Monday, August 02, 2010

2010: Day 212 Query Letters Sent ... And Now I Wait

Okay, so let me see if I have this right. It’s been 35 days since my last post? Time flies I guess, the question is, have I had a good time? Yes and no, but trust me I’d never use the words “good time” in the same sentence with the words, “synopsis and query letter.”

As some of you know, I spent weeks/months looking at a blank screen before moving beyond the “I’m thinking about … I need to write …” phase, but I’m happy to announce that I finally have them done. In fact, I started submitting to agents on July 16. Most have a 4-6 week response rate so I don’t expect to get any word, good [I'm going to be really, really positive about this] or bad, until mid-to late August. To be honest though, I’ve concluded that it’s strictly a numbers game. The more I mail, the better my odds of finding a good match. Yes, yes, I know the query letter has to hook them into reading the synopsis and then hopefully the manuscript, but honestly there are so many variables most of which are completely out of my control. For example ... what mood will the agent be in when he picks up my query? Did he receive great news as he walked into his office, or is this the morning his mother-in-law is moving in? Is the agent trying to quit smoking or did she just lose ten pounds? See what I mean? No control!  I’ve had to keep reminding myself that what one agent turns down, may be exactly what will strike then next agent’s fancy and so … I’ll keep subbing.

With respect to the task of writing these hellish things, at least most of the references I’ve searched through agree on what the synopsis should include—identify the main characters, highlight of each key turning point of the novel, and spell out the ending. Still a million questions raced through my mind: have I written enough? Am I cramming too much onto the page? Do they really think I can reduce this novel to a two-page summary? Will the hook pull them in? Is there a hook? Eeek gads!!!

If the synopsis isn't hard enough to write, the how-to on writing the perfect query letter is really anyone’s guess. I say this not because there isn’t a template to follow, but because one really, and I do mean really, has to study each agent’s site and understand what he or she is looking for. If you’re lucky, the agent will offer samples of what he or she considers to be a “stellar letter.” I found a few of them, and in the process, I also discovered that while most asked for the author’s credentials and personal information in the final paragraph, one agent wanted to read that sort of thing up front with only a line or two about the story at the end.

Some agents want to know how much the author knows about him or her (translation: researched them and their firm), there are others who claim they don’t care how the author found them, they just want to read the bit about the story and understand why he or she should request the manuscript.

For authors who like challenges though, there's always the various submission guidelines. Just try to keep them straight in your mind. Do they prefer snail mail or e-mail? Believe it or not, one agent has an online submission form. Do they want the query letter and the synopsis, or the query and first five pages of the manuscript, or was that the first five chapters? No wait, this one only wants the first 1,000 words and how about the agent who only wanted a letter indicating she would base a decision on it alone.
It’s crazy and it’s taken a months to develop an initial list of agents, customize the letters, and write the “perfect” synopsis. In the meantime, life has continued to throw out the occasional one-two punch.

I decided to push all of this out my head while I wait and spent this past weekend cleaning out my home office. After all, I'll need a clean desk on the day when I get the “please send” right? I filled two trash bags full of pages I'd printed but hadn't read, used or referred to in years as well as hundreds of pages of old edits. I tore them into several pieces just in case the enterprising vagrant who rummages through the trash at night finds my manuscripts, steals my idea, and turns it into a New York best seller. More power to him, if that’s the case.
Anyway, prayers and good wishes are gladly accepted!

For those interested, I posted a bit more about synopsis and queries here: