Query is a five letter word

Query is the most dreaded five-letter word in all of writer-dom.  Despite its innocuous name, a query is a malevolent process created by evil sadists intent on breaking the spirit of aspiring writers.  A query letter is the first step to traditional publication for writers of novel length manuscripts, and a really great vehicle for collecting even more rejection letters.

Rejected2Here’s how the process works, best I can tell:

  1. Write a terrific novel
  2. Rewrite it, edit it, improve it, polish it, perfect it
  3. Let it sit awhile and then edit it again
  4. Write a one-page query letter–including a one sentence hook, a one paragraph synopsis, and a short writer’s resume–that is polished even better than the manuscript, and send it out to 100s of literary agents.  At this stage prayer helps.
  5. If a literary agent, who receives 1000s of query letters a month and maybe takes on one new client a year, likes the query, she or he will as for the first five pages or so (a partial)
  6. If, after reading said 5 pages, the agent likes what she / he sees, he / she will ask for the full manuscript to read.
  7. And if the agent likes the manuscript, a contract for representation might be offered.
  8. The agent, as likely as not, will want another full rewrite of the manuscript
  9. Then the agent repeats steps 4-7 with the actual publishers

Of course it’s not actually an evil process, more a necessary one in a world where publishers will buy perhaps 1 in 5000 manuscripts that are being offered.  If I was king it’s not at all clear how I would devise a better process, although being a process development kind of guy in my day job, I’d sure like a shot at it (and at being king).

I tried this process once with my first novel, Gho, a lifetime ago or so it seems.  First novels tend to make better shoebox stuffers than bookshelf stuffers, and I never even got a request for partial.  But I’m a wee bit smarter now, I have a better manuscript, Ragnarök Willie, a really awesome mythica novel set in the far north of Sweden, I have a half decent writer’s resume  (thirteen short stories published) and I’m planning on spending a LOT of time polishing up my query letter.

Wish me luck.

CR Hodges

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9 Responses to Query is a five letter word

  1. Good luck. Folks close to agents in NY told me agents seldom are the first readers. Interns do the triage. If it gets to an agent (statistically unlikely) and he/she makes it past the query letter (which they may not read after the intern does) they will read the manuscript’s first paragraph. If they find no errors and a good hook, they will read the last page. That is what they will most likely base their decision on. That whole process can take less than a minute. They are not likely to read the entire manuscript. If the agent agrees to represent you, the process will be repeated at the publisher, if he can talk them into looking at the manuscript. Both publishers and agents are diminishing in numbers. But if you get lucky you will have a trad pub book.

  2. crhodges says:

    So basically there are even more steps in between. But hey all I gotta do then is write a fantastic 3 para query, a fantastic first para and a fantastic last para? Five paragraphs in all. So maybe there is hope after all. Thanks Timothy

  3. tmewalsh says:

    Good luck and don’t give up! 🙂

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