Inside a Writer's Mind

Inside a Writer's Mind
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” -- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A Sample Query Letter

 I've decided to post more about querying agents. I thought I would share an updated version of my query letter and one or two other things I've learned.

Firstly, I think it's important to look at querying as a process, potentially, a lengthy, ongoing one.

It's also important to work at building your knowledge and developing and refining your skills in this area, just like you would in any other.

I can tell you from personal experience, querying can be a disappointing and frustrating experience, particularly when you've worked hard on your project, and at researching your agent list and improving your letter.

But it's important not to give up and to continue to be open to new information and ways of working.

One tip I received recently, was, in addition to including the word "Query" in the email Subject line, to also state the project's title and genre. For example, the subject line in my email query read: "Query: Commercial-Literary; Title: SEVENTEEN SUMMERS."

Doing this ensures an agent/editor knows what they are about to read, and might help them determine when they want to read a query in that genre, that is, when they are most receptive to it. As I see it, this can only help your cause.

Below is the most recent query letter I used; I hope you find it useful.

Dear Ms. (Redacted):

Please consider reading my 72, 000 word, coming-of-age, commercial-literary novel, SEVENTEEN SUMMERS, a “displaced memoir” of hope and love, overcoming violence and hurt.

Teenager JAMES CAIN is struggling to breathe amidst the crush of a dysfunctional family and a prejudiced peer group with a herd mentality. But when he trips for a spunky girl of mixed race named SARA LINDS, he’s no idea the wild ride their intercultural relationship will unleash. Thrusting them on a passionate and confrontation filled journey of discovery, and understanding of themselves, one another, and the invading world.

Years later, married to Sara with a young family, but with the ghosts of the past still haunting him, James returns home for his estranged father’s funeral—at least growing up he’d thought he was his father. But if leaving town the first time was tough, going back is almost a killer.

I’ve taught high school English for several years and hold a BA in Communications (creative writing and journalism) and a Graduate Diploma (English) in Education. I’ve had poetry and short stories published (Ribbons of Steel Poems & Stories Anthology; Opus magazine).

I’m querying you as I am impressed with what I’ve read about you and believe this novel may suit your tastes.

As per your submission guidelines I’ve included the opening pages and a synopsis below.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


J. C. Phalene

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Querying Agents

I’ve decided to post on what I’ve learned about querying agents. I’m not claiming I’m an absolute authority on the subject, but I have picked up a few things which I think are helpful, and I’d like to share them.

Here they are in no particular order:

  • Be sure to research the agents you approach. Make sure they handle the category and genre you’ve written, and that, as far as you can tell, they’d be a good fit. Follow their blog and follow them on Twitter to gain more insights into what they’re looking for. Check out Predators and Editors. And consult a guide book to agents, such as Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents.
  • Query them mid-week during office hours. Not over the weekend; an agent might have received hundreds of queries over the weekend and you don’t want yours lodged among them.
  • Be polite, respectful, and professional in all your dealings. You’ll be judged on the standard of your initial query letter, writing sample, and synopsis, as well as on any future correspondence (email included), so continue to be polite, respectful, and professional.
  • The opening sentence, paragraph, and pages of your manuscript are critical to getting an agent's attention. Make sure they draw the reader in and absolutely sing.
  • Don't: sound desperate (even if you are); come across as crazy (if you can help it; if you can't, never mind); mention previous failures of any kind, mention self-published work unless you sold thousands of units; forget to meticulously edit for comprehension, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and spelling; ramble on; say, "God told me to write this book." 
  • Do: highlight previous publishing credits; be positive in your tone; be succinct (300 words or under); meticulously edit for comprehension, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and spelling; carefully follow the "How to submit..." information from your agent's website; address your agent by their surname as you would in any business letter.
  • Research how to write a query letter. Spend lots of time researching how to write query letters, practise writing query letters, and seek feedback (repeatedly), before you send any out. For help check out:

Hope this helps. 

If you can add more tips, please do so via the comments.



Sunday, 1 July 2012

What To Write?

Write what you care about and understand. Writers should never try to outguess the marketplace in search of a salable idea; the simple truth is that all good books will eventually find a publisher if the writer tries hard enough, and a central secret to writing a good book is to write one that people like you will enjoy.
Richard North Patterson

Only write from your own passion, your own truth. That's the only thing you really know about, and anything else leads you away from the pulse.
Marianne Williamson

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.
Francis Bacon

You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like.
Phyllis A. Whitney

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my book: Seventeen Summers. It's free!