In October 2010 I signed with my agent, Jason Yarn from Paradigm, after querying agents for ten months. But, in true Deb fashion, I didn’t meet Jason because of a query letter. I met him when I entered a Query Tracker contest that Spring. I won the contest, along with four other aspiring authors. The prize was that Jason would take a look at my full manuscript. And he did. And a year later, it sold. And now when we hit just over the 18-month-mark from selling The Glass Wives to St. Martin’s Press, it will be published in May.
So if I didn’t get my agent via a query, why do I think query letters are important?
Well, if you want to work with an agent in the world of traditional publishing, you have to be able to distill your novel down to its essential bits. As writers, there is no better way to make something work than to see it in words and to revise it, again and again. Feedback on query letters is key, in my opinion, whether or not you think you’ll need that letter. Someone unfamiliar with your story will be able to tell you if the letter actually says anything. Oh, I know, you’re a writer. But writing a query is different than writing that novel. In a query you have to say what happens in the novel without acting rewriting the story. You have to pare down your tens of thousands of words to the plot and the arc of the main character or characters. The voice should come through, but the subplots and minor characters will crowd the space, most likely. And be careful about over-indulging on theme. If well-written, the aura of the novel will come through in the specifics. No one wants to know (sorry) the lessons they’ll learn, they want to know the story they’ll read. They want to be hooked.
If you hate the word “hook” then join the club, but do it anyway. Use your idea–you know–that nugget that forced you to write the novel in the first place to reel in the agent or the editor or the reader.
The purpose of the query letter, that thing you spend hours, days, weeks, months, writing is simple. The purpose is to get a request for pages. That’s it.
Then the work is up to the book itself.
My query evolved over the 10 months I sent it…here’s one version. The Glass Wives has changed since then, but at its core, it’s the same story.
When a young woman arrives at the front door with a baby on her hip and suitcase in hand, divorced mom Evie Glass lets her in. So what if the woman is her ex-husband’s widow? And who cares if the woman was his mistress?
Everyone in Lakewood cares, that’s who.
If her ex were alive none of this would be happening – Evie would smile at the woman during soccer games, silently ridicule her tattoo and then they’d exchange pleasantries over popcorn.
But the ex is dead and all bets are off.
Amidst a torrent of grief, betrayal and bake sales, Evie does what it takes to make life normal for her kids. If that means rejecting a town full of nosy neighbors to redefine the meaning of family, so be it.
Stuff about me, blah, blah, blah. No a**-kissing. No crazy number of thank yous. Reading queries is an agent’s JOB. One thank you is enough for doing it. For now.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
And I always pasted the first pages at the bottom of the email whether requested or not. That way, if my query sucked, maybe those first pages didn’t.
My query stats: 116 query letters over 10 months; 39 requests for pages; 9 requests for full manuscripts; several contests entered. You do the math. No, really, you do it. I don’t do math.