Friday, August 15, 2008

Query Letter: Five Steps Toward Publishing

OK: I'm guilty of it myself. I've toiled hours over my query letter. I've perfected it. I've tweaked it. I've buffed it. In fact, my query letter is a work of art, right up there with coffee ice cream.

And then I've sat on it. For six months.

Next step? GUILT. If I'm not out there beating the bushes for an agent, then how will Ceilyn see the light of day? I'm certainly not going to be hit over the head and dragged off by the hair to some publishing cave. So I decide to send out the query letter.

Retrieving the somewhat squished and wrinkled pages is the easy part. Determining the agent is pretty simple, too. Head held high, I mail off my one query letter. I'm still awaiting the results.

So -- if you were wondering -- this is the wrong way to do it. If you've taken even one class in statistics, you'll know why. Elizabeth Lyon, author of The Sell Your Novel Toolkit, pleads with us writers to do it the right way, the kinder, gentler, smarter way, the Lyon way.

The Lyon Way:
1. After you've perfected your query letter, send it out to ten agents.

2. Keep track of how many agents request your manuscript. A successful query letter nets 30%, or three out of ten requests.

3. If "successful," send out individualized letters to scores more agents. Increase your odds.

4a. If your query nets you zero, then your query letter is a failure.

4b. This is the good news: you haven't been rejected; just your query letter.

5. Re-write your query letter. Repeat steps 1-5.

If you have successful query letter stories or even "don't do what I did" stories, please share them! Are there better methods out there? Must-read books on the subject?


Ken Kiser said...

I like the inspirational tone of line 4b, that's a great way of looking at it :D

But even after reworking the query letter, that agent is off-limits for a while. It's in poor taste to resubmit to an agent who just rejected you a week before just because you reworded your proposal.

Give it a month or two while you pursue other agents, then get back to the first ones after a cooling off period.

Alex Moore said...

@ken: excellent point. Some agents will consider resubmissions, but many won't. It's best to send your query letters to others.

If an agent has expressed interest in your manuscript by pointing out areas for improvement, rejoice. It's not often you get personalized attention. Take the advice to heart.

Anonymous said...

Hey, just wanted to say thanks! This is the most helpful info I've yet found on finding an agent. Hope and reality, all mixed together in a neat little package.

Alex Moore said...

@uppington: you're welcome. hope you find other bits of helpful info around here. It's good to know what pieces resonate with others, so I appreciate the comment. Good luck w/ your endeavors.