Thursday, July 05, 2007

Query Letter Hell ( A Hick Chic Guide)

So remember when I told you how to write a novel?

If you're too lazy to follow the link- and I commend you because that really is lazy, even lazier than I am- I'll tell you what the secret is. You have to write. There. Now you know.

I sat my butt down and got my hands on the keyboard and wrote myself a novel. Then I rewrote it. Twice. Then I printed it out, set it on a shelf, and ignored it for two months. I read it. I rewrote it again. I let someone I trust proofread it and test if for BS. Then, I rewrote it AGAIN.

It has been test read. Corrected. Is it perfect? Not yet. I still have a few things to fix. But it's very, very close.

I am possibly very foolish to be talking about it on the internet. I hope not. There are other writers who are keeping an online diary of their progress. It's served to keep me motivated and accountable- I have to finish it if I'm telling the world about it.

But...some of you have asked why the heck you aren't reading it yet.

Here's where the hardest part of this process starts: patience. My god, I am not good at this. I want it NOW. I want to live on my farm NOW without going through the tedious process of mortgages and documents and lawyers. I want to move NOW so that my amazing neighbour friends can come out to my new rural paradise and camp out for long weekends and enjoy it with us. I want the raspberries to ripen NOW. I want my horses to be trained NOW so that I can ride happily and not fuss with all the little young horse sillinesses.

I want my novel to be magically done NOW and find an agent NOW and get my book published NOW so you can read it NOW.

Some understanding is needed here as to how this all works. Here's what I've figured out so far:

Once my book is as good as I can get it, it's ready to send to an agent. But it's not that simple. First I have to find an agent that I believe would be interested in my book. I have to scour the interent, look through the Writer's Market book, check out agent's blogs, check them against websites warning who the scammers are, google the agent's name to see what books he has already represented, and of course, find out what that agent is looking for.

And I'm led to believe that I shouldn't pick just one, because guess what, there's a very high chance that said agent will need a month or so to work her way through the mail until she gets to mine. And then, there's a very high chance that she'll reject it. It doesn't necessarily mean that she hates my work; it could be just that she's up to her eyeballs and can't take on any more.

So let's say I've got a list of ten agents. I've done my research, I've read the books they've agented, and I know why they would be into mine, but also how mine is just that little bit different, or hopefully, special.

What am I waiting for???? Send the damn thing. NOW.

This is where, if it wasn't already complicated enough, it gets complicated...because now I need to explain about that one little nagging catch in the process. I can't send the book to an agent. They don't want it, not yet. They want a special kind of introduction from me. They want...


It's one page, it's precise, it's the thing that makes an agent decide whether he wants to work with me or not. It's like my job interview, resume, and first impression all rolled up in one piece of paper. It has to be coherent. There can be no mistakes. I have to get the agent's name right and god help me, my own name right too. In this letter, I have to show what the book is about in just two short paragraphs, but these paragraphs can't just be a summary. It has to be a hook that will grab a reader's attention and make him want to read more. It has to be so enticing, so unique and irresistible, that the agent will slap a hand on the desk, reach for his keyboard and fire off an email to me immediately, demanding that I send the entire manuscript as soon as I can get it into the mail, or hit the send button, or sprinkle it with floo powder and throw it into the fireplace, or however he wants it delivered.

Got that? I don't send the book. They don't want the book. They want one page, in which they'll read about my book, and why they should want to represent it, and who the heck am I anyways.

I've heard some writers complain that it's not fair, but if you look at it from the agent's perspective, it is very fair. Any idiot with a computer can write a book. I know, because I've done it four times, so I'm a quadruple idiot. Plus back in the days when this was all done by paper and stamps, it was a bit harder to submit something. Now any idiot with email can zap off a half baked query letter for a crap book any old time, several times a day. I know, because I've done it multiple times, making me a multiple idiot. Imagine how much crap an agent has to go through to find something good.

It's my job to be the "something good". Especially after contributing so much to the crap.

Without going on too long here, that's not even the end of the process, because the agent then takes my winning wonderful manuscript and does the same thing to the editors at the publishing houses- she entices them to buy this great story and turn it into an actual real book. That part of the whole trip is completely out of my hands. That's why I have to do my part now, while it still is in my control.

This is also why, sadly, I cannot let it out of my hands yet. I still have work to do. We will all have to be patient. Yeah, I know. I hate being patient too.

Just so you know, I have been working. I've been scratching and pecking away at my query letter for the last two days. I feel like I have to have it perfectly nailed down before I take on the last tweaks of the book.

Plus I've been up to my eyeballs in kids and couldn't concentrate on the book. Today there are only four kids in my house. I gave birth to half of them. The boy-children are jamming in the playroom and I love it, I love the drums and wah wah guitar. The girl-children just cooked themselves some scrambled eggs. I've got three versions of a query letter simmering on my computer. It's happening. I can't rush it. It's happening.

Writing a query letter is considered by many writers to be harder than writing the actual book. I'd have to agree. I feel like twitching, it's so hard. But I have to do it. I have to be patient. NOW...


Nicole Brackett said...

Good luck, Heidi! I know you can do it.

dilling said...

but I want a golden goose NOW!!!!!

her indoors said...

fingers, toes everything crossed so do it NOW, you will do it we have every faith in you you know and i want to read the book NOW

LeRoy Dissing said...

Heidi...I can tell you as an employer, I rarely read the cover letters. I am into the body of the application looking at qualifications and work experience. Your novel will sell itself. I would make the query letter short...no more than two or three paragraphs cuz if its long, it might not get looked at. Best of luck and I'll be looking for your novel so I can get it autographed :)

captain corky said...

Good luck! Patience is a bitch.

Heidi the Hick said...

Nicole...thank you. That means a lot to me.

Dilling, haha, golden goose! I want one too!

Indoors, I'd cross my fingers too but then I couldn't type...

Leroy, exactly. It has to be short. Agents actually want only a page or it won't get looked at. Some people try to cheat with small margins and really small type! And those get rejected!

Thanks Corky. And you're right.

Astaryth said...

Ummmmm... When you are a world class famous author... Will you sign my copy of your book?? Please?!?

You are going to do fine... Just remember to not overwrite it... yeah, I know, that's the hardest part!

Heidi the Hick said...

World famous or not, YES I will sign it!!!

yes yes yes I will sign it!!!!

As for overwriting...you wouldn't believe what I cut out of this thing. It felt good actually, to edit out the stuff that just wasn't needed. Another part of a long process...

Astaryth, as for world famous, I'd settle for blog famous, or small town famous.

terry said...

i'm not so good with the patience either, but persistence pays off...

you'll get there. i look forward to it.

LadyBronco said...

Oh Heidi ~

I feel your pain. I really do, beings how I'm at the query stage myself. And I hate to mention anything else you are going to need, but have you written your synopsis yet?


I had to stop sending out queries because every dang agent seems to want one, and I hadn't written one.

They suck.


Heidi the Hick said...

Oh Rebecca-


I was hoping you'd read this, because I know you're at this stage too.

So far none of the agents I'm looking at ask for a synopsis in their submission guidelines. I think I started one months ago but I'd have to thumb through my workbook to find it.

Yeah, I didn't even get into the dreaded synopsis here. I did one for my Middle Grade novel last year and it was awful- both the act of writing it and the synopsis itself. Completely devoid of life.

Kind of hoping I can skip that part...

Heidi the Hick said...

Terry- patience and persistence often go together don't they?

LadyBronco said...

I'm thinking it may have something to do with the genre, and the agents who represent it.

I'm not finding as many who go for a little romance with their sci-fi.

Out of the list of 30 or so I have found thus far, around 20 of them want a synopsis.


(think happy thoughts...think happy thoughts...think happy thoughts)

ORION said...

You can do it too!!
Heidi don't be persuaded you can't enter my contest!
(leroy is right make the letter short!)
back to the contest-
Get all your blogging buddies to help you!!!
Horses rock - so do Jackasses.

DINK said...


LeRoy Dissing said...

If there is one thing I have noticed from your blog writing, its that you have no lack of imagination Heidi! Colorful language with a scent sometimes of country living at its best and worst. I just wonder what "breath of life" you breathed into your book characters. Will you be using your real name or a psydeonum?

millhousethecat said...

Oh, the pain...the agony...the query letter.

I know how you feel, too, Heidi. I've sent the manuscript out to beta readers and gotten positive feedback and fixed and rewritten and changed and fixed and reread and...

Now the query.


It ain't easy, is it? You'd think if I could write the dang novel I could write a short letter to a perspective agent.

I find it ridiculously difficult and a tad (!) overwhelming.

Good luck --- great writing may speak for itself, but luck isn't a bad thing either!

Heidi the Hick said...

In case any of you are wondering...I don't know yet what name I'll use. It has to do with my confusing need for privacy and attention at the same time. And not embarrassing my parents too much. I'll write a long post on that someday.

Heidi the Hick said...

Also my characters are genrally horrid little brats.

At least that's what THEY want you to think.

Balloon Pirate said...

Which reminds me--I still have something to do for you NOW.

Sorry for the delay.


Heidi the Hick said...


You, Pirate, are totally off the hook and forgiven, because you're so busy spinnin and shootin.

Take your time!!!!

Anissa said...

I feel you both (on queries and synopses). I wrote all those pages cause that's what it took to tell the story. Now I have to condense it into a couple paragraphs (or pages)?! Come on!

Hang in there. :) We can do it!!!

coffeypot said...

Don't make it too complicated. To get his/her attention, just make it sort and sweet.

"Dear jim or her,

Just read the Goddamn thing. It's good.


Hick Chick"

Therese said...

Oh, hell--did I really live through all that query crap??? It sounds AWFUL!

(Aw, it isn't SO bad. You can do it...)

And don't sweat it if the query goes a little over a page (mine did). It's the substance that counts.