Adventures in Querying: Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Harder…

Since my levels of public humiliation know no bounds, I have decided to share some of my many adventures in sending out the dreaded query letter. There are enough self-help blogs out there to tell you the right way of doing things, so I will not presume to offer such sage wisdoms here. I have none. Nor do I entirely ascribe to the idea that there is an over-arching “right way”. I have read enough to know that what tickles the fancy of one agent will annoy the pants off another. What I do hope to accomplish with my self-emulation, if nothing else, is a minor distraction from the stresses of what countless writers undergo every single day.

1. We write.
2. We edit.
3. We summarize.
4. We create our synopsis.

Some writers never quite get to number one. Theirs is always a WIP. Others get to number two and never leave the loop. There is so much to correct, massage, reinvent, re-imagine, and rewrite, number two will sustain them for decades to come. Number three can be hard because what do you leave out and what do you keep without loosing the gist of the story. (The cat on the street corner seemed so significant at the time. Certainly he warrants a mention at the number three stage.) Number four is the nightmare version of number three. No one gets a mention and the witty repartee – lost on the cutting room floor. Five hundred pages whittled down to a few measly paragraphs, but if you make it past number four, the query letter awaits you.

We won’t discuss my age. It is as off-limits a subject as discussing the NRA at a church social. What I will say is that when it comes to writing and sending out query letters, there is a part of me that feels a bit like a child. Positively pubescent in fact. I get all nervous. My voice cracks, and I don’t even have to actually talk to anyone. That is how jittery the process can be for me. I haven’t sent out many and perhaps my inexperience is what causes the quaver, but my super slick professional veneer that exists in my high tech day job shatters at the start of the “Dear Mr/Ms.” of the query letter.

Maybe it is because so much of me CARES about the outcome. Maybe it is because so much of me is invested in what I am sending. I haven’t quite figured it out. I am an old hand at one through four but the query still has its embarrassing surprises. I will give you an example.
I write professional letters all day long. It is part and parcel of my day job. I am commended on my communication skills in fact. I took technical communications in college, and I know all about the opening and closing of a letter. It is basic stuff. My first query letter and incidentally my first massive snafu was to write a query letter that had everything but the “thank you” at the end.

Word to the wise or the morbidly retarded. Always ALWAYS say “thank you for your time” at the  end of a query letter. You don’t have to use those words but find some way of showing your appreciation to the reading agent for them reading your correspondence. That simple token can go a long way and the lack of it can put the breaks on.

I was so nervous about that first letter, I did the double-dog-dare send off and did not make sure that I had everything in the body of the letter that common courtesy demanded. I had what was required in the submission guidelines, but there is more to an agent than that. I sent a followup email and drew attention to my oversight. I apologized profusely and explained how nervous I was. I know it was a gamble, and no, it didn’t pay off in the sense of my being picked up by that agency. I did however, receive a personal email back the next day letting me know that I didn’t meet the type of material they were looking for at that time, but to please continue to submit. It was a kind letter that didn’t need to be sent. I could have been ignored and deleted. Instead, I was acknowledged and treated with respect.
Fast forward to today. I sent out my second query letter for a brand new book for a brand new series. The very first thing I did was write that darned thank you at the end. No sense in getting burned by that twice. Boy was I proud of myself for remembering. I went over every inch of that letter. When I was certain I had everything I needed, I sent it out. I like keeping records so I bcc’d a copy to myself. Then I waited. And waited. And waited for my copy to arrive. A sick feeling suddenly set into my gut. I pulled up my email (set up faithfully through Google) and imagine my considerable horror when I discovered I sent my query letter along with the first five pages of my new book to another author.

Yep. Google apparently has a new and marvelous feature in their gmail system that ties into the email address auto complete. If an gmail account exists that is similar to one that you are entering, Google now offers it as a dropdown recommendation even if you don’t know the person, aren’t connected to them, and have no freaking clue who the heck they are. I saw author and stephens which are both in my email address and I tabbed to accept. It was the only address that was recommended which made sense because it was the only one like it that I had set up in my contacts. But Google wasn’t looking at MY contacts. It was looking out into the world of people I didn’t know.

So some other author got my stuff. Maybe she had a good laugh. Maybe she said, “Ooooo, this is neat.” Who knows. The point is, I didn’t catch it. So there I was sending another letter some time later asking her to delete the query and pretend she never saw it. Fiasco number two of query sendouts.
Tomorrow is a new day, and they say the third time is a charm. I will let you know if that holds true.


If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to connect with H.L. Stephens on Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. Also check out H.L. Stephen’s mystery series The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. Book 1 – The Case of Jack the Nipper and book 2 – The Case of the Wayward Fae are available in print and eBook format. Coming Soon! Book 3 – The Case of the Monkey’s Misfortune.

2 Comments on “Adventures in Querying: Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Harder…

  1. My dear H.L., we all have had those times my friend. I am so glad you can share your experiences and even laugh at them. I think you are courageous and wonderful! As a blogger, for me it can be hard to reach out to companies I want to work with at times, so I understand. It can be a bit intimidating.
    I know there is a publisher out there who will be thrilled to get your next query letter…with the carefully placed “thank you” at the end. And they will be chomping at the bit to publish this new series of yours. Can't wait to read it!!
    Love, Pixel


  2. Good advice here – It's always interesting to hear what others have been through – I have 2 sisters and between us we have a lot of experiences and knowledge and toy with the idea of writing together…..Who knows if we ever will, but it makes for some fun discussions!


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