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.
- Write a terrific novel
- Rewrite it, edit it, improve it, polish it, perfect it
- Let it sit awhile and then edit it again
- 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.
- 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)
- If, after reading said 5 pages, the agent likes what she / he sees, he / she will ask for the full manuscript to read.
- And if the agent likes the manuscript, a contract for representation might be offered.
- The agent, as likely as not, will want another full rewrite of the manuscript
- 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.