Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hurdling The Obstacles: Query Letter Hell

Good golly, where to start.

There's lots of great advice out there on how to craft great query letters. Literary Agents, Kristin Nelson , Nathan Bransford and Jessica Faust have devoted space on their blogs for such crafting advice and tips. Ms. Nelson also posted on this blog a lovely, extensive piece on approaching agents, so do check that out too.

This post will not focus on query letter crafting; rather, we'll discuss some basic survival tips during your obligatory stay in query letter purgatory or query letter hell - your choice!

Writers, agents just do not have enough time to give each submission a thorough read. If they're not captivated by the writing within the first 10 pages (some agents are more or less particular), they will kindly pass on your work and most likely send you a form pass letter. These letters show no hint of what the agent actually liked or didn't like between their sterile lines. Don't put too much emotion or energy behind picking apart the meaning behind these letters when you get them, and you will. Just file 'em away, use them for kindling or let your kids use them for scratch paper.

The next brand of letter are those that come from agents who took more than a glimpse into your work. They possibly read the work entirely and have given you some glimmer of valuable feedback regarding the writing and/or market/timing for your work. Save these. If you start hearing the same tune from other agents or editors, you may want to consider their feedback and head back to Revision Land and Platform Buildingville. Remember, actual detailed feedback from an agent or editor is rare. Appreciate the feedback for what it is, a seasoned professional's educated opinion. Consider it, professionally and objectively.

Then there are the mind-boggling, head-spinning, rejection letters that make you say, "huh?!" One I've read recently said, "We loved your work and are impressed with your platform but we'll regretfully pass on the opportunity to represent you at this time. We have no doubt another agent will feel differently." This made no sense to me as the agent said they loved the work, found the author's platform acceptable and they clearly represented work within this writer's genre. This writer also carefully researched this agent's client list and considered her approach to the genre comparable. What gives? Here's how I think you can break this mind-numbing pass down.

1. The agent has too many clients like this writer and it's not in their best interest to take on too many like-genre authors. A good agent will not take on several writers within the same niche or sub-genre. Essentially, they would be making their own clients compete for the right editor. But most agents will say this up-front.

2. They didn't actually love your writing. Why they feel the need to make you feel better with those promising words, I don't know. It's not helpful or constructive. Really, you just gotta laugh and move on.

3. The agent is incompetent, myopic or just silly. Move on.

My dears, 99.9% of writers pay their dues in query letter hell. It's part of the process. You may receive 10 and then land an agent or get a book deal, or you may find success after you've filed away 100. As long as your writing is sound and there is a market for your work, your chances of representation or landing a book deal will only improve the more you keep those query letters circulating to the right agents or editors for your work.

If you're getting no response whatsoever with your query letter, it's time to revise your query. Check out the resources listed above (or email me to inquire about my query and synopsis crafting services).

Keep moving forward, writers. Don't lose hope. You shall be delivered!



  1. My skin has grown pretty thick with, literally, decades of rejection punctuated with the occasional "yes."

    I do have to say though, I'm getting tired of the "I'm sure another agent will feel differently" caveat as closing to the "not for me" letter. It has a tinge of "special needs" to the tone--as if the agent feels that I might be hostile or go insane if my self-esteem is shattered by their rejection.

    I'm wondering if others dislike that boilerplate disclaimer as much as I do?

  2. LOL! I tend to agree, Suzy. I know these agents mean well, though. I read a post from agent Rachelle Gardner that addresses the lack of sincerity in agent pass letters and her commitment to delivering more sincere rejection letters.


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