Whoops! 8 Query Lessons…that made me a better writer

Free image from geralt @ pixabay.com

It’s submission season again.

For those of you who don’t go in for such self-flagellation, I’m talking about submitting to literary agents, entreating them to represent me and my book.

If you’re not an aspiring author, don’t back-arrow just yet–these lessons learned can be applied to many facets of our writing lives. (And, bloggers are writers, I say over and over and over.)

First, because everybody loves query results in hard-and-fast numbers, here you go: cycle one of querying, I submitted a total of 20 queries. Of those, I had:

  • 1 request for a partial (first three chapters); and
  • 1 request for the full manuscript (after the agent read the partial).

Not bad, really: some action from 10 percent. I feel confident I’ll do better next query cycle, beginning this fall, knowing what I now know…

Submit, submit, submit

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It’s that time again: submission season.

It’s the season when we writers polish up our prose and poems and novel MS synopses to send out into the world, fresh-faced and optimistic, imbued with loads of potential–in the hopes of being published. I wave to them and smile (a little smugly). “I’ve done good,” I tell myself.

And then proceed to shudder in fear.

Oh, wait.

Maybe that’s my kids. Yep, silly me. September is also back-to-school season, when I send my actual offspring out into the world, fresh-faced. I wave and smile…Well, you get it.

Here’s the thing.

Let’s not confuse our creative offspring with our actual offspring, our stories with our kids. Really, I’m talking to myself here. Is it just me? Am I the only one who’s ever uttered: “That manuscript is my baby.” (Note that I had not yet endured screaming twin infants when I said that.) No, I can’t be the only one. In fact, I’m pretty certain there’s a country song with that title.

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Agent query letter purgatory


…because “hell” seemed a little strong.

What’s up?

Months ago, I announced that it was time for me to dive into the process of seeking literary representation (an agent) for my WIP, a historical novel manuscript.

I was ready. However, my manuscript wasn’t…quite. (And you only get one chance to make a good impression–or any impression at all–on an agent.) So, revise revise revise, and I have come out the other side knowing that now is–really–the time.

I talked here before about the steps required to prepare for this journey. Step 1 is knowing what to “pack” for the publishing road ahead, with agent query letter as “passport.” Step 2 involves putting myself in an agent’s shoes. What might he/she want of me besides a manuscript? Step 3 will involve compiling a list of agent who might be a good fit (stay tuned…).

Today: I’m in query letter purgatory. It’s not hell, really. We writers write and we write about writing, and so to get to write about our own writing is kinda neat–if tasking, and requiring a good bit of objectivity. Some say the query letter is tougher to write than the novel (a bit of an exaggeration, but still valid): As in, boil down an 85,000-word story into a 150 word synopsis. Oh sure, no problem. It certainly can’t hurt to start with a fantastic first line (or “hook”).

And here’s another couple pieces that I’m using to spit-shine my agent query letter:

Successful Query Letter with Lots of Tips by Erin Beaty on Kathy Temean’s wonderful blog Writing and Illustrating

How to Polish Your Query Letter for a Professional Shine on the Writer’s Relief site

All you writers out there, ever written an agent query letter? How’d it go?

When I’m not working on my query letter, I’m reading novels I could use as comparisons to mine. Right now it’s Lilac Girls about the Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, which isn’t a close enough fit, but I’m enjoying it.

What are you writing and reading this week? Like this publishing talk? There’s a category for that at the top of my site.



Re-blogging query letter help: the all-important first line


This site–link below–focuses on children’s literature, but a query letter needs to grab the agent by the collar, whether the book in question is for children or adults. I thought this post on the all-important first line of a query letter–the hook–was helpful.

I especially like thinking about a query letter in three major parts: “the hook, the book, the cook.”!

Maybe this will help you, too. ~ Rebecca

via New Jersey Farm Scribe: The Query Letter’s First Line

Step 1: What to pack for a trip into the novel-publishing abyss?

free image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Into the book publishing abyss I go!

Okay, abyss travel takes a bit of preparation, so consider me packing my most necessary items.

What is this abyss? In my 2017 wrap-up/2018 resolutions post, I wrote about journeying into the abyss that is querying literary agents to represent my historical novel manuscript.

Why the trepidation? Because novelists I know spent years querying agents before receiving a reply email–much less a contract.

(And then there’s ego. There’s the fact that my novel manuscript is my first child–born before my human children. It has changed a lot through the years, gone through growing pains (and novel workshops and beta readers and many revisions and edits); but the germ of the story has stayed the same, and it’s mine and–I freely admit–I still love it.)

I love this baby enough to send it out into the world–to be tested and judged.

Why not self-publish? Because I know enough about myself–this self who only entered the world of social media in 2017–to know it’s not for me.

So I must pack for my trip into the publishing abyss, and I hope you’ll come with me! (These posts will be found all in one place on my newly-reorganized blog. Categories: publishing.)

What to pack?

The novel manuscript is raring to go. Only, agents are very busy people who don’t take kindly to 80,000 words landing on their desks. (Go figure.) So, they require a kind of passport:

That passport is the agent query letter. Whether sent through snail mail or email, the agent query is the most important thing I’ll ever write. Really.

This how-to article sums up the agent query letter’s importance nicely:

“A query letter is a one-page letter sent to literary agents in an effort to get them excited about your book. You have one page and 300 words (or less) to woo a literary agent into falling in love with your story and then requesting your manuscript.”

See? Trepidation!

I’m still editing my agent query letter–whittling it down from a hulking 330 words. EVERY WORD COUNTS.

My hook:

In the vein of Snow Falling on Cedars, LOW HEAVEN is a completed 86,000-word historical novel that explores loyalty to family, friends, and faith and what it means to be an American, through the untold story of the exclusion and internment of Italians in America during World War II.*

What do you think? Like it? Hate it? (I can take it.) Comment at will!

More to come. Stay tuned to the journey…


*Goes without saying, since we’re friends here, but all my writing at Rust Belt Girl is protected intellectual (even if it doesn’t sound like it) property. Thanks. ~ Rebecca