I recently went through the madness of learning how to write query letters and what to do with them. I am a brand new, unpublished writer, yet my query letter to date has earned me two requests for partials and two requests for full manuscripts. I have not earned an agent yet, but I have written a decent query letter and I wanted to share what I have learned. In my next couple few blog posts, I’ll take you through the process step by step. I’ll include some links to the websites that helped me learn what I was doing.
So you’ve finished your book, you are naturally excited that it’s finished, and perhaps a little depressed that it’s over. I don’t know about you, but I get a little post-writing depression when the tale is finally finished. You’ve done a few proof reads, and the writing is looking good. What better way to celebrate than to start looking for an agent to sell the book!
Stop. You have one chance to sell each agent you query on this wonderful book of yours. You can’t query an agent, do more polishing, and then send it out again. Agents apparently detest multiple queries on the same work, as well they should. They have a slush pile a mile long and they’ve already passed on your work once. Why in the world would they want to look at it again?
What you should be doing. Have patience. Rushing this process is a good way to get your work buried in slush piles across America.
-Before you submit your first query to an agent, you need to polish, polish, polish. Step away from your book for a couple of weeks and then read it with fresh eyes. Don’t worry about the delay, you have some research to do, which I will cover in part two of this series.
-Get people to read your work, tell you their thoughts, find the typos. When Ghost was finished, it was a good book. Not the next great American novel mind you, but entertaining. It also had a punctuation error in the very first chapter that wasn’t caught until three weeks later. It also had a short passage towards the end that was all wrong, so much so that it offended my beta readers. There is a character in my book that I obviously do not like, and I made a choice that was way too strong. My book was good, and fairly cleanly written when I finished it. Now, with a bit of tweaking, it’s even better.
-You want your book to be at it’s best, polished and shiny, before you send it to that first agent. All you need is that one typo in that first chapter to make an agent say no thank you. I may not have an agent yet, but because I took the time to polish, I’m getting comments from agents that call my work “well written” and “Poised and polished” rather than “needs work.”
-Who should read your work? Anyone you can get! Don’t expect people to read your work simply because they love to read, or because they love you. Reading is very personal. Trying to pick a book out for someone else is a lot like trying to buy another woman a bathing suit. What you like is not necessarily what they will like. Figure out well known authors who’s work is similar to yours. In my case, I told friends and family that if they enjoyed Dean Koontz’ early work, they might enjoy my book. This will give them a good idea of whether they will enjoy reading it. If you know a fellow writer, great! Their input will be invaluable. However, don’t overlook folks who just like to read. you are writing for readers, not other writers after all. And whatever you do, don’t be disappointed if you have people who said they would read it, but never get around to it. People’s lives get busy. Maybe your book isn’t their cup of tea. My sister wrote a book. It’s sitting on my shelf right now. It’s a steampunk book. From reader’s comments and current sales I gather that it is an excellent book in it’s genre. Me, I couldn’t get past the first chapter. I simply am not interested in steampunk. I rather wish I was.
-Don’t overlook writer’s forums online. Not only can you hook up with other writers, and read some interesting posts, but they often have places to post samples of your work. This would be a great place to get those first couple sample chapters read by writers to make sure they are letter perfect.
A couple that I recommend:
Fictionpost Writing Forum http://www.fictionpost.com/forums
Absolute Write Water Cooler http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums
(I apologize for the lack of direct links, but I could not get my link-fu together.)
In closing- Finish the book. No agent wants a fiction that isn’t already finished. Then polish, polish, polish. Get some readers, and don’t worry about how long that takes, because you are going to be busy. As I will explain in the next section of this series, you have some research to do.