My First Query Letter

I’ve been writing this blog for years, there’s well over 1.3 million words of my idle rambling. Stories? A few dozen shorter ones (some are on this site). I’m now three novels written (two completed) and about a half dozen in various stages of development. Oh, and the gods only know how many business emails, technical documents, manuals, and presentations I’ve authored over the years. Not to mention a poem or two.

Suffice to say, as this year began, it seemed appropriate (especially given my age) to finally do something with my ever-increasing anthology. Save for the blogs I did for the CBC so many years ago, I’ve not pursued the published route much, and most of what I have done has long since faded into obscurity. That’s on me for not trying harder.

Which brings me to the Writers Guild of Alberta and the Origins conference they held on 2-4 June.

I felt like I was crashing a party. Who the heck was I to show up to this event, a complete unknown and literal n00b in the published works field (quite a few there had already published a novel)? It felt like a stretch to even sign up for it, let alone attend, and I felt quite a bit of trepidation when I arrived and gave out my name at the desk.

And then I spied it: the Agent Pitch.

I had seen this on the form weeks earlier when I’d signed up for the conference and I had passed on it. “I’m not ready,” I told myself, “what would I gain from an instant rejection?” It doesn’t matter how good I might be at my professional job, it’s a whole other matter to put out fictional work and see if anyone else likes it, let alone publish it.

Of all the readers I’ve had for my work, I’ve not had anyone with a “wow” moment. I’ve had really good feedback, but nothing exciting. Whether that’s because of the readers I’ve chosen or because they’re being overly critical (in a good way) of my work, I don’t know. But my confidence is resultingly low. (Oh, and having my first editing experience start with “trim 60,000 words and then I’ll look at it” definitely told me I wasn’t yet a writer.)

Still. The Agent Pitch was there. There was an open time. Whether it was my current state of mind (having just rushed in after dropping Choo Choo off after her doctor’s appointment) or if my fear got distracted by some shiny object, I put my name down before my apprehension got in the way again.

And then I worried about it for nearly 48 hours.

I’ve never pitched a novel to an agent. Heck, I’d never even met one before. All I knew about agents were that they were the ones who sent rejection letters. But those are, with some exceptions, impersonal – the agent has never met the writer, they have no idea what they’re like, so the letters sometimes come across as “you suck” (mild paraphrase, there). Which has led some people I know to never try again … and has led to stories of “hundreds” of rejections before acceptance. So it really does work both ways.

I figured I could tolerate a “no, thank you”. But I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was doing. The key thing was “elevator pitch”, which I have done on many occasions (as one has to do in marketing), but the trick was to figure out how to do it for a novel.

And then one of the session I attended dropped the answer in my lap: the “log line”, a 50-word (yes, 50) summary of your novel, similar to what might appear on the back of a novel (or inside of the dust cover).

I spent a lot of time editing myself that night. I got it down to 59 words; any less seemed to be turning the story so generic that it seemed pointless. I figured 9 words would be acceptable, so long as it sounded closer to 50 words, and not, say 75.

So on the last day of the conference, just before lunch, I stepped into the Green Room at the back, smiled, and tried not to make an ass of myself. I spoke too quick, which I usually do when I’m a bit nervous. I was surprised to be that nervous, given that it was a 1:1 meeting – I’ve presented to CEOs and boards, why would a single-person meeting cause that much stress?

Because it’s personal to me. That’s why. And like any rational human, I didn’t want to be rejected.

The agent (whose name I’m not revealing for their own sanity; goodness knows they probably get enough submissions as it is) was kind, smiled, asked a couple of questions, and offered me some feedback. The first was: keep the pitch shorter. And that’s because my 59 words blew out to about 90; I panicked and rambled.

The other, which I had heard about but hadn’t considered: what simple comparison could you make for your work? Is it “Jurassic Park” meets “Teddy Ruxpin”, for example, an easy way for someone to draw a quick idea of what the book might be like.

[Insert blank stare here.]

Yeah. Never actually thought of that for my book. (Well, not The Banshee, anyway; I have for The Shepard Wonders.) And I couldn’t think of one then, either, much to my dismay.

But. I was told to submit 30 pages and we’d see where it would go from there. So while I left with my heart rate quite a bit higher, I felt at least relieved to have seen an agent, got some good feedback, and the pressure of my “first” was finally office.

Almost off. Now I had to write a query letter.

The query letter is a 1-page introduction to an agent: who I am, reason for contacting the agent, the log line, the comparison statement, and a brief bio. Thankfully, a lot of the work I’d put into the pitch could be replicated for the letter, it was just the daunting task of writing it all down.

Oh, and mercilessly editing the first 30 pages. Which, against, surprised me because I had already edited The Banshee mercilessly three times. And yet, I could still find things to improve.

But it’s been sent. It’s out of my hands (for now). Which is good, because I’ve got a few other things to do, but this is a first sense of accomplishment. I’m hoping for a few more before this year is out!

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