By Judy Clement Wall
I did it. I sent my first query letter to an agent. It was an email, actually, constructed according to guidelines – a description of my book, a bio, the first five pages of my manuscript embedded (no attachments). It was as easy as hitting “send.”
Which of course wasn’t really easy at all.
I’m not exactly a virgin. I’ve submitted my work for publication lots of times. I’ve been accepted and rejected and ignored, and I’ve struggled with what each of those things does to my psyche. But when you submit short fiction, you hand over your manuscript. They are making a decision on the piece itself and so, thumbs up or thumbs down, it’s all about the story, the thing you actually wrote, the thing you’re trying to sell.
With novels the rules are different. I get that. You can’t just hand someone 400 pages and expect them to read it. I understand the logic behind a query letter, but that doesn’t mean I understand how to write one. I read tons of advice from writers and agents. I read sample queries. I read a letter about which two agents disagreed – one was utterly unimpressed and the other offered representation. I wanted to feel reassured by that story, but I didn’t.
Then one day, a writer friend, listening to my query angst, offered me some advice. I appreciated it, but appreciation, no matter how heartfelt, is not the same as sitting down and writing the damn letter. I know this because he pointed it out. Then he said, “I’ll show you my query if you show me yours,” and it was like being thrown a lifeline.
First, in that moment, I was no longer alone. Second, as soon as I said yes, I knew I would do it. I’d committed to it. I’d said it aloud, and you know how I feel about saying it aloud. I wrote a letter and I sent it to him, and he rewrote my letter and sent it to me, and somewhere between mine and his, we landed on the query I sent to the agent.
During the process we talked, and he said a lot of things that helped me. Mostly, versions on a theme: I was making too much out of the query. He said, “Writing the book and selling the book are different things. One is creative and the other transactional. We need to keep the two somewhat separate.” I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I hope to enter a long-term relationship with my agent, so, for me, this process lands somewhere between “just business” and a blind date. That said, realizing that the query letter is just a query letter helped. It had become this big, scary, unknowable thing in my mind, not unlike sitting down to write my first novel.
So now it’s done. I’m not a query virgin. I sent my first letter to my first agent. And then I sent two more. My plan is to send 3-5 a week. My friend says it’s a numbers game, and I think that’s true.
You have to go on a lot of blind dates to find Mr/Ms Right.
JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course and co-manages the FoW blog with Milli. She has just finished her first novel, Beautiful Lives, and here, at FoW, she is chronicling her quest to find a publisher. You can read more of her work at Zebra Sounds.