Query Me This: The Riddle of Reaching an Agent

question mark - vintage wooden letterpress type block in old typesetter drawer among other letters stained by ink

Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important page an unpublished writer will ever write. It’s the first impression and will either open the door or close it. It’s that important, so don’t mess it up. Mine took 17 drafts and two weeks to write.
— Nicholas Sparks

No pressure. Thanks, Nicholas, pal.

I wrote the first draft of Good Graces in November 2013. Since then I’ve read it dozens of times, worked with an editor through several drafts, rewritten major sections on a several all-day writing marathons, submitted chapters for review by three authors in my critique group for suggestions, revised the draft a third time, and now am approaching the time I can send it back to my editor for a final (for now) read-through. It’s been exhilarating, exhausting, called upon parts of myself I didn’t know were there, and kept me awake at night.

And now you’re telling me all of this isn’t the hard part?

It’s Only The Beginning

In “10 Things I Learned While Writing My First Novel,” Emily Wenstrom ends her list with “The end is only the beginning.” She goes on to say,

Completing your manuscript is a huge feat. But the real adventure is still ahead—querying agents (or self-publishing), promoting, and connecting to readers.

I think this is why I imagine there’s a great big heap of finished really decent short stories, novels, epics, and poetry collections that the public will never see. Those of us lovestruck enough keep going…to take the long way around the quicksand, battle the fire breathing dragon, and climb the highest tower to rescue our precious manuscript and place her on her rightful pedestal high on bookshelves of as many stores as will have her.

Why, in particular, am I willing to risk all this work, all these steps, just for my one-page query letter to make or break the fate of my manuscript? Because I have a story to tell that I believe is worth reading. To be more specific, I believe the message in Good Graces that the power of God’s grace has redemptive powers past our understanding and way past what we deserve is one I can’t not put out there. This may be my platform to speak the Good News to those I won’t meet in person. I’m passionate enough to put in the effort, play the game, pay my dues. And, ultimately, trust that God’s plan will prevail — whatever that may be.

I think I veered off the path for a moment…disoriented by the deep, dark Forest of Passion and Purpose. Back to our metaphor of the query process as a riddle…

Everyone Has an Opinion.

Like the parenting advice I received while expecting my first child, advice for the process of query writing is vast and wide. I’ve spent a lot of time reading posts and articles by experienced authors, agents, and publishers on the art of writing the most effective query. Just like parenting, I believe you have to find a balance between listening to those who’ve gone before you and feeling in your gut what is right for you and your manuscript.

That said, here are a few articles I’ve found particularly helpful. What other suggestions or advice would you give for what or what not to do?

How to Write a Query Letter by Rachelle Gardner (Books and Such Agent)
The 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter by Brian A. Klems at Writer’s Digest
How to Query Literary Agents by Michelle Josette (my editor)
Query Letters that Work by Becky Yauger for ACFW

The Good News

Overwhelmed? Take a deep breath (have you caught on that this is a write-what-I-need-to-hear post?). Let’s end with some good news. You don’t have to figure out the riddle alone. For every article I listed above, there are hundreds of other writers and agents out there who want to see you succeed. Ask questions if you’re not sure. You can even post your query drafts for review. I’ve already sent my first query draft out to my editor, an experienced author friend, my critique group, and posted it on a query critique forum at Agent Query Connect.

And for now, we won’t dwell on what comes after hitting “send” on your queries. (Hint: The riddle becomes the waiting game.)

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