Saturday, March 12, 2011

Getting past the hard stuff

My goal since my last post was to start sending out query letters for "Dear Sister." I would rather write another novel than to write a query letter. That "grab the reader with the first sentence" scares me to death. Of course, you have to grab the reader with the first sentence of your book, too, but hopefully having opened it and gone that far, the reader will continue, at least for a few paragraphs. I never give up on a book until I am at least 30 pages into it.

And, readers aren't as busy as agents; they only have to read one book at a time and take can as long as they please. But writing a query is like walking up to a perfect stranger and saying, "Hi, I'm Sandy and here's why you should listen to me for the next three minutes." Nope, can't do it.

And then there is the synopsis. That's like condensing a three-month camping trip from Virginia to California in one page. You can tell people what you saw, but there's precious little room to tell them how you felt about it.

I wrote both a one-page and a two-page synopsis because different agents ask for different lengths. I wrote a query letter and when that got a too-prompt rejection, re-wrote it, and then re-wrote it again, still trying for that elusive hook. Then I copy-pasted the first five pages, the first 10 pages, the first 50 pages, the first chapter and the first three chapters -- coincidentally, also the first 50 pages. Because each agent asks for something different.

So far I have sent out eight queries and have received five rejections. One agent replied so quickly that I told myself it must have been an automatic reply. That's more comforting than thinking she never got past "Dear Ms. Agent." (And yes, I used her real name; I know better than to send a blind query addressed to whom it may concern.)

The other three queries are still out there and I realize that I may never get a reply from them. That means I need to keep sending them out. It doesn't mean I am discouraged. It's just a chore I need to do before going on to my next project, "A Question of Boundaries." Writing this story is fun and I'm enjoying the process. I almost dread when I finish it and have to start the query rounds again.

Seeing your book in print and holding a copy in your hands is beyond triumph -- it's the culmination of all your dreams.

But to get to that point, you first have to do the hard stuff. And I'm not talking about writing the novel.


  1. Sandy, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps we're wrong about the author having to grab people with the first sentence. Maybe it's really up to the reviewers (critics?) to grab potential readers with the first sentence! Whew! What a relief, knowing I can relax now and blame it all on the reviews (or lack thereof)!

  2. Hi Sandy, Amen!

    Hate the query and synopsis.
    Arthur Levine

  3. good point, Beverley. but consider this: if the agent or publisher was not "grabbed" by the hook, there would be no book for reviewers/critics to look at.

  4. One page to catch the attention of someone who receives over a thousand queries a month, describe your 300 pg book in one paragraph and sell yourself as a megastar is overwhelming. If I had legions of credits to my name, it would be different but "never been published" is a hard sell. If you get "the magic call" I want to copy your query letter! Good blog. Tie a knot in the end of your rope and hang on!

  5. The sad thing is, your writing is so good it really deserves publication. It's a crime that these agents dismiss it based on a few hundred words in a query.