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Off to the Races

July 25, 2007

writinghand.jpgIt all started about a week and a half ago. The wife, upon learning that I had edited my way into Chapter V without taking so much as a stab at a query letter, got on my case, accusing me of procrastinating and stopping just shy of diagnosing me with “George McFly Syndrome”*. Suffice to say, this bit of tough love lit a fire under my ass, and the next morning I got to work crafting a query letter.

Let me pause here for a moment and state that writing a query letter is exceptionally difficult. Harder, in some ways, than writing a novel. At least with the novel you have hundreds of pages in which to build your characters and flesh out your story. With a query letter, you have one page. One page in which to grab an agent’s attention, get them interested in your novel, and spark their interest enough that they will get back to you and request a manuscript. No pressure there. None whatsoever.

My first pass was…decent. Unfortunately, I wasted too much effort coming up with a clever hook, and forgot to, you know, sell the story.

After some various comments and criticisms brought me back down to earth, I decided to start from scratch. This time around, I abandoned the notion of a gimmicky “hook”, and instead opened with a bit of background about the story itself. The resulting letter felt far stronger, far more compelling. And now that it was out of the way, I set about identifying potential agents. Thankfully, research is my profession, otherwise I don’t know how I would have gotten as far as I have. It’s not just a matter of finding agents that are on the lookout for historical fiction, it’s finding out what kind of historical fiction. There’s a big different between a Victorian-era romance and a historical epic set in the ancient world, after all. It’s also researching the types of novels they’ve represented, and keeping straight all of their various submission requirements. Everyone, it seems, wants their submissions a slightly different way. Some are e-mail only, while others disavow the digital age entirely. Some want a query, some require you to include a synopsis, or anywhere from two to fifty sample pages. I’ve literally had to start a dedicated Word document for each to keep them straight.

With the writing and researching out of the way, I finally bit the bullet last Friday, and submitted queries to four agents. At this point, I’m hanging back, waiting to see what comes of those queries before sending off further submissions. In the meantime, it’s back to editing and revising the text.

As of this writing, I’ve heard back from one agent, bringing my rejection rate to 100%. But, that’s to be expected. Rejections are far, far more common than requests for further materials, and I’ve yet to hear of an author who hasn’t had to deal with multiple rejections before finding representation.

Either that, or my query letter isn’t as strong as I think.

*”George McFly Syndrome” – From Back to the Future.  The crippling fear of rejection as expressed by Marty’s father, George.  This fear is what keeps him from submitting any of his science fiction stories.  

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2007 6:51 am

    actually i think one of the most frustrating things to face with query letters is the amount of letters you will get back that are clearly form letters with no indication that anyone gave your query letter any thought. and remember, a rejection is a personal opinion and we all know about opinions….

  2. Matt permalink
    July 27, 2007 12:21 pm

    Heh. I actually just received one of those “obviously a form letter” rejections just now. Batting 0 for 2…

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