Queries can make or break you. Currently, they are breaking me. I’ve submitted 53 query letters to selected literary agents and have received eleven (11) form rejections and one (1) response that was slightly personal as the agent referenced something I wrote in my query letter. As for the other 41, I’ve had to assume I was rejected, as their websites indicated “no response means, no.”
Batting Zero, I decided to contact a local person who was an editor for ten years at Viking Press, a leading children’s book publisher. Her services are not free, but after all the hours, years actually, I have spent writing my humorous novel, The Whole Plot’s Crazy, I’d like to see it traditionally published.
As my sister often says, “Sometimes the only way to solve a problem is to throw money at it,” so that is what I am doing.
For the curious, her fee is $95 an hour, but she is upfront about that, and explains what services she offers, and how much time it might take her to do the requested work. I told her what I am willing to spend, and she has kept me posted on the amount of time invested so far.
So far I’ve received a personal letter explaining the process of writing a query and how mine is confusing. Specific details are addressed. We’ll meet next week to discuss her suggestions. She provides feedback on a telephone call or face to face if you live in the New Orleans area.
Here are a few nuggets I have learned from her so far.
1. Do not consider the query as a place for showing creativity or your personal tone and style as a writer. Queries are meant to be straightforward, brief, and to the point. Think of it this way: if an agent has a few minutes to spend reading queries and submissions, would you rather her spend more time on your query or your actual manuscript?
2. A query should include all requested information for each individual agent (and it does vary) and relevant information about your manuscript, and little else.
3. Ideally, it will be about half of one single-spaced page. There are exceptions, of course—because there are always exceptions—but generally speaking, the best queries allow the agent to get to the manuscript as fast as possible.
4. State what market your book is for, Young Adult, children, Adult, etc.
5. Supplying one or two strong “comp” titles is crucial.
6. Let the agent know why you are submitting to him/her. Perhaps she represents authors who write in a fashion similar to yours.
I thought I had covered these points in my query letter, but the sample I sent to her came back looking like Swiss cheese. And sadly, she was right. I reread my query and it seems disjointed. I compared books and authors without explaining how they were similar to my book.
Professional help may be what you need if you seem to be treading water. Before spending money, check out the credentials of the person who is providing the feedback. Catherine was referred to me by members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Ask if you can speak to one of her clients. Get a reference.
Professional help can be money well spent. Without a doubt I am getting my money’s worth