Is there life after a query that strikes out with agents? My awesome client Jim Duncan, whose debut novel DEADWORLD will be published by Kensington next April, shares his experience. Make sure to catch the exciting contest on Jim’s blog at the end of the post.
By: Jim Duncan
As you might guess from the title, I am not what one would call a good query writer. Mediocre at best. My wife (romance author Tracy Madison) whole-heartedly agrees with this assessment.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I will admit to not being a very good editor. It’s very difficult for me to assess my own writing, and thus, I don’t like doing it. Second, when it comes to certain aspects of the publishing process, I have little patience. When my book was done, I wanted to send out queries that moment.
Back in the old days of 2007, when I completed my novel for the first time, I had queries going out the next day. I made about half a dozen attempts, picked the one I liked the best and sent it out. I had done my research, making sure the agents wanted my genre, whether they took email or snail mail, getting their name correct, etc. I followed agent blogs like Nathan’s, Miss Snark, Kristin Nelson, and others (there are a lot of good blogs for writers out there), to glean as much knowledge as I could about the process and how to make that query stand out. I failed. I received one of Nathan’s polite form rejections.
What feedback I received (off of a roughly 90% rejection rate) did not like the multiple first person p.o.v.’s I used. Was I deterred? Of course not! I decided to rewrite the book in third person, because I felt very strongly about this story. Whether it was written well enough was another matter.
So, I wrote a new query, several versions in fact, and though I was not happy with any of them, I picked what I thought was the best of the lot and sent it out. There’s that whole patience thing again. The results were marginally better, but still no real interest.
Knowing I can’t write queries for shit, I figured that might be my biggest problem, so I wrote yet another and tried again a few months later. I sent it out to a couple of publishers who are open to submissions, and like all good writers should do, I began to work on my next book (can’t stress this enough: keep writing!)
In the meantime, I had become a regular responder on Nathan’s blog. I’d sent a couple of emails to him, suggestions for topics and such. Then, one fine day, I came up with a contest suggestion that became my 15 seconds of blog fame. Those of you who were around a year and a half ago may remember the Agent for a Day contest. At the time it generated the most hits ever on Nathan’s blog (about 70k, and 15k comments). Through my willingness to participate and make suggestions, good or otherwise, I had cemented my name in Nathan’s mind. We didn’t become BFF’s. It was some fortunate networking that happened out of interest as opposed to direct effort.
Then, I got the call. Kensington Publishing offered me a three book deal for my novel, Deadworld. Super excited? You bet. What struck me though, was the fact that they were buying my story as an urban fantasy. This entire time, I had been submitting it as a suspense/thriller. Head smack! What would have happened had I realized what genre my story was best suited for? Another good point learned well after the fact. Understand the market for your story!
With offer in hand, I really wanted to find an agent. I had no desire to do this on my own. I picked about a dozen agents that I had queried before and asked them if they would be interested in a second look because of the offer I had on the table. In hindsight, I didn’t give them enough time, which was five days. I probably lost some potential agents with that. In the end, it came down to two.
Nathan, whom I’d already had a connection with and knew I liked and would love as an agent, and one who had a slew of authors already published in urban fantasy. She was great to chat with on the phone and I had a very good vibe from her. It was actually a difficult decision to make. As you can see, I chose to work with Nathan. I had confidence that we would work well together and I had a pretty good idea what kind of agent he would be, meaning very hands on, which gelled well with my stellar editing skills.
Without the connection through his blog, my decision may have been different. Nathan will likely tell you, that without that connection, without that sense that we would be a decent match and work well together, he might have been less inclined to represent me. Fortunately, he did and liked my story enough to represent me. Needless to say, I’m ecstatic with the result.
So, can we take from all of this? What have I learned that might be valuable to fellow writers?
• Know your story. Submitting to the right agents is the first key to success.
• Hone and polish your query until it’s bright and shiny. This is hard. Crafting simple, effective queries takes a lot of practice and effort. Avail yourself of the knowledge out there and get feedback, hopefully from folks who know a decent query when they see it.
• Be patient. Make sure your ms is actually done. Research for the right agents. Make sure you have the correct information on agents and that they seeking what you write. Write numerous queries. Get feedback. Be more patient.
• Keep writing. For many writers, the querying process can take months. You could write an entire next novel in that time frame. It sucks to decide that book just isn’t going to garner interest and then have nothing else waiting in the wings.
• Network. Be social. Involve yourself in blogs. Make comments. Let people know who you are. Be willing to interact. It can only help, and you never know when it might change your life.
In honor of writing crap queries, there’s going to be a contest to kick off my author blog. Yay contests! The winner will receive a query critique from Nathan. To win, all you will have to do is come up with the best, rejection letter response to an agent. Be creative! Just keep the foul language to a minimum. This is for amusement purposes, not to prove that you might be a sociopath.