Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Insecure writer: my query is out

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
I have queries out - sitting in the limbo of several agents' inboxes or "for later" folders, so of course I am wildly insecure.  I'm so insecure that I'm afraid if I start writing about it here, all my emotions will splatter across this screen like rotten fruit.

To try to keep my current emotions under check, I'm attempting have fun with this whole query letter thing.  

The query writing process (especially the pitch part of the query, the part that's supposed to read like the jacket copy of a book) is quite the adventure. The first time I tried it, four years ago, I dreaded it. I wrote some drivel, did some research, had an epiphany. I had long philosophical discussions with myself about what my novel was really about... what the heart of it was.

 I ended up shelving that novel (I definitely plan to return to it, but it needed more time to marinate). 

Then I moved on to another novel. The query pitch seemed to write itself. I was so proud of myself! I'm getting the hang of this thing! 


I submitted my lovely query to an online contest, and an agent ripped it to sheds. Direct quote: "Playing coy with agents on this point isn't going to incite most to want to read further."

Cue sobbing.

After I got over being crushed, I admitted the agent was probably dead on right, and I put on my studious glasses and looked at a bunch more query examples (WriteOnCon forums and the Pitch Wars and Writer's Voice events at Brenda Drake's website are a great source). 


I came up with a fresh query that was straightforward and not coy and had the requisite three C's (character, conflict, choice) and put it up for critique at Matt Rush's wonderful blog, the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. I got some positive feedback. It seemed I was on the right track, just needed some tweaking and a little more voice. 


So I tweaked and added a phrase with a little more voice, and sent that query off for reals (not just a contest). 

And got form rejections.  This time I didn't sob, because I kind of had a gut feeling that despite my tweaking and attempt at voice, I still hadn't nailed it. When I read my own query, it kind of made me feel like this: 


Instead of like this:

So, went back to searching for more query examples and dissecting the ones I really loved. The queries I really love are ones with characters that grab you with some specific details and voice. (of course, queries, like novels, are also very subjective: some will love it, some won't. You hope for a majority in your favor). 

My current version of the query is now rich on character, but maybe too long. It will probably evolve into yet another version, but I feel happy enough about it (for now) to send it out again. 

What I'm still really unsure about is the personalization to the agent part. The part that goes something like "I read in a recent interview you are looking for a YA romance layered with big stakes" or "I loved so-and-so book that you represented".  I wish all agents were like Janet Reid, the Query Shark, who thinks that the personalization is a waste of time, just get to the story, please. 

Sigh... just another thing to be insecure about.

I won't even start on the sample pages that come after the query....

But ultimately I guess my determination outweighs my insecurity, because I keep trying, I keep writing, I keep putting things out there and taking the feedback and fixing and trying again.

Because I LOVE writing, I love learning, I love the whole long messy process. Even if Miranda, my favorite character from the Devil Wears Prada, would probably say this about me: 

It's only failure if you give up!

What part of the writing process is on your mind today?

33 comments:

  1. Good for you for continuing on, and for working and re-working those queries! That shows true dedication and professionalism. Good luck with everything!

    Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

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    1. Thanks for visiting - and I love the name of your blog! Will visit it again...

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  2. I've been querying too this spring, and I'm with you on the roller coaster of waiting. And I'm with you on the personalization thing--I wish that every agent was the same!
    Right now I'm focused more on revising.

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    1. While waiting on the queries I'm supposed to be revising another ms to get that one ready to query too, but instead I keep checking my inbox. I know I need to stop that and write!

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  3. Every single gif was perfect. :D

    I haven't reached the querying stage but reading about it certainly makes me nervous! I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I get there. Your perseverance is inspiring and is bound to be met with reward. Keep going!

    Happy Wednesday!

    Sam
    Writing Through College

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the gifs! they just seemed to find their way to this post...

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  4. I've so struggled with the query letter too. So you're not alone. Fingers crossed that you get a good response.

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    1. Fingers crossed for you likewise, and esp. because of all the amazing work you put into Literary Rambles!

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  5. Query letter writing is so hard, and querying can be so tough. But keep going! I'm crossing my fingers for you. :)

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  6. Keeping at it is one of the hardest things, good for you for sticking to it. The query process requires so many things, and it's tough. Keep going, I'm sure you'll get there.

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    1. Loved your post for ISWG - thanks for visiting!

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  7. Love this line.....my determination outweighs my insecurity. Great post and enjoyed all the pictures. Sending you lots of luck and hope you hear soon!

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    1. Enjoyed reading your post too, thanks for visiting.

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  8. I feel the exact same way. Querying takes nerves of steel and the hope of a child awaiting that best present at Christmas.

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    1. Perfect description! Love the child awaiting that best present at Christmas!

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  9. Oh, gosh, i remember! I despised writing the personalization part because I mean, really, how personal can you get with someone you don't know? I guess I always went with something short and sweet - not that it ever worked. :) That's the conclusion I came to. That small stuff doesn't seem to matter. What matters is the story. :) And I loved your story! Keep on keeping on!!

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    1. I'm hoping that "Short and sweet" is the best thing, just to show them I checked their webpage and recent activity instead of blinding sending out...

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  10. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I'm so excited for you! I'm in awe of anyone who can finish a book, let alone get it to the place that it can be sent out for queries! IN AWE, I tell you! If you need ANY help or even just someone to gush over your brain-child with, my inbox is open. :)

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    1. Thank you for your inbox offer! I know you don't offer that lightly!

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  11. Learning from rejection is a vital part of the character-building of any writer worth her salt. So, bravo to you for keeping at it... for changing things, for feeling the feels and not letting them hold you back... go go go! And good luck.

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    1. I hope it's building my character - one of my mottos is "let it make you better, not bitter"

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  12. I just took a grant writing class and feel like query writing is very similar. I used to be very fearful of queries, but now I think it will be a fun challenge and can't wait to be at the point where I'm ready to send one out. With any kind of proposal writing, the key is showing the person how the thing you are offering is going to help them. If you can show the agent how representing you and your work is going to make them successful, then you win.

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    1. I've done some grant writing too, but it didn't quite feel this personal (or maybe because I was writing on behalf of my work place, rather than me personally)

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  13. Queries are so hard to write! harder than writing a novel, lol. There are just so many things to cram into a short space! Good luck with it! :)

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    1. Yes very hard to write. And then easy to think you've got it "good enough" but then feedback from others makes you realize, maybe not!

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  14. Good luck and good for you! I have decided to self-pub as the market is drastically changing with predictions saying that it'll only be a few years untl everyone is a publisher :o)

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    1. I love that self publishing is a viable option now!

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  15. I just read a tweet that said personalizing the pitch was nice but not necessary. You could go with your gut. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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    1. Who tweeted that? Maybe I should add them to my list! :)

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  16. Oh, query letters. The bane of a writer's existence (along with the synopsis!). I sometimes think we labor more on getting the query letter right then we do our books! But I get that it's part of the business aspect of writing, and an important one, at that.

    And even though I spent 7 years writing jacket copy, when it comes to writing my own, I struggle. I guess that's because I'm too close to it.

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with your query process and I hope an agent takes a bite soon!

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  17. I stumbled across your blog and wanted to send some random encouragement your way. I'm querying agents, too, and even though I've only sent out three, my insecurities are already haunting me. There are a lot of daunting posts on the internet regarding the process, but passion and perseverance is key!

    Good luck!

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