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When Should You Rewrite Your Query Letter?
A Tough Question for Sure
This article is for those of you who still hold out hope that a traditional publishing house will pick up your book and carry it to fame and fortune. If you are a self-publisher, and have no desire to try the crapshoot called traditional publishing, then read no further.
The query letter is your opening salvo in the publishing wars. It is your first communication with an agent or publisher, and you literally have about ten seconds to get their attention and spark their interest.
If you don’t do a good job in the first ten seconds, then you will receive a standard form letter telling you that your book is not something the agent or publisher can work with. End of story!
I have written several articles in the past on how to craft the perfect query letter, so we won’t go there at this point. If you want to read those articles, check out the link to the right. What we will discuss, today, is what you should do once you have been rejected.
The first thing you should not do is give up. I use a general rule that goes like this: if I have been rejected ten times in a row, then I need to rewrite my query letter. That is a purely subjective rule, but it is a safe bet that if ten agents/publishers are not impressed, then more will follow suit and I am wasting my time.
Let me use myself as an example. Below you will find the query letter I am currently using as I try to find an agent for my new novel Resurrecting Tobias.
- How To Write A Successful Query Letter
How do you get the attention of an agent/publisher? Probably the single most important step is to craft a professional query letter. Follow these suggestions and you just might hook an agent.
Query Letter Resurrecting Tobias
Dear Ms. Jenks,
Let’s be honest. We all cringe when we see a disaster on the news, or when we pass a car wreck on the freeway, but still we watch in horrid fascination.
Let’s be honest. We all cry over happy endings.
Tobias Alexander King is a human car wreck, and Tobias Alexander King is a human happy ending. His story will have you shouting at him to strap on some balls, and his story will have you shouting in celebration when he finally does. Toby has it all, loses it all, and, with the help of his two best friends, who refuse to allow him to fail, rises from the ashes of his own self-destruction to finally taste sweet personal victory.
I am currently seeking representation for my 130,000 word mainstream novel, Resurrecting Tobias. It is a story of redemption, about overcoming the past, and learning to thrive despite the hardships. A combination of Thoreau and Siddhartha, Tobias is a character-driven story, told in flashbacks, of one man who refuses to allow adversity to define who he is.
A former classroom teacher, I am now a freelance writer with more than 2,000 articles and one self-published novel. My articles have appeared in Living Magazine, Our Iowa, and Grit.
I believe in strong characters who effortlessly carry a story on their backs, all the while wringing us dry of our emotions. I believe any good agent feels the same. Allow me to introduce you to a truly memorable character….Tobias Alexander King….a complicated man who represents us all and, yes, is my figurative blood brother. He is the only man I would allow to tell my story. I am the only man Toby trusts to write it.
Thank you for your consideration.
William D. Holland
1828 Fir St. N.E.
Olympia, WA 98506
It Is All There But……
All of the important facets of a query letter are there. The hook, a brief summary, a very brief bio, word count, genre, it’s all there….but….and there’s that but again…..
So far, nothing positive has come from it, so a decision will have to be made soon….do I continue to ride a dead horse, or do I switch mounts?
This is the third rewrite I have done on this query letter. I suspect there will be a few more before I run out of agents and publishers to contact. Tiresome? Probably! Discouraging? Most definitely! Necessary? You betcha!
So Here Is the Process I Use
It is only natural to want to rush through this query process. You worked hard on your book and now you want to dazzle as many agents as possible in a short amount of time. Many first-time writers will sit down and query hundreds of agents and publishers in the first week, and then sit back and wait for the responses….and then a blizzard of rejections arrive and discouragement sets in and, well, you know the rest of the story.
To avoid wasted effort, I suggest to writers that they query ten agents/publishers and then stop. Wait for those responses to come in. It might take several weeks to hear from all ten, but be patient and wait. If you receive rejections for all ten then rewrite that query letter. If not one of those ten has requested a chapter of your manuscript, then either the query letter is improperly written or your manuscript idea is a poor one. Chances are great that the problem is the query letter since the agent/publisher really can’t make a judgment on a manuscript they haven’t read.
So, rewrite the query letter, and send it off to ten new agents/publishers. Then wait until you’ve heard from them, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Listings for agents and publishers
No, This Is Not a Fast Process
For those of you who require instant gratification, you are about to experience a major letdown. Publishers are busy people, and they receive thousands of queries every week. Wait your turn and take a deep breath. Using my method may require six months to a year of your time and effort, but at least you will have a fighting chance of succeeding.
And what happens if you go through the entire list of agents/publishers and fall flat on your face?
Get up and try again. Change the name of your book, because there is a slight possibility that the name is the problem. Then change your query letter again and start in on your list all over again. There are usually several agents/publishers in each publishing firm. Send your query to a new agent in a firm you have already contacted, but make sure six months to a year have passed since the first contact with that firm.
To Purchase Resurrecting Tobias
The Bottom Line
You are in competition with tens of thousands of writers, all trying to ring the bell of success, and only a few are chosen. If you are going to give up after ten rejections then don’t even bother beginning the process.
If, however, you are convinced that your book is a good one, and you dream of one day seeing your book on the shelves of major bookstores, then straighten your backbone, stand tall, and do whatever is necessary to succeed. And if that means rewriting that query letter one-hundred times, then do it.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”