Thursday, April 16, 2009

Query Letters: Not My Thing

Unlike the rest of The Novel Girls, I hated writing query letters. In fact, I think I was terrible at it. It’s probably one of the reasons that it took me such a long time to get an agent. My first attempts at a query letter followed all the advice that Tracy and Maureen offered, but somehow I could never manage to get it right. The letter was nearly a page long – too long, I think, to really hold an agent’s interest, because I hardly got any good responses back. Then I read an article about query letters, and it talked about how they should be as short and to-the-point as possible. I think the article was in an old edition of The Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market. There was a short sample letter in there, too, and, still feeling entirely lost at query writing, I decided to copy the format exactly.

I started off with a short one-sentence paragraph that said that I was a fiction writer and that I had recently completed my novel, Even to the Edge (the original title of The September Sisters).

Then I had a short paragraph explaining my credentials – Here I listed that I had an MFA from The University of Arizona and also that I was a writing teacher. I also mentioned a big national fellowship I’d won, and I included a quote from the editor of The Atlantic Monthly. He once called my writing “awfully good” in a rejection letter for a short story I’d sent him. Though I included the quote, I of course, left out the fact that it was from a rejection letter!

Next I had a short, four-sentence description of the book, which read like this: “Even to the Edge is the coming of age story of Abigail Reed. Two months before her thirteenth birthday, her younger sister disappears in the middle of the night. Her mother and father retreat into their own private worlds, and Abigail is forced to face the missing space of her sister and growing up on her own. As her family world begins to fall apart, she strikes up an unlikely relationship with her neighbor's grandson, an eccentric boy, who like Abigail, is floundering in the world.”

And then I ended with another one-sentence paragraph that simply read: “If you are interested, I would be happy to send you the manuscript.”

Short, to the point, not that exciting. Looking at it now, I know I could've done a better job describing the book, but I have to say that with this letter I got A LOT of agent responses. Nearly every agent I sent this query to asked for at least a partial of the manuscript.

And speaking of trying to find an agent – here’s a funny story. A few weeks ago, I got a rejection letter from an agent for The September Sisters – in response to a copy of the manuscript I’d sent out in the summer of 2006 (a few months before I signed with my agent). Talk about a slow response time! I posted the letter on my personal blog and blogged more about it there. But I have to say, it was the first time a rejection ever made me laugh!


Maureen Lipinski said...

Oh man, I would die from laughing if I got a rejection letter for A Bump now. Agentfail!

Lesley Livingston said...

You should send the nice prompt agent a copy of TSS!