Lamar Giles
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The Query Process: My .02

I’ve struggled with this blogging thing for some time now. I’ve stopped and started several times, always searching for a sustainable angle, the oft-mentioned “sticky content”. Haven’t had much success, though.

The obvious direction is a writing advice blog. But, I’ve always avoided it for a couple of reasons:

1) Only a billion other writers are doing it

2) I always felt like I wasn’t quite qualified enough

Recently, a good friend pointed some things out to me. She noted that I’ve been writing for over 20 years (and in the past 10 years I have racked up some professional sales). I’ve completed several novels. I’ve won awards and placed in prestigious contests. I’ve crafted a query letter that generated a nearly 70% positive response rate from the agents who read it. And, just recently, I actually acquired an incredibly qualified agent at a well respected agency (Jamie Weiss Chilton of Andrea Brown Literary, for those who don’t know).

Basically, I know a little bit about this writing game.

My friend went on to point out that my reluctance to give writing advice wasn’t about my qualifications, but my confidence. In my mind, anything less than a book deal was a failure, and failures shouldn’t give advice.

Yes, I’ve been hard on myself. But no more.

I have knowledge to share, and I’m not shying away anymore. So, if you have any topics you’d like me to touch on, feel free to ask. In the meantime, I’ll steer the ship.  First up, let’s talk about your query process (not the specifics of the letter, that will vary), particularly when and how.

The First Thing

This should go without saying, but don’t query until your book is complete. I’ve met more than a few writers who worry themselves with what agency they should sign with (you’re lucky if you have a choice), whether they can negotiate commissions (not likely), and whether or not their agent is going to have the experience to negotiate six-figure deals BEFORE THEY’VE WRITTEN THEIR FIRST WORD (your agent actually needs something to negotiate with). It’s so counter-intuitive to me, but I’ve met enough of these writers to know this has to be said. So, please, write THE END before you even THINK about writing query letter.

Tier-y Eyed

Even though you have a list of 20 agents you wish to query, I suggest you break them into tiers. Your top choices, the middle, and the guys you’re not that interested in. Then, pick a couple from each group so you can send out an initial 5-6 queries. Based on the response, you’ll know if your query is solid (they’ll ask to read your whole book) or still needs work (some lowly office worker emails you a letter that begins “Dear Author, thank you but…”). If you bomb on the first tier, make adjustments and try again. With a little polish, you might get to choose your agent after all.

Pull a BP…

…and always have something in the pipeline (rimshot). Um, okay, anyway…always be working on the next thing, because the reality is you can polish a rusty tin can all day and it’s still going to be a rusty tin can. That was a metaphor. For your book. Which may not be as good as you think. I’m not trying to diss you, but sometimes the project just isn’t solid and you’re not doing yourself any favors by obsessing over it for six years (like I once did). Always keep writing. Crank out your ideas faster while improving at the same time. Sounds like a lot of work, but think about it, that’s exactly what you’re going to have to do when you do get the call you’ve waited all your life for. Might as well start practicing now.

That’s all for now. Next time, I’ll talk about training your mind to generate original ideas…it may help those of you who are currently working on your YA romance about a girl who’s torn between a vampire, and a werewolf, and derivatives. (I know, I know…yours is DIFFERENT. The girl has a peg leg. I get it. Really.)

Later…

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