Agents, Query Letters, and Publishing

I took a big step forward a few weeks ago when I sent out my very first query letter, and I took another big step forward when I got my first rejection letter. Both of these events were big deals for me because this is the first real action I’ve taken to put myself out there in the publishing world, and it doesn’t matter that my query was rejected; that it was received was enough. It felt awesome.

If you’re curious about the process of querying, or agents, or getting into writing in general, here’s my take on it:

I’m a new guy in the writing industry and I don’t know a thing about the business side of books. I don’t have any contacts with publishers, I don’t know what makes a good book deal or a bad one, and that’s where an agent comes in. They know the ins and outs of the publishing industry. A book has a genre, and agents have genre’s that they’re interested in; they have contacts and experience getting books of said genre published. They know which publishers are interested in which genres, they know when to approach those publishers about said genres (apparently different genres sell better at different times of year), and they know what your story is worth. I don’t know any of these things.

So before I can go and get my book published I need an agent, and before I can get an agent I need to do a lot of agency related research (finding agents that are interested in my genre). I need to write an awesome query letter, and then I’ve got to muster up some freaking confidence!

Alright, so what’s a query letter? Well, it’s your novel’s icebreaker, it’s what gets its foot in the door. If you had one page to convince someone that your story is great, and that you are worth putting time into, that’s a query letter. It’s a means of introducing yourself to an agent in the hopes that they will be intrigued by the information provided and request to read a sample of your work. Different agents have different tastes for how these letters should be written, and they also have different tastes for the amount of content that you send with them. For example, some agencies want a 2 paragraph synopsis in the query letter, while others want that plus a 5-20 page synopsis (depending on the length of tome you are intending to send them).

While writing my synopses, I often feel that I’ve lost my voice, and all that’s coming from me is this hoarse, ugly cough which hardly gets any of my true brilliance across 😉 It’s really difficult to condense a story, to choose the important plot threads and string them together while maintaining your voice.

My latest work is a novella, and I’m pretty sure most agents aren’t interested in novellas from first time authors. So I have an uphill battle, I suppose, but a novella is what I’ve got, and I’m proud of it, and I’m ready to put it out there.

In the time since I sent out my first query letter I’ve really hit the books and done a great deal more research to try to figure out what makes them really great. In the future, when I am actually capable of writing a great one, I’ll probably blog about it and give some tips; but for now, if you’re struggling like me, we can sit in the dark together, feeling around for the words and the structure, hoping what we’ve latched onto isn’t something that’s going to bite us in the end.

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