1. seije
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    seije Member

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    Queries/Submissions query letter woes

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by seije, Jan 13, 2013.

    so, i have been searching for an agent for nearly a year now. I'm on my fourth or fifth revision of my query letter. I keep trying to think of what it is about my letter that agents don't find appealing, and i can only come up with a few things.

    First and probably the most obvious, is that my letter just isn't written well. I know that this is most likely the case, but even after reading through the entirety of QueryShark's archives, and looking up 'queries that got to yes' on agentquery, I'm failing to see what mistakes i might be making in the novel summary. I suppose that i could be overestimating how well-written my novel is, but even my most brutally honest of friends and family tell me that that they love the story, and my writing style is better than that of many books they've read. I've lost track of how many times i've gone through my novel to edit; the first chapter is as polished as i can make it. When i'm asked to include those pages, i know i'm offering up some of my best work.

    The second problem i see is that i have no published works, nor any writing background. Aside from my love for reading/writing, i don't have anything relevant about myself to tell the agent. How important is this section of a query letter? should i just omit it entirely? Or should i write about myself as a person and why i enjoy writing as opposed to why i'm 'qualified' to write?

    And lastly, i'm marketing my novel as YA Fantasy, though I understand that it's a bit long for a first time novel- a little over 120k words. 120k, to me, seems reasonable. After all, the first Harry Potter novel was around 80k, and I flew through that when i was in 6th grade. I understand it's more of a publishing thing; more words = more pages = more money spent on printing. But is this so much of a deal-breaker that it could deter agents from even asking for pages?


    I suppose this is more of a rant than an actual request for help, and I realize that the most likely scenario is a combination of all three of my problems. I can understand how an agent might not want to take a risk on me. But I've made it this far, and i'm refusing to give up. I'm desperate for advice. Preferably something other than "go get a degree," or "frankenstein your current novel into a shorter, simpler story." Self-publishing is an option, but that is a very distant last resort. Anyone have any suggestions? At this point i'm so frustrated, i'd even settle for a few words of encouragement. :(
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel for you, Seije. It can be very frustrating to figure out a query letter -- I was at a seminar recently that included a Query Letter roundup. A group of agents critiqued anonymous query letters in front of everyone. They also brought query letters with them that 'worked' -- that is, the letters had piqued their interest, and they signed that client. But they ended up saying totally contradictory things, and sometimes literally the same agent from one day to the next would say a logline was great and then that it was terrible. Also, 'successful' query letters were submitted by the agents prior to the seminar, but a couple agents were unexpectedly unable to attend the seminar. That left other agents to discuss the successful query letters. But more frequently than not, the remaining agents could not figure out why the query letter had been successful, because they would not have have asked for more pages or responded favorably to the letter. Sometimes even the agents who brought the letters admitted that the query letter contained things that would usually cause them to reject the query, but they hadn't because of some really unusual circumstance, like they were from the same town as the querier or they really needed a book in the particular genre with the type of character that was mentioned, or some other factor that there is no way to replicate.

    But, as frustrating as it was, I could feel for the agents. At the end of the day, agents are people too, and finding an agent is like finding a relationship -- because that's exactly what you're doing. You're establishing a business relationship, and in addition to the agent really 'getting' your work, they also have to feel that certain intangible connection with you, because they're going to be putting in a lot of time, and they're only going to make money if they successfully sell your book.

    That said, I suspect that your 120K word count for the YA novel is getting you rejected, perhaps at a higher rate than you should be. I follow a bunch of agents on twitter, and some of them do things like tweet 10 or 12 thoughts about queries -- they'll take queries at random from their slush pile and tweet their reactions. I've seen plenty of tweets along the lines of "not bad, but 130K is too long for this genre." So that might be kind of pushing you off the edge, especially if you're querying agents who have hundreds of queries every week. Have you gone to any writing conferences or places where you could discuss your novel and querying process a bit more? That might help a lot.

    My only other advice is to keep plugging away. Are you getting rejected right off the bat with your query letter -- or are agents rejecting after requesting additional pages? The 'good news' is that if you're not even getting requests for additional pages, your novel might be fine, but your query letter is what needs tweaking. Maybe there's just something that's not hooking the agents in that first chapter.

    I know it's frustrating. I feel your pain.
     
  3. swhibs123
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    swhibs123 Active Member

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    It’s so frustrating, I know. Trust me, most everyone in this room knows. But I fear it’s time for a bit of tough love.

    1. Don’t get your friends and family to read it. At least, don’t only get your friends and family to read it. Get strangers. People who won’t have to look at you over Christmas dinner. People who don’t care if they hurt your feelings. Who won’t care if you get offended and don’t want to talk to them. Get their opinions, because you can be sure it’s not biased.

    2. Not having a publishing history means very little. Debut authors find agents all the time and make great deals – significant deals – with major publishing houses. “New writers can’t make it!” is an old, and tired meme that the frustrated spew because they need an explanation for why they haven’t hit a mark with their work. As for what to write for the bio part? Nothing. Omit it. Don’t say a thing. If you have no professional writing credits, do not fill the space to fil the space. Just introduce yourself, introduce your book, tell about the book in a concise way, and end with a “thank you” and a formal salutation.

    3. Yeah, 120K for a YA is a bit high. Yeah, Harry Potter #1 was 77K words, but you know what? It was also bloody brilliant! I mean, it was really, really brilliant. JKR found her agent on the second try. The book was sold within a year. It did not languish.

    The first Twilight book was 130K words, so obviously a YA by a debut author at that word count is not an automatic rejection. There are some agents who will, indeed, not want to read it based on that fact. But Not all of them, that’s for sure. 120K YA, while outside the norm, certainly isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

    So what do you do?

    a) Find books of a debut nature which are like yours in length and content, and find out which agents represented those. Query those agents! At least if you do that you’ll know a rejection from them will not be because of word count.

    b) Research the heck out of the agents you do query. Query those who are asking for YA fantasy. Fantasy is always longer because of the world building. I actually think 120K words for a YA fantasy isn’t THAT outside the norm. Maybe 10-20K words at most.

    c) Make your query brilliant! Here’s the thing, if you ARE researching agents, and you are submitting stuff they indicate an interest in, you SHOULD be getting requests for sample pages. If you’re not, there is something wrong with your query. You’re right that a wordy query will make an agent think your book will be wordy, but more than that, a wordy query actually DOES mean your manuscript is likely wordy.

    d) If your sample pages are being requested, but they’re being consistently followed by rejections, there is, unfortunately, *likely* something wrong with your writing.

    The single most important thing you can do, however, is WRITE MORE BOOKS. You said it’s been a year since you started looking for an agent. In a year you should have finished your next book. How is that coming? Are you writing something else? Something shorter?

    This is not meant to be discouraging. I sincerely believe that the difference between a writer who makes it, and a writer who doesn’t is perseverance. Practice does make perfect. The notion that the odds are against you is silly. The odds are not against you.

    Your word count isn’t something I’d be too concerned with if you really have edited it, and made sure it’s concise. I write MG adventure. My last book is 94,000 words. Middle grade. That generally has an upper range of 60K or 70K

    Good luck!!!
     
  4. swhibs123
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    swhibs123 Active Member

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    Oh, one last piece of advice. Take advice with a grain of salt!
     
  5. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    From what I've read and heard, you'll find as many different answers for what you should and shouldn't put in a query letter as you do people who think they know about it. People who got signed, agents, people who just know it all, they all have their takes. If you find common threads among them ("make it brief" seems to be one I've seen almost everywhere), keep them in mind.

    I think it's also important to remember that agents are all different. It really all depends on managing to find an agent your writing (both in and out of the letter) clicks with. There may not be anything particularly wrong with it. It might just be bad luck. It's always good to try and improve but just because an agent rejects you isn't an automatic indication of bad quality.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you want, i'll be glad to take a look at your letter and let you know how i would react to it as an agent or editor...

    you can send it to me at: maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
  7. cicerotamar
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    cicerotamar Member

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    Are you an editor? Are you an agent? Are you professionally published by a major publishing house? Are you represented by a reputable agent?

    Not trying to be dismissive, you may be all of those things. But I think the op would be put at ease if he knew he was sending it to someone with real qualifications. So many people claim to be experts, but don't actually have any credentials beyond those they gave to themselves. A friend of mine used a "manuscript critique service" and found out after spending $300.00 that the person running it was just a random person who called themselves a publishing expert who had never published anything (except self published). I'm not saying that's you at all. It's just that the way you worded your post made it seem like you might be an agent, or an editor, and so I thought it would be a good move to clarify.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm gonna assume you're a writer, since you're on a writing forum - then you should know that the way you write something has a marked effect on how your post comes across. If you're actually *not* trying to be dismissive, then you shouldn't begin your post with a torrent of rather accusing questions. One such question to open would've been fine, two would still have been fine - but if you're actually trying not to offend, perhaps don't fire questions like you're firing bullets.

    Incidentally, I do otherwise agree with you :) I think maia does have quite a bit of experience though yeah - I believe she was a writing consultant for some big names in the past? Not sure about the details, but she is one of the more knowledgeable people on this forum.

    Now to the OP - the truth is, if you're being consistently rejected, the likelihood is that it's your manuscript that's the problem. Sometimes it's not the writing - the writing could be excellent - but the story is not interesting, it's not strong enough to carry the reader through. That could land you with a rejection too. And I'm afraid family and friends - even the brutally honest ones - whilst they might be able to tell you if your writing is good, they're unlikely to be able to tell you if your story "works" - pace, character development, strong storyline pulling one through, if you've conveyed things successfully. Because as honest as your friends and family are, unfortunately they do not know what actually builds a good story - and writing, while being the key ingredient, is unfortunately not the only ingredient that make up a good, marketable book.

    I've had a friend who's a terrific editor (not professional, but he is a very good critic) and he's glossed over things. He would tell me a scene is very good, and then if a few days later I bring up a flaw in the same scene, he would then agree with me. What does this tell me? That he's not telling me everything, he's just telling me an overall, general impression - that's not good enough. I then ask for advice and he's at a loss - he can only tell me if what I created is good, but he cannot tell me why.

    My point is, it's about more than simply good writing. I'd advise you to take a careful look at the architecture of the story and start asking some pointed questions about plot structure, pacing and character development - and ask writers. Experienced, good writers. Family and friends can't tell you much beyond a general impression - only someone who writes really gets what goes into a book.
     
  9. seije
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    seije Member

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    thanks, maia! i'd love to get your opinion!

    and thanks everyone for offering advice. I realize that query letters are extremely subjective, and that i just need to keep at it. I have been looking up agents for YA Fantasy, but i hadn't thought to look for agents of actual YA Fantasy novels that i know about; I'll have to give that a try.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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  11. Drusy
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    Drusy Senior Member

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    That's got to feel good. =) Was reading up - your young poet is very talented! But then you knew that.

    Back on track - nothing new to add but I like the idea from swhibs123 ... about researching the publishers and submitting to those who you know have a proven track record of publishing longer YA. A little research goes a long way...
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...by new writers with a first book, not established ones!
     

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