Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wordcraft – What happens after you send the query

If there’s anything fantasy writer Seth Skorkowsky knows, it’s how to write a query letter to a literary agent. Skorkowsky, after all, was the first writer to get through the DFW Writers Conference’s infamous query gong show without being gonged out (an event chronicled in “Beating the gong” at this site May 6, 2013).

Sure, the three to five sentences of story description that comprise the heart of a query letter are the hardest things any writer has to compose. “But that’s not what I’m going to talk to you about,” Skorkowsky told his audience at last weekend’s Fencon science fiction/fantasy convention in Irving, Texas. “What I’m going to talk to you about is all the other stuff” that happens after the query letter is written,” the things no one tells you about querying a novel.

The things that happen after querying are also something he knows about, with the publication this month of his third book of sword and sorcery tales. And he’s got some rules about what happens (and what to do) in that time that elapses after crafting that killer query letter. (For more hints about query letters, see “Spawn of the QueryShark, part I” and “Spawn of the QueryShark, part II,” also at this site.)

The first rule deals with research – knowing the genre (and as important, the subgenre) of our work; finding agents who deal with that genre/subgenre (starting with the agency website, but then checking Google for interviews a potential agent has given within the last two years.

As we’re hitting “Send” on that now-magical query, consider Rule #2: organization. Skorkowsky prepares a spreadsheet listing the agent, genre and subgenre of submission, the date the submission was sent, what was submitted (sample pages, etc.), expected turnaround time (usually available at the agency website), miscellaneous information (date open to submissions, other agency at the agency, notable clients), and rejection date. Yes, rejection. Because it will happen.

He suggests pacing ourselves by sending not more than 5-6 queries at a time. This will allow time to revise the query if needed and prepare for Rule #3 – "the experience of crushing self-doubt.”

Rule #3’s list of things not to do includes not responding to rejections unless invited to do so by the rejecting agent, not taking rejection personally, and never, ever venting about those rejection online. “Mark your spreadsheet to list the rejection, move on and send the next query.”

Rule #4 : how to deal with the paranoia that waiting inevitably leads to. Again remembering not to vent, instead stalk the agent nicely, via Twitter or QueryTracker and consider starting a different project to get your mind off the waiting thing.

And finally, Rule #5: closure is better than rejection. “If their website says they respond within eight weeks and you haven’t heard (within that time), mark your spreadsheet ‘rejected’ and move on.”

Skorkowsky said his spreadsheet shows that he sent 83 queries for what would become his first published novel, Dämoren. From those he received 44 rejections (the quickest within one day, the longest after 11 months), 38 non-replies (two of them received – make that, not received – after agents had requested full manuscripts. And one acceptance. And that, dear readers, is all it took.

(Next Tuesday, words from the FenCon writers’ workshop).

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