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How to Write a Query Letter

I think that I have read a thousand articles with this same title. I have also borrowed books on the topic and am currently registered to take an online course about the same thing. Query Writing is offered at every conference and seminar for writers. All of these facts should tell us something. It. Is. Important. Please read that last word with an underscore, italics and bold font. (I won’t put them in so that no one feels I’m yelling at them).

After finishing a 300 page manuscript, I too, feel as if a 1 page letter, with only a paragraph to describe my book, is impossible. The task is daunting. It can be easy to spend very little time on the query and hope that when the agent reads the opening pages, it will catch him or her. The scary thing is, if the agent doesn’t like the query, there is no reason for them to read even the first 3 pages. It doesn’t even matter that they are right below it in your email.

If we call ourselves writers and our goal is to be published, then we need to think about our craft as more of a business. OK, how many people just navigated away from my blog? It true anyway. Whether you read it here or not. Books are on paper because someone is making money. It is a business. So, the gatekeepers out there (agents) are reading as much as they can, as quickly as they can, in the hopes of signing the next book to make some income.

Once the agents signs you and your book, they still have to try to sell it, just like you did. They sell it to a publisher. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Be salable. Be marketable. Don’t limit your mind to only seeing writing as an art, not if you want to get it to a publisher. Do your best on the book, then write a query that gets agents reading. You can’t sell it if no one reads it.

I know that I said there are tons of ways to learn about writing a query, but I just finished a free downloadable book by Noah Lukeman that is worth the time. It was very good, and it will save you from reading 1000 separate articles. He says it all, and he says it well, right here:

Writers Conferences

I did it! I have registered for my first writers conference. This is like my brother in law getting tickets to Comic Con. It’s HUGE for me, and I am thrilled. There is a lot that goes into the going process. For the mother of three small kids, I need a very loving and slightly nutty person who wants to keep them all weekend. Grandparents fit the bill nicely, and they were takers. Next, I  have to have the cash to get me there. That is a tiny issue because I have no actual income to speak of. However, I do have a devoted and completely darling husband who had no problem with the whole expense. (We use the don’t ask more than you really want to know policy about big purchases). Then, I had to get there. I am a nervous driver in new places. I asked several pals. Mostly they couldn’t justify the expense to attend a writers conference. They aren’t writers. Also, it seemed excessive to go only to chauffeur me.  I thought it was a wash until Bryan asked me if I registered. It had been a week. I normally do things in the process of deciding to do them. When I said no and told him why, he said. “I’ll go.” Yep. He’s taking a day off, driving me to Columbus, and hanging out at the hotel while I go meet writers and agents and publishers.  Sure, who wouldn’t like a day at a hotel just for sleeping and watching TV, and Bryan is scary, crazy, smart, and can log in and work from anywhere, BUT he wants to take me. He wants to be with me and encourage me and cheer me on. At the risk of sounding half my age, I must declare to the web, My husband rocks my socks, all the time. Thank you sweetie!

On a related note, if you are from Ohio and are looking to attend a small writers conference, there is one coming our way this fall. It is the Central Ohio Fiction Writers Conference and you can read more about it here:

The Word Whisperer

Editing is hard – for me. I have been going over a requested full, line by line, for 3 days. I am only half way through. This process is tedious and dull, and not nearly as fun as penning the exciting story. All in all, I dare say that the editing is a pretty stinky part. That’s just me. I’m more octane, less putter. Also, I don’t like all the individual words. *Sigh* Now, that you know how excited I am about editing, let me tell you why I haven’t thrown in the writing towel. I have a word whisperer. (Please see me smiling.) You read it right, and I’m keeping her. I just hope that I’ll be able to afford her once all you wordsmiths realize that I am deadly serious.

The Word Whisperer comes in the form of a spirited little female.  She is not an editor by trade. She is, however, an avid reader, and far more knowledgeable about writing from that standpoint than I. She reads more each week than I can manage in a month. She is an asset.

So, my process goes like this. I print out my manuscript, certain that I will have little to fix, and I read it. I haven’t seen this one in a while so my eyes are fresh. I circle superfluous commas, and I scratch out the unnecessary words. Then, I get on my laptop and make the changes there. (I don’t know why, but its easier to see them on paper).  Now, they’re ready for the Whisperer. I email them to her, and she returns them with dozens of errors noted.

The Word Whisperer individually interviews 80,000 words, demanding the same from each, “What’s your deal?” If they don’t answer right, they’re gone. Mis spells, out, repetitive nouns, see ya, errant thought, buh-bye. The Word Whisperer determines their fate with a swift and precise swipe of the bold.  I listen to her. She’s good, very, very, good, and MINE!

Thank you, Dear Whisperer for your magic. I owe you to the moon.

Local Writers Guild

The night has finally arrived. I will attend my very first meeting with a group of local writers. This is a big deal for me. It’s a lot like pledging in college, only they won’t make me moon anyone or otherwise humiliate myself for inclusion. However, the writers that I meet tonight may become like family, sisters. Finding a solid writing community, online or otherwise, is crucial to a new writer’s sanity. While family and friends may be supportive, ( I am personally surrounded with cheerleaders), they aren’t writers. It takes a writer to know one, I think. We need to have someone else, preferably someone who has poured their heart, and soul, and sleep deprived mind into something only to be slapped with two dozen form rejections and one “You scare me, please lose my number.” It takes another writer to really feel you on that front. Another writer has hit the highs and lows that you have or will hit. They’ve read the articles, joined the blogs, attended the conventions, and struggle with the compulsion. They get it, and they have it to give too.

I think that the most interesting thing that I’ve learned about publishing is that the entire thing is set aside. It is a machine like no other. For one, there are thousands of people just like me doing exactly this right now, hoping for the same outcome. I had no idea. There are just so darn many of us! Another thing is that there are so many rules, written and unspoken too. There are protocols and procedures and etiquette to consider. Its like a whole separate culture,or a living breathing animal that I had no idea existed.

Countless blogs and websites are out there to help the struggling writer to finally call themselves an author. Complete online communities are devoted to it. The publishing industry is so utterly, dizzyingly complex that it both intrigues and frightens me. Who in your family can get that? They hear the words and their head bobs, but it just doesn’t mean the same thing if you’re not a writer.

So, I am headed out tonight, excited to meet a little knot of people in my comparatively small town, that call themselves writers. I am nervous and I am eager. They are my potential family, my new buddies, a source of information, encouragement and acceptance. They will remind me that, yes statistically speaking, only ONE in FIFTEEN THOUSAND manuscripts submitted by new authors gets printed, but odds are no reason to give up a dream.

Startled and Scurrying

I have received fantastic, incredible, terrifying, panic inducing news, via email. It seems that a project which I had considered dead in the water may have a life left in it after all. I queried a manuscript a while back and received many bites, but no takers. I had a few worthwhile suggestions in the midst, which I promptly applied and then waited. There is a certain agency with whom I hoped to find a home, and after about three months of a non response to a partial, I considered it a loss. The manuscript went into hibernation and I went on to pen another story that was wildly different in order to change my pace and have a break. Well, what do you know? After about six months, the partial requester came back with a positive response. She would like to see the manuscript. Voila! Joy, pain, sunshine and rain. It seems that what she liked in those first 3 chapters (thank hotmail for keeping every correspondence that I have sent out in a decade) was gone, kaput, rearranged until unrecognizable. What’s a little author gal to do? I have no idea. I figure, I’d better haul the story out of storage, dust it off and give it another read through. It’s been long enough that I want to be sure that I am sending out my best. Hey, what was my best a half year ago may not be all I can offer these days, right? Hopefully I have improved my craft. We shall see. So, my printer is printing (I do better work if I can touch it) my ink is depleting, my brain is smoking and my eyes are stinging. This just may be for all the cookies!

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