Wednesday, June 23, 2010

So, It's Time to Query

I clipped the cartoon to the left several years ago from The New Yorker (I believe--it's been so long I can't remember). Anyway the caption reads: "We do not usually acknowledge unsolicited manuscripts, but we want you to know that we tore yours into tiny pieces. Yours sincerely, The Op-Ed page."

Isn't that the universal fear? Rejection?

Now that my third novel is complete, I've been working on writing the synopsis and of course, the next step will be to query agents. I have to admit it's more than a bit intimidating but exciting all at the same time. Unfortunately, it's not going to get done unless I roll up my sleeves and think positively.

On the up side of things, I've been blessed with the many contacts I've made over the years--other authors who have been willing to share their experiences with me. Several years ago, a good friend of mine who has been published numerous times by Bantam and Simon & Schuster offered these words of advice.

Where to start:

1) Purchase a current copy of "Writers Guide to Literary Agents."  Another option is to check with your local library to see if they have a copy.

2) Pick the best—aim high.
    a) Put together an A, a B, and a C list.
    b) Mail five from the A list wait 2 weeks.
    c) Mail five from the B list wait 2 weeks.
    d) Mail five from the C list wait 2 weeks.

3) Go to a your local book story and look through the acknowledgements sections of books in your genre for names of agents. Best if you read the book before mention it to the agent.
    a) Write to the agent: “I just read ….. and noticed …..’s acknowledgement of you. I admire ….’s work   
         and think it is reminiscent of my work.”

4) Query Letter:
     a) Three parts to the letters:
          i) Introduction/what genre do you write?.
          ii) Provide information about your novel.
          iii) Information about you (degrees, previously published works, awards etc.)
    b)  Refer to other works they represent.
    c)  Don’t compare your work to that of a famous (or not so famous) author.
    d)  Check with Writers’ Guide for specifics
         i) Write ONLY one page.
         ii) Get in and get out—tell them what you write and why you’re the person to write it.
         iii) DON”T self-praise own work.
         iv) Condense the theme of your book to 2-3 sentences.
         v) Send ONLY what they ask for.
         vi) Be very corporate in your letter
         vii) Times New Roman 12
         viii) Title and page number in the upper right-hand corner of the manuscript.
         ix) Send SASE if requested.
         x)  E-mail your query, synopsis, and sample chapters only if the agent states he/she will accept e-mails  

5) Be cold-blooded. This is the time when it pays to be self-centered and focused on a goal. Sales of 5,000 books will get you noticed. An agent is the only one who can get me into the big times.

6) Don’t be locked into New York. There are good agents in California, Colorado, and other states.

7) It’s best if the book is completed. If you’ve been previously published, that will give you a leg up. An agent will see the quality of your writing from reviewing your previous works.

8) Polish the first three chapters and send out the queries.

9) Give it time. It could take several weeks/months before you receive replies.

10) Attend writing conferences whenever possible and get in on pitch sessions with agents.

An excellent website full of information about literary agents, manuscript submissions, queries etc., is Guide to Literary Agents editor’s blog by Chuck Sambuchino.
About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery),

Personal site:
Personal blog:  
Collective blog:  
Character Blog:  


J D Webb said...

Great post, Marta. It gets to a point where even a rejection form letter acknowledges we are still writing.

Marta Stephens said...

Amen to that! I stress so much over writing the synopsis and query letter that I'll use any excuse to not write them. Strange, I know, but ...

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

This is my absolutely LEAST favorite part of being a writer. I know it's necessary, but I hate, hate, hate it. Almost as much as I hate writing the back cover blurb for my books. It's so hard to get the whole story into a short graph - and make it sound enticing, to boot! LOL. Thanks, Marta. Good list!

Marta Stephens said...

The site I mention in this post is really helpful. His advice on the synosis is to write a 7-page brief in case an agent would ask to read a long version, but then use it to cut back to two pages.

Oh, yuck, I have two pages written and that just covers the first three chapters. :(

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Right on spot, good advice, Marta.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

You make everything a writer needs to do seem so straightforward and easy. I can't understand why there's margin for error. Thanks for sharing as always. You sure make my life easier.

Marta Stephens said...

Hi Joylene! I seems easy on "paper" but oh what a pain I'm feeling right now. I'm coming up with every excuse to not write the darn thing.

erica_henry said...

I enjoyed this post. I am not in the query stage yet but will be in the next couple of months. It is already forming knot in my stomach. Thanks for the post that I can come back to and hopefully release that knot a bit.