I just finished sending off my first batch of query letters for my second mystery novel. Querying, along with losing my-fall-into winter extra pounds was among the things I targeted for January. (I don’t call them resolutions.) Any writer who has ever spent time writing queries knows that this process is a kind of limbo – a stage after writing and revising and editing and before publishing. It’s when you’ve declared your manuscript actually finished and ready to go out into the world, but how will you get it there? Not without much time, frustration and rejection. Oh yes, rejection is a big part of it. Querying is not for weaklings.
For me, it works like this: First, I do a full search on AgentQuery.com and find an agent who says she’s interested in mysteries. I’m always a little chagrined when, although the agent’s name comes up as someone who wants mysteries, further probing reveals that she is really into paranormal, dystopian, young adult or something else. So I move on to the next agent wondering why agents include their names under mystery when they don’t really want them.
Assuming I’ve found an agent who actually appears to want a mystery, then I do a Google search on the agent to see if there are any interviews of her on the internet, or, if not, I move on to the literary agency website. Sometimes I find that, again, although the agent has included mysteries on her list of interests, she either has no mystery authors mentioned on the website or mystery appears at the tail end of what this agent is actively seeking. Foiled again! And back to AgentQuery.com.
Sometimes, though, I get through the AgentQuery and Publisher’s Weekly, Google Search, agency website, and discover that this agent actually wants mysteries. And, too, she may represent one of my favorite mystery writers. Hooray! Now, I’m excited and I read everything I can find about this agent and begin crafting what I hope will be an awesome query letter convincing her that she wants my mystery novel. Of course, the description of the novel and my bio doesn’t change. But the first and last paragraphs do change because I can include something I’ve discovered which emphasizes why she is the perfect agent for me and I the author she needs to sign.
Then I go back to the agency website and make sure I know exactly what this agent wants from me. Is it just a query letter? Aargh. I hate that because the agent who gets only a letter won’t be able to sample my actual novel. Okay, okay, I spent a lot of time crafting that query letter, I tell myself. It’s fine. It’s a great query letter. If the agent wants, say, a query and the first three pages, or first ten pages, or first chapter, or first thirty pages, I paste that into the email and hope that some weird formatting problem doesn’t show up in Gmail that doesn’t show up in the Word document – because that has happened to me in the past. And it takes time to fix.
Once I’ve written a personally targeted query letter, imbedded whatever number of pages into the body of the email and, sometimes, a full synopsis, I press the send button. And here’s the funny thing. By this time, I am totally psyched that this is the One True Agent. I have located the PERFECT agent to represent me for this particular novel and I feel extra enthusiastic. On those days, I click off my computer and go for a run or walk with my dog and then go to my day job. And the funny thing is that since I have done such a good job of convincing myself that I have made contact with my perfect agent, I can’t help checking my personal email from the office. Because, probably, that agent has read my email and has immediately written back to me asking for the full manuscript, right? Yes! But, of course, after that initial email check and once I get into the flow of work, my creative life and that just-sent query recedes to the back of my brain until tomorrow, when, like Sisyphus, I’ll do it all again.
Have I mentioned how long this process takes? Well, I haven’t kept track of exactly how many hours I’ve put into the querying process this month but I know this: it has taken me completely away from my creative writing. Which is terrible and makes me feel sucked dry and empty. But here’s the good news: It’s February and I’m done with querying until I hear back from each and every one of those perfect agents. Or, fingers crossed, maybe my One Perfect Agent is reading some part of my novel right now and is about to request the full manuscript. And then, for a brief instant, I’ll be released from purgatory and sent straight to author heaven. Keep the faith.