first…

DO YOU NEED AN AGENT?

Here’s a very brief run-down. If you want to pursue traditional publication, securing an agent is the first step. Some publishers do accept manuscripts directly from the authors, but there are several perks to having an agent which I will not try to cover here (that’s a topic for another post).

Basically, a literary agent is like a lawyer for your book, but they are so much more than that. They are your advocate, your partner. They offer insight into the market, the manuscript, and any polishing you need. They also have connections with editors and publishers, relationships built over years. Those literary professionals have worked with these agents, and they trust that they will be bringing quality work. Those connections are invaluable.

WHAT IS QUERYING?

In order to secure a literary agent, you first have to go through the process of querying. Querying is where you write up an email composed of three main parts – the intro, the pitch, and the bio/conclusion. For most people, writing a query can be even harder than writing the actual book! How do you sum up tens of thousands of words into a 100-200 word paragraph? It can be tricky, but it is critical that you be patient and craft a good query. This is your back-cover blurb. You are selling yourself and your book. For advice on writing a killer query letter, see my post here (https://www.caitlinlambert.com/single-post/2017/01/27/Querying-Part-3—Writing-a-Killer-Query-Letter).

TAKE YOUR TIME AND EDIT

Some writers (myself included in the beginning) type up a query and immediately start sending it to agents, with barely any editing or polishing. The query should be treated like the novel. It needs to sit for a few days, be seen with fresh eyes, tweaked and cut down and polished. First impressions are everything when it comes to a literary agent. Your query letter and first manuscript pages hold quite a bit of weight in the querying process. Don’t let your eagerness to start querying cost you. When I started querying WHAT LIES ABOVE, I made two huge mistakes. First, I did not spend an adequate amount of time editing the manuscript itself. Second, I didn’t take the time to polish and rework my query until it was perfect (or, at least, as perfect as I could make it). After my first round of querying, I had numerous rejections and one revise and resubmit. That R&R ultimately changed everything. Despite the fact that it led to a rejection in the end, I spent four months editing WHAT LIES ABOVE and really polishing it. I then reworked my query letter, and sent out round #2 of queries. Several partials and fulls later, and I am now beginning round 3, with yet another query blurb. Even though I have not signed with an agent yet, every stage has polished both the book and the query more and more. I am finally in a place where I am happy with both. I wouldn’t change my journey for anything, but if I had waited in the beginning and given the manuscript and query the attention they both deserved, it probably would not have taken a year of reworking them to reach this point.

THIS JUST ISN’T WORKING!

From personal experience, I know that sometimes you get so frustrated with your query and the process in general. Getting rejected is not a pleasurable experience. However, it is a necessary one. Rejections can often steer us in the right direction. As you saw from my journey, feedback can shape our manuscripts and strengthen them in ways we never expected.

If you find yourself feeling frustrated with your query – no matter how many times you rework and reword it, it just doesn’t seem right – I advise you to do several things:

  1. Take a break

Go outside, do something relaxing, engage in a different hobby/activity. Come back to your query with fresh eyes. Sometimes our frustration can build and build, and we just need to come back to it with a clear head.

  1. Build the skeleton

A query is not supposed to tell every plot point and underlying story arc. It is supposed to draw intrigue. List the MAJOR events/premise of your book. Then, connect the dots. Seeing the bare bones of your book can help you realize what’s really important. Not every character should be mentioned. Only the ones that are central to the core conflict.

  1. Open a new document and write from scratch

When I was preparing for this third round of querying WHAT LIES ABOVE, I was getting increasingly frustrated with my query. I knew what I wanted to say, but no matter how much I tweaked the original, it just wasn’t right.

So what did I do?

I opened a blank page in Word and started typing from scratch. I let the words flow, and when I was done…

YES! It was what I had been trying to say all along. That fresh page – that new start – had been exactly what I needed.

You know those home makeover shows on TV? Sometimes, completely leveling the house is necessary. You can only renovation so much. You can only get so far when you start with an already-established structure. Breaking down that structure and starting from scratch can help you completely re-evaluate the flow and construction of your query.

  1. Read other successful query letters

A great resource for querying writers is AgencyQuery Connect. AQ Connect is a site where querying writers (and agented ones) share their query letters, as well as the status of their querying process. For example, an author may post their query, and then share that it has received five partial requests, four fulls, and an offer! Reading these successful queries can give you a good idea of what a well-structured pitch looks like.

Another great resource is to do an internet search for successful queries. There are many published authors who have shared the queries which got them their agents. For your reference, I have compiled a few below:

Keeper by Kim Chance http://www.kimchance.com/single-post/2017/01/14/Examples-of-Query-Letters

Cinder by Marissa Meyer https://novelnovice.com/2012/01/21/cinder-author-marissa-meyer-my-query-letter/

The Maze Runner by James Dashner http://www.jamesdashner.com/2007/12/qa-what-to-do-after-the-book-is-written/

The Shifter by Janice Hardy http://nelsonagency.com/2009/04/janice-hardys-query-pitch-blurb/

Each of these examples is structured differently, but they all share some similarities. I will not explain how to structure a query (if you’d like to see, visit the post I linked to above), but hopefully seeing some successful ones will help you in developing your own.

  1. Read some back-cover blurbs

Basically, a query pitch is the blurb which would appear on the back of your book. It should include a hook (what makes your book unique?), but don’t give away every plot twist. Those will be discovered by actually reading your manuscript.

Because a query letter is like a back-cover blurb, reading the dust jacket summaries of some popular/favorite books can really help you in summarizing your own book. Notice the flow. Think of the book’s entire plot, and then study how the author breaks it down into a 100-200 word paragraph.

IN THE END…

My number one piece of advice is to BE PATIENT! Treat your query letter like you do your manuscript. Edit it, marinate on it, walk away and come back fresh. Revise, revise, revise. Most of all, though, go with your gut. Only you as the writer can fully control your query. Feedback is good (and necessary), but don’t the query stray so far from your original idea that it stops being your query.

Also, make sure that, as you revise and utilize other writer’s queries as examples, you still stay true to your book. Make sure it really does describe your book. Agents aren’t looking for gimmicks. They want to be hooked, and stay hooked as they evaluate your sample pages.

Most of all, persevere! I will hopefully be doing a post soon on knowing when to move on from querying one project and pursue another, but for now, just know that querying is not always a quick, overnight process. Some writers have gotten offers within a few days of querying. Others have had to edit and try again for months until they finally landed an agent.

And one last thing… it only takes one. One yes. Even if you could bury yourself in your rejection letters, one yes from the right agent can turn everything around. Hold out for that yes.

Thank you again for having me, Rachel. If you made it to the end of this post, *hugs* for sticking it out for the long run. I’d love to meet you guys, so check out my bio and social media links below! Don’t forget to hop over and check out Rachel’s post on NaNoWriMo. Bye!

Caitlin Lambert is the mind behind Quills & Coffee, where she shares tips, tools, & encouragement for writers. She writes YA sci-fi/fantasy novels, and is currently querying her second book, WHAT LIES ABOVE, while drafting her third. When she’s not writing or working, you can find her reading, composing piano, and adding endless destinations to her travel bucket list. Or quite possibly eating dark chocolate.

Website: Quills & Coffee www.caitlinlambert.com

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2 thoughts on “Overcoming Query Letter Frustrations

  1. mendell.rachel7@gmail.com says:

    Thanks for your generosity and giving me a very helpful article to post on my struggling little website … Good luck on Book 3!!!

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