I see querying in my future. Yes, I’ve decided I’m going to have a go at getting an agent for my nearly-complete WIP. (Sign up for my monthly updates to get the inside story once I start.)
As I finish editing, I’m starting the next stage: writing my query. I drafted my first query for this book years ago. Actually, fifteen versions thereof. (Don’t worry, I never sent them anywhere.)
This time I’m doing it right. I’m following instructions.
I’m reading all 347 entries of Query Shark.
For the uninitiated, Query Shark is an archive of query critiques by a sharkly NY literary agent. Willing victims send in their query letters for public feedback. Some get more than they bargained for.
The instructions are simple: start by reading the complete archives and taking notes.
That’s what I’m doing.
The point is to learn how to write a query letter, but the more I read the archives the more strange and vaguely connected things happen. I sense interference from the Great Cat.
Querying writers are everywhere
Since I’ve been reading Query Shark, my Twitter timeline is suddenly full of querying writers.
I wonder if there’s a single writer left on the planet who isn’t querying, or moaning about querying being too hard, or celebrating finally having found a dream agent.
There might be three, but I wouldn’t put money on there being more than that.
I forgot how to write a sentence
Writing is rewriting.
Queries aren’t made on the first try. Or sometimes on the eleventh try either.
A lot of Query Shark’s critiques urge the writer to hold a magnifying glass to each sentence. Should the clauses be reversed? Can you rewrite that as subject/verb/object? Can you reorder for clarity and shave three words?
It’s incredibly valuable, but after a while it messes with your brain.
Editing yesterday, I discovered I’d forgotten how to string a sentence together. I was back to the infantile: They ran. A guard shot. The arrow missed. They slid. They ran some more.
Great Cat, please give back my ability to compose sentences!
I realised the people saying my book is bloated are right
My last draft came in at 157,200 words. Then I changed the way one character was referred to, and it jumped to more like 157,800 words.
It’s high fantasy, so I’m allowed additional length for worldbuilding, but that’s still too long for a debut in the current traditional market. (Because paper’s expensive, today’s readers can’t stay off their phones long enough to read more than a paragraph, or something equally weird.)
They say most long books are bloated and agents won’t take them on because they need a lot of editing. I thought they were right. Just not about my book. My book was exactly as long as it needed to be.
When I started editing with my query brain I noticed I over-describe every little action and say the same thing two ways, sometimes three. This round of editing, all that is going. Without losing content, I’m cutting 10% or more from nearly every scene and it feels so good.
Draft 13 might be the first to be shorter than the previous draft.
I reevaluated my chances (and yours)
Getting a novel traditionally published takes some hefty combination of skill, persistence, and luck.
If you have aspirations of publication, I’m sure you’ve seen the depressing statistics on the percentage of queries that get full requests and the percentage of full requests that turn into offers of representation. You might also have heard about all the things that can go wrong between snagging an agent and seeing your book on a bookstore shelf.
But if a lot of queries are like some of those posted on Query Shark, your chances (and mine) aren’t as bad as all that. So many people show a shocking inability to follow instructions. Read the archives before you submit, Query Shark says, yet writers repeat the mistakes from the archives over and over.
Not just tricky, subjective mistakes–like not making us care about the characters. Simple, objective mistakes–like putting their contact details at the top of the email. Like not giving any idea of what the story is about.
If you can follow simple instructions, and if you read the Query Shark archives, your chances of publication might be not be shockingly abysmal.
They might just be abysmal.
I’ll drink to that.
Have you queried a novel? Was the universe suddenly full of signs?
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