So You Wrote a Novel? Now the Real Work Begins!

Writing fiction has never felt like work to me. It gives my mind the chance to wander and play. So if writing fiction is like a recess, then query submissions are the exams.

Anyone who can write a novel should be able to write an exciting query letter, right? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s the pressure of exam time. Maybe it’s harder to find those perfect words when they’re limited to just a few. Still, it’s something we have to do if we want to traditionally publish our books and find the perfect agent.

Finding the right words for a query letter can be as difficult as capturing a butterfly. Yet, they are all around us.

Finding the right words for a query letter can be as difficult as capturing a butterfly. Yet, they are all around us.

There are a lot of websites out there filled with advice on querying. Nathan Bransford is one of the best for general advice. Query Shark is a fun way to learn how to catch an agent’s eye because Janet Reid, the agent behind the shark, publishes real, live query letters and rips them to shreds while showing what was done wrong (or sometimes, right).

One way to tackle the query letter is to come up with a few general sentences about the book before writing it. Then everything doesn’t have to be siphoned down afterwards and the resulting blurb can act as an outline.

When emailing query submissions, it’s best to email them to yourself first so that you’ll see if any formatting issues come up. Especially if you’re copying and pasting, some email programs may add double or triple lines or may not recognize paragraph breaks and of course these things only happen after the email is sent.

For anyone querying or researching agents, these publications by Agent Noah Lukeman are free on Kindle: How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success and How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent. After reading through those and other publications, stalking the above websites, and attending a query letter writing class during a recent writer’s conference, I just might be able to find those magic words. Maybe.

Traditionally publishing a novel is a slow process. Ask any turtle.

Traditionally publishing a novel is a slow process. Ask any turtle.

Have you found the magic words to describe your novel? What’s the best querying advice you’ve received? What has the querying stage been like for you? 

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28 thoughts on “So You Wrote a Novel? Now the Real Work Begins!

  1. Argh. I’m in the middle of this process right now. I recently described hitting “Send,” as “diving into a dark, icy pool, hoping the water is deep enough that you don’t smash your head on the concrete floor of failure.” Best luck on your querying endeavors, Sheila!

  2. Great tips, Sheila! I love the turtle pic. I’ve been a fan of Nathan Bransford for years. I love his site and tips. Agent Kristin Nelson at Pub Rant also has an interesting and helpful site. This is exciting! T.

    • Thanks Theadora! I’ll have to check that one out. There are so many sites out there with great tips, we should all be experts at these things by now. It is exciting and a bit nerve wracking!

  3. I despise summarizing a novel into a sentence or paragraph. It’s not my talent. I guess I should practice, practice, practice (like the turtle)…and eventually I’ll get it. Good luck, Sheila.

    • I’m not very good at it either and haven’t really found those magic words yet. That turtle was excited to be out and on the go. I guess he does eventually get there and we will too!

  4. As you suggested, I like to have a blurb ready at the get go, before I even start writing. Helps me stay focused on the main gist of my story. Thanks for mentioning Janet Reid’s site. I added it to my reader. Sounds like there’ll be some useful info there.

  5. Janet Reid’s site is killer! But she knows the business inside and out. Although I didn’t query too many agents the first time around for Summer at the Crossroads, I clearly didn’t hook anyone. Of course, it’s not an easy book to summarize. And so I’m working on the revisions to a second, more easily pitched story. Can I write a good query for that one? Only time will tell. But I firmly believe it is harder to write a good query that can catch an agent’s attention than it is to draft the novel!

    • It is a lot harder to write that query letter! I really wonder why. Maybe we have to use a different part of the brain or something. Since it seems as if we can’t be good at both, I guess it’s better to be good at the novel writing. 🙂

  6. Every time I hear “book query letter”, I think about those movie trailer announcers using their super deep voices, “in the darkest hour of night, when all are asleep, one single man hides and waits for his next prey…” It’s one thing to write a story but another to try to sell it. I’ve been in marketing for 15 years and I can’t stand promoting myself but I can promote others. Go figure.

    • Hahah – that’s funny – I’ve been thinking of it in that voice too! I know what you mean about marketing. I’d much rather promote others, but I guess we have to grin and bear it and try to promote ourselves these days. At least meeting people out there like you makes it more fun.

  7. Even when I could write a novel ( what I can not) I think I would not like to go through such a nervous wracking process. Good post with very useful information, Sheila.
    groetjes,
    Francina

    • Thanks Dianne! Nathan Bransford goes into a lot of detail on the writing of query letters and even put his own successful one up there. I just wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way so far.

  8. I loathe writing query letters. There was a time I struggled for a year with my query when I finally realized the problem wasn’t the query but the the book. It was a painful lesson to learn. After that experience I lost so much self-confidence that it took me another two years before I summoned the courage to try my hand at the query letter again. Hopefully, I got it somewhat right now.

    I met Janet Reid at the Writer’s Digest conference in NYC in 2011. She is not as ‘sharky’ in person. 🙂 And she was an absolute gem when it came to offering specific advice for query letters that people read out loud.

    • That’s great that you were able to meet Janet Reid – she does come across as really nice and funny when it’s not your query letter that’s being ripped apart. 🙂 I just might have to find the courage to submit mine there – we’ll see. I’m glad you didn’t give up on your book! I’m sure the more revising you do, the better it will be.

  9. Elaine Morgan also has great tips for writers – see her website and heartsong blog also archived material at help!ineedapublisher blog. She has ebooks on specific topics too. Seem to recall she recommends query shark too!

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