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Writing Query Letters- My Approach

Black Mesa looms behind the adobe home where my husband and I have been staying for a few weeks. This morning it was covered in clouds which let loose a thick white snowstorm. Later rain, followed by more snow filled the view out the bedroom window. I’ve been working for several hours and enjoying this very un-Midwestern changing weather pattern.

Our friends have invited us once again to join them here in the high desert of NM, about halfway between Espanola and Ojo Caliente and about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe, and an hour or so south of Taos (if you take the High Road). Over the years many, many drafts of both books 1 and 2 of The Key Trilogy have been written here.

This visit finds me between books 2 and 3, searching for possible agents, and writing the all-important but incredibly challenging Query Letter. So far I’ve received two definite rejections, one offer to “polish” my manuscript’s many punctuation and passive voice problems, and one unanswered query that has until January 23 to be put into the rejection pile, i.e. the “if you don’t hear back within 4-6 weeks, I’m not interested” pile. January 23 is the end of the 6th week. (Update: No response as of today, the 23rd.)

My goal while here at La Lomita, the affectionate name our friends have given their home, is to send at least 10 more query letters. I have several names of agents who look like good fits for The Power Awakens, but finding names is the easy part of this process.* The next step is to make sure these same people are still accepting queries (many will not be open even though they were a month ago when I first found their names). Then it’s especially important to check and double check the requirements for Submitting the Query. Every agent has similar criteria, but no one agency uses the same exact requirements. (Recently I received an email reply: Pls follow the Guidelines. When I rechecked the guidelines, I realized I’d forgotten to include the first three pages of the manuscript—duh!!)

Some agents want details about your writing qualifications including publications, if any, and in my category (Middle Grade fantasy), what makes you think you know anything about middle grade readers? Prove it! (The emphasis is mine, not theirs.)

Agents sometimes want titles of comparable books, i.e. current books that my book is similar to but different in these very important ways: List 101 of the most significant ways your book is vastly superior! They prefer and expect titles of the most recent and most popular novels and authors. I will say this category has proven to be my favorite part of the querying process. I’ve found some wonderful authors and books.**

While I have dreaded this aspect of the whole writing and publishing business, I’ve discovered that changing my attitude has been a great help. (Why am I surprised?!?) Instead of telling myself the million and one reasons why no professional agent or publisher would ever want my book and thus setting myself up with a negative-I’m-going-to-fail-why-try attitude, I decided to try something different.

New attitude: I have this wonderful new story and I’m giving this agent/publisher the gift of my work. In fact, I’m giving them the gift of discovering another great and highly successful best seller!!

OK, sometimes I actually do believe that, but as I learned years ago in AA, if you don’t actually fully believe in the Step, or whatever, just “act as though” you do until you do.

While I haven’t had any more success finding an agent, I am discovering that I’m enjoying filling out the forms and answering the questions. The more QueryManager forms I fill out and the more emails I send, the easier it is to come up with what seem like pretty good answers to questions like these: 1) The Pitch: one-sentence to tell it all and make me desperate to read your book!!! 2) Comps for my book and how mine is similar AND what makes mine different and even more appealing! 3) Some ask for your Promotional Ideas to Sell your book, as in where I’ll find audiences, and kids and schools, and bookstores, and libraries etc. where I could give readings and workshops . . and sell my book.

Although I know the stories about hugely popular authors and successful books (think J. K. Rowling) who had a million and a half rejections before someone took a chance on them and their work, this knowledge doesn’t soften the blow, so to speak, when you receive a form letter that assures you your book is just fine but it simply doesn’t suit our requirements. Even a sweet, reassuring form letter which one agent sent, was still a rejection by form letter.

However. Having said that. I will continue to send out query letters and hope for the best. Why not. The worst they can say is “NO! We don’t want your lousy book!” Well, I’ve got lots more stories where that one came from.

P.S. A note about the tone of rejection letters I’ve received. Although at times the rejection feels quite negative, the content of almost every one of the rejection letters has been kind. The message consistently feels like “this work doesn’t fit what I’m looking for just now” rather than “ . . your lousy book.” In fact, I haven’t received even a hint of the latter. Perhaps changing my attitude about sending queries has affected this too. Yikes!

*Sources for finding potential agents include:

--Association of American Literary Agents: Children’s—Middle Grade Fantasy category

--Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market

--Writer’s Market

--Poets and Writer’s magazine

--Google search: Agents for Middle Grade Fantasy

--Various blog posts and newsletters, including Jane Friedman

**A partial list of my favorite authors and titles:

T.J. Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea; The Whispering Door (LGBTQ)

Kelly Barnhill, The Ogress and the Orphans; The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Sophie Anderson, The Girl Who Speaks Bear

Jessica Townsend, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow; Hollowpox: The Hunt for

Morrigan Crow

Kate DeCamillo, The Beatryce Prophecy; Flora and Ulysses

Katherine Applegate, Wilodeen; The One and Only Ivan; The One and Only Bob; Odder;


Diane Magras, Secret of the Shadow Beasts; The Mad Wolf’s Daughter; The Hunt for the

Mad Wolf’s Daughter

Corey Ann Haydu, One Jar of Magic

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