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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Query letter and rejections

cj Sez: So you’re finally ready to query an agent.
Then it’s time to put on your rhino hide, because only about 4% of queries get accepted, according to one article I read. Pick up a copy of Writer's Market, and you’ll find an agent’s  acceptance rate in the listing. Any one of several reasons could send your query straight to the trashcan. You’ll have a better chance of being one of the accepted few if you pre-emptively resolve some of those reasons for rejection.

Just about the first reason for a rejection is failing to follow the submission guidelines.  Guidelines are out there because they define the format the agent recognizes and wants to see. Pay attention to them, every detail, if you want to make it at least as far as the slush pile. If an agent asks for five pages, do not send more, even if your writing buddy did. Does s/he want eMail or snail mail? If the guidelines spell out Times New Roman or Courier 12 point font, don’t send Ariel or Georgia because that’s what you normally use. Change the document to fit the requirements. Remember that every agent has different requirements, so be sure to research the guidelines for each. And for heaven’s sake, if the agent is one of several in an agency, pick the one that works with your genre (I’ll touch on that next) and put the person’s name on the address line. “Dear Agent” will receive exactly the attention it deserves.

Make sure the agent you’re querying wants the genre you're writing. You don’t want to send a query for a memoir to an agent who handles only paranormal romance. That’s an extreme example, I know, but not researching what genre the agent is accepting is a sure way to get rejected.

Again, you can Google your research or start with Writer's Market (available at many libraries) or and search for agents who represent your specific genre. Visit agents' websites. Since information provided by outside sources may be outdated, always defer to the instructions on the agent's website

Another reason for rejection could be that your query letter needs help, maybe a lot of help. Many writers I know hate writing query letters (me included) almost as much as creating synopses and that can come through in the letter.

I won’t go into detail, but here’s a quick overview on what to include: The opening paragraph is similar to an elevator pitch, those 25 words that need to do more than pique the agent’s interest. You want the agent to fall in love with the premise of your story. The second paragraph should be a brief (NOT detailed) synopsis of the story itself, the protagonist’s obstacles and what s/he does to overcome them. The third paragraph is briefly about you … include writing credentials, awards, electronic presence (i.e., Facebook, blog, Twitter) if you have them, and any special platform. By platform, I mean if you are or were a cop, you have an exceptional platform from which to write police procedurals. You can also mention that you read on the website that the agent is interested in “such and such kind of stories’ and that your manuscript fits into that category. Always close the letter with a call to action; i.e., “I’d be happy to send you the full manuscript and look forward to hearing from you.” Be sure to include your contact info; i.e., name, address, phone, eMail address,

Do a Google search for query letters, and you’ll find a slew of examples, including some from established agents who are trying to improve the process of getting your book published. 

In addition to the format of the letter, you must pay attention to spelling and grammar. Have as many eyes as possible read over your query letter. I can guarantee each one will find something to challenge, some of it valid, some of it not. Put it aside for a couple of days, then print it off in a smaller or larger print and read it out loud. Hire an editor if you must. The query letter is your first contact with a possible agent, and it needs to be perfect.

I can’t talk with any first-hand knowledge about non-fiction because that’s not my forté. What I do know about non-fiction is that you will need a book proposal, a few sample chapters, and a cover letter. The book proposal requires specific components and will run ten or more pages. A Google search for examples can get you started in the right direction. If you know a published non-fiction writer, you might ask her/him about the process.

Don't be afraid to fail
Lastly, persistence is de rigueur. If you get rejected by an agent, keep on sending out the queries. Many now-famous authors had their share of rejections. *

Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections of Gone With the Wind.
J. K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter to 12 publishing houses, all of which rejected it.
Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having one accepted. 
John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by 16 publishers before he found an agent who eventually rejected him as well.
Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching.
William Saroyan received an astonishing 7,000 rejection slips before selling his first short story.

Are you up to the challenge of rejections? I hope so. 

Okay, time to quit this tome. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

(PS:  The toons are from my Facebook page, and by the way, Choosing Carter didn’t win the Author Shout Cover Wars, but the design received a lot of compliments. That’s as good as a win for me. If you voted for it, thanks for taking the time to zip on over there. I appreciate it.)

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