On the Query Trenches

current song: “Gold Canary” by Cloud Control
current mood: flying high


I have an odd relationship with the slush pile.

I learned what a query letter was, and what it meant, in September of 2011. I was putting the finishing touches on a truly awful YA mermaid novel. I wrote and sent one bad query (breaking ALL the query rules). Then I realized how un-ready I was. Querying feels like standing naked on a stage. You should only climb up onto that stage when you’re at your best. You should feel vulnerable, but strong and capable and proud. I felt none of those things, so I didn’t send any more queries.

Instead I wrote a new book. A middle grade pirate adventure. (Ah, my heart. I love this book, and someday soon I will fix it.) I finished the first draft in November 2011 (NaNoWriMo!), then started revising. I revised. And revised. And revised.

While I revised, I gave myself a crash course in modern publishing affairs via Google University. I haunted writing forums, stalked agents’ every moves online, wrote fake queries then tore them apart, just to see how they worked.

In May of 2012, I applied for a remote, unpaid internship with a literary agent. I had no publishing experience, just a burning desire to learn more about the industry before I stood naked on that querying stage. She took a chance on me, and when I first peeked inside a real life literary agent’s slush pile (a.k.a., e-mail to which she is sent manuscripts to consider representing), I got it.

I wish every querying author could spend ten minutes inside a real slush pile e-mail. Suddenly, it made sense. There are rules to writing a query. Don’t break them, unless you have a good reason to. Sometimes a query has the proper checklist of appropriate contents, but doesn’t click. Sometimes another query is a mess, but it works and your gut tells you, yes, there’s more to be seen here.

And I’m afraid it really is that zen. Yes to this query that committed all slush pile sins; no to that one there looking very smug and shiny and angelic.

This is the first time I’ve actively queried. I wrote about ten drafts of my query letter for HOUR OF THE BEES, my MG contemporary/magical realism with multicultural characters/how much more genre-smashing can I attempt.

The manuscript only took two revisions. The query letter took ten.

But once I was satisfied with it (with the help of very generous strangers in online writing forums), I posted my query on the WriteOnCon forums.

My jaw dropped when two agents requested the manuscript.

So I sent out a few queries.

A few meaning three.

They were meant to be a sample, a test to see how my query was going to fare in the world of publishing.

All three of them requested fulls.

So I sent more.

Fifteen queries I have out, now, and here are my numbers five days in. Four requested fulls. One agent sent a form rejection shortly after. One personalized rejection from an agent going on maternity leave, who asked that I send her the full in six months if I’m still running in the agent-hunt. I haven’t heard from anyone else yet.

I feel like I’ve spent two years preparing for these moments. I know there will come awful rejections, gut-wrenching vulnerability, and moments where I feel personally slapped by professional strangers who I know a lot about, but who don’t know me and don’t care. So  what? This is the world I’m trying to get into.

I also know that my yes is out there. I don’t know who it will be from, but it’s there.

Good night, Neverland.

About littlehurricane

You may call me a poet when they write it on my headstone.
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