Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Missed me?

Oh, I’ve been around, keeping busy—after all, you know what they say about idle hands and the Devil’s playground. He'll have to catch me first.

It’s been a strange several weeks for me. After writing non-stop for the past 7-8 years, maintaining 3-4 blogs and posting on countless social sites and forums, I decided after I finished my sixth novel (only two have been published, but I'm trying to rectify that) my head needs a bit of a break. In many ways it’s been great to not think about the next chapter or edit. I've been guiltless about missing a post or two or three or four and for the most part, I've finally allowed myself to enjoy my summer and life has been good.

Having said this, 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 the past several weeks/months looking at a blank screen before moving beyond the “I’m thinking about … I need to write …” phase, but now their done. I started submitting to agents on July 16. Most have a 4-6 week response rate so although I’m going to be really, really positive about this, I don’t expect to get any word, good or bad, until mid-to late August. My hopes aren't entirely up nor dashed. I find that things go better for me when I don't dwell or panic over issues like this. Let's face it, all I can do is my best and see where that lands me.

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 get on the scales this morning to discover she lost those ten pesky pounds? See what I mean? No control! I’ve 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? Crap, 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, others 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 read about 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. It's also taken well over a month 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.

For the time being, I decided to push all of this out my head while I wait. I 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 in following my journey, please visit my Prose and Musing blog at  These days I don’t apologize for posting similar articles on these two blogs. My creativity only goes so far at the moment. ;) But, hey, here's a positive thought.

"Life's too uncertain, eat your dessert first"

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: blog: Collective blog: Blog:  Character Blog:  


Terry W. Ervin II said...

Quite true: Fun does *not* equal either synopsis or query letter.

Good luck and enjoy the bit of down time. Maybe get in some good reading--there's never enough time for that.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Wonderful narrative about the horrors that make up querying. And I'm delighted that you've allowed yourself to enjoy the summer. I did that last year, and never regretted a second of it. Okay, so I didn't do a virtual book tour for Mazurka like I'd planned, but heck. We can only do so much! Thanks, Marta.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

P.S. Damn, I love that dog picture! Looks like the Weimeraner named Mimi that I'm featuring in my Tall Pines Mysteries!

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s.w. vaughn said...

Seems like this is the summer for kicking back a little. Maybe it's just been too hot to work. LOL

Congrats on completing the latest and getting to the query stage - good luck!