Book Update: Query Letters A Go-Go

As told in my last update, work has begun on my literary agent query letter. To that end, I am poring over the vast archives at the Query Shark blog, which has helped immensely. I found out quickly that my first stab at writing a query letter was piss poor. Actually, I think it aspired to be piss poor.

Thus: I have a few pieces of homework this month:

  • More on the query letter process in a moment, but one excellent point that got put to immediate use was to make sure the manuscript itself is polished to a high sheen. I *thought* it was after multiple revisions, but after reading through a few chapters randomly last night, there’s still much to cull. It’s insidious, really. Two sentences that seemed to stand on their own should be joined with “and”, or simply a comma. I found a redundant sentence that contained redundancy that I hadn’t noticed before. ARGH! Now I understand why all of the advice for aspiring authors says there’s no such thing as too much polishing. (Confidential to Bill: Yeah, yeah yeah. (grin))
  • Three thin, and related chapters were condensed down to one. Sadly, this meant re-numbering all of the downstream chapters, but c’est la vie.
  • I may think better of it later, but I am leaning toward posting my completed query letter here on this site for a) posterity and b) educational purposes.
  • Query Shark is littered with a) queries that were revised several times and b) concerns that if the query letter process is such a bear, the book itself is questionable. This is what inspired my spot-check of the fourth draft, which is now the fifth draft. (I feel like I’m unveiling the fifth five-year plan, and that chocolate rations are down. Also: We have always been at war with Oceania.)
  • I wondered in the early going how to define success and failure in this venture. Of course, I would like to land an agent of repute, get a book deal with a major publisher (as in, one anybody has heard of), and go on to write more books and have a Wikipedia page. The worst-case scenario, it appears, is not ultimate rejection and I burn the manuscript, the laptop, any other computers I see, and become a broken, bitter man, or “just” (dun dun DUNNNNN) self-publishing. I’ve been spot checking some of the “approved” queries at Query Shark and have noticed some disturbing trends:
    • Google searches for the titles as provided in the queries have often been dead ends. To be fair, the title may have been changed at press time.
    • It’s uncomfortably possible that despite having a killer query letter, and even a smokin’ manuscript wasn’t enough to break in as a debut author.
    • I have found a few “screw it, I’ll just self publish and be done with it” situations. One author was advised to pare down from 190K words (to ~100K) and I found the self-pubbed title weighing in at – wait for it – 190K words.
    • Another author got the green-light for her query letter, and after further ado I found the series listed on Amazon, however, the title as named in the query ended up being #3 in the series. It *appears* to be self-pubbed. To be fair, I’d imagine the swords and sorcery fantasy market is glutted beyond all comprehension. (Not knocking it, but my concern with that genre is how to stand out from all that has come before, and I don’t have an answer for that.)
    • X number of authors may have plain given up.

Well, I’m doing my best to remain sunnily optimistic as I wade through this exciting yet daunting process! Back to my studies…


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