Tag Archives: Query letter

Anatomy of three very similar rejection letters

Recently, a friend of mine asked for some help after receiving two very similar rejections letters. Up until this point, she had received many stock “No thanks” responces, or the dreaded crickets in the email (as in no response at all.)

Ugh_Back_to_the_drawing_board

Every few months, she edited and sent out a new set of queries. Then, after getting a few manuscript requests, she received something different. Yes, still rejections, but two days in a row she received rejections with FEEDBACK. Score!

Woa!

I looked over the feedback she was sent by three different agents, and realized the reasons for the rejections were very similar.

Without giving her name, or showing the exact rejections, I am going to cut and paste my analysis of those rejections. Even reading this back to myself after I’d written it, gave me ideas to go back and revise things in my own manuscript.

I hope you find this helpful!

***

Hey you! First of all, YES I believe you read into this correctly. Your writing is so polished that a few people decided you were worthwhile enough to tell you why they decided to pass. So, on that point: CONGRATULATIONS!

All three of these emails confirm that you have an awesome, original concept that they all believe has the power to be a hit. This is the first hurdle everyone needs to overcome. Rock on, girlfriend!

Past this point, you need to prove that the structure and voice are good enough for them to RISK countless hours of their own time to try to sell your work. (Because, hey, if they can’t sell it, they don’t get paid)

Read-hold up PKO_0016876So, this is what I see when I read each email…

#1. “I had a hard time connecting…”

#2. “I didn’t connect with the narrative voice.”

#3. “The narrative wasn’t able to keep me as entranced as the plot would suggest.”

These all said pretty much the same thing, which is AWESOME! Now you know what you need to fix.

“Connection” has to do with VOICE and DEEP POV.

VOICE: You need to ask yourself: Is the voice that I am writing in authentic to my main character? If she is 16, does she sound like a 16 year old? (In spoken word, inner thought, and also in the narrative)Point_of_View2

DEEP POV: Does the overall narrative flow without any bumps that will draw my reader out of the story and remind them they are reading a book? (look for “gentle” show verses tell issues. Look for words like WAS, LOOK, SEE. Check for passive tense.)

 

Basically, you want to hook the reader on the first page and draw them so deeply into the POV of your character that they can’t get out. They forget they are reading, and all of the sudden it’s 6 hours later and they flip the last page. [[Not that I am an expert at this, but every draft I do gets me closer]]

Now, on comment number three: “The narrative wasn’t able to keep me as entranced as the plot would suggest.”Huh

This could be one of two things. Because of the first two comments, I would guess that the issue is voice and/or deep point of view. HOWEVER… it is also possible that there is a pacing issue.

PACING: Does the book lag anywhere? Are the slow parts just slow enough to let the reader take a breath, or are they so long that the reader gets bored? Can you concatenate the slower chapters to give the required information quickly so you can get back to the good stuff?

“I had a hard time connecting with the way the mystery unfolds.” This could also be pacing, but also ask yourself if there is a “build” in your mystery as each stone is unturned. Is the reader DYING to know whodunit?

I’d look over the manuscript again, thinking about each of these topics INDIVIDUALLY. I think you should only work on one of them at a time. (At least that’s what I do) It helps to keep focused, and gives you less of a chance of missing the opportunity to make a good paragraph GREAT if you are trying to accomplish too many types of edits at the same time.

This is probably the most exciting edit you will ever do… the one where little bells will go off in your head as you see the manuscript come to life. Have fun!

[BTW – just writing this has me thinking about my own manuscript, and a couple of things that I want to look at again, so THANKS for the push!]


So, there you have it. Rejection isn’t always bad. I remind myself that Fire in the Woods was rejected quite a few times, and I’d revised over and over before I received two rejections with feedback similar to above.

My next edit after that feedback got me a three book deal!

Keep submitting, and don’t be afraid to edit some more.

Happy_Writing!

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Ashes and Fire2You can find Fire in the Woods and Ashes in the Sky at all these awesome bookish places!

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Living a week in an agent’s shoes

I recently had the opportunity to judge a writing contest.  I, and two other brave souls, volunteered to read all the anonymous entries, and choose one winner who would win “the pot” collected from the entry fees.

I am going to admit that this was a grueling experience at times.  I swore, somewhere around the seventh entry, that I would never do this again.  My relief when I’d finally read the last entry, and made my choice for winner, was overwhelming.

Then I got to thinking.  What I went through is probably not unlike what an agent or a submissions editor goes through every day.  They get a mailbox full of submissions, and they have to review them all and choose only one, or none.

Now, consider this.  The people who entered this contest paid an entry fee.  This is one of the reasons I volunteered.  I mean, seriously… if you are going to fork up ten bucks to get into a contest, you gotta know your writing is good enough to have a chance, right? I imagined my mailbox filled with fantastic, wonderfully imagined and carefully crafted stories.

Did I get that? Ummm… Not always.

Now, this is not to say that there were not some great entries. There were. But at times, I held my hand to my head and thought, “What was this person thinking”?

The good thing that came out of this is the realization that what you hear is true. There is a lot of poorly written or poorly executed work out there in the query-sphere.

If you can honestly look at your work and say:

1.       It has been edited multiple times

2.       It has been critiqued multiple times

3.       It has been beta read by multiple readers

4.       I have listened to critiques/beta comments and made changes without thinking “they just don’t understand me” and ignoring them.

5.       I have a story arc with a beginning, middle and end.

6.       There is a journey/change in the main character that makes the story worth reading.

7.       There is conflict.

I could keep going, but I’ll stop there.  If you can say “yes” to all of the above, then you at least have a chance of getting read by an agent or editor. If you work stands out as well written and conceptualized, you will be in the 25% or so that will actually be considered.  This is the place where good writing is a given. This is where you are in competition for the best story.

This is where you want to be. If you answered “no” to any of the list above, and you are querying and getting rejections, there is a possibility you are just wasting their time. (And yours)

What I realized judging this contest is that there must be hundreds of thousands of people out there that are wasting their time by submitting before they are ready.

Do your research. Make sure you have learned your craft.

Don’t be afraid to ditch a story you have worked on if it is not marketable.  Move on to something else. Every time you sit down to write you are better than the last time. Be patient until you can honestly say “This is my best work.”

_JenniFer____EatoN

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“I’m sending My Novel Out to Query.” Are you sure you want to do that?

I just got an email that really disturbed me.  No, it was not from one of those creepy guys on Facebook who friends you and then sends you scary PMs… This was from someone I actually know.  Well, cyber-know at least.

This person is a critique partner. Someone working on their first book.

What did the email say that disturbed me so much?

“I’m going to send this out to agents. Can you look at my query and synopsis?”

OMG.

Was I worried about helping with a query and synopsis?  Nope. Not at all. I do it all the time.

So what was it that drove a jagged, rusty bar through my heart?

“I am going out to query.”

I feel incredibly thankful for that little angel on my shoulder who whacked me upside the head two years ago and said “Don’t do it. Your novel sucks.”

Some people, unfortunately, do not have a little angel. Or if they do, they’re not listening.

A quote from Dan Blank keeps coming to mind.  It’s something like: “Writing a book for the sake of writing a book is a worthwhile experience. Not all books should (or need) to be published.” (I totally paraphrased that)

Anyway. I’d like to remind everyone that a sizable number of first novels should be placed in a drawer and never thought of again. Call them a learning experience. A small portion of these can be resurrected, but should be used as an outline and completely rewritten. I would guess that less than one percent are worthy of publication.

But does it hurt to try?

Jury is out on that.  If you have countless hours to waste researching agents/editors and then have even more hours to send a manuscript out that has no chance at all at publication – more power to you. The chances of them remembering you and instantly deleting your second or third manuscript are slim, right?

(Did that last paragraph seem slightly jaded?  If so, GOOD. It was meant to.)

My other big worry is that after a few rejections, instead of shelving manuscripts that are not ready, authors will turn to self-publishing. [Cringe] The thought makes me shiver.  You think critique partners can be harsh?  Try a review from someone on Amazon who is angry at you for wasting their time or money.  Have you read those kind of reviews?  I feel so sorry for those authors!

(Aside: For the record, I think self-publishing is great… If you are ready and have received professional line editing and copy editing)

It took me 17 drafts of my first novel before I decided to shelf it.

Two years of work, sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

Was it worth it?

 

Totally!I learned tons from the experience.  I took what I learned to my NEXT novel.  And when that was done, I took what I learned from writing my second novel into my third novel (all the while pumping out novellas and shorts and getting professional feedback) And I took all of that experience and dove into my fourth novel.

Each. Got. Better.

And even after I thought “maybe my novel is good enough” I was STILL shy of certain agents, and ESPECIALLY my target publisher.  It was not until agents or editors started saying things like:

 “Your writing is strong, but I do not have a place for science fiction right now”

or things like:

“This is not for me, but if you have another book in “xxxx” genre please send it directly to me at [insert email address]”

… that I started sending out to the agents and houses at the “top” of my wish list. And by the way – They ARE NOT reviewing my first novel. That is still safely sitting on my shelf, waving and smiling at me every day.

My point is, don’t feel pressured to publish your first novel. If you are serious about writing, and you are unsure, just move on to the next one. I guarantee novel #2 will be better.

But if you do decide to go for it, good luck!  I wish you all the best, and totally hope you are in that one percent of shining stars.

JenniFer_EatonF

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Did you participate in #WriteOnCon? Wow, what a rollercoaster

For the past week, I have been knee-deep in WRITEONCON.

Someone recommended it to me last year, but I passed.  This year, I am so glad I didn’t let it slip by.

WriteonCon http://writeoncon.com/ is an on-line writer’s conference.  You can post your query for critique, your first page, and your first five pages.

You get critiques on your entries for a week, polish them, and then for two days “ninja agents” comb through the queries.

For two days, WriteOnCon is jam-packed full of live events where you can pitch to agents, and ask agents and publishers questions.  Not to mention great seminars.

Did you miss it?  Don’t make the same mistake I did last year and pretend it never happened, and not even check it out.  You can see the live tapes of the agent session (where they tell you what’s hot, what’s not, and what they do and don’t want to see)  You can also view all of the sessions.

They are just as valuable after the fact as they were live, so I greatly suggest you check it out.

You won’t be disappointed.

And next year… join the chaos.

Oh, and a fine hello to the 52 new friends who joined my followers on day one.  Nice to see you!

JenniFer_EatonF

When to say “Enough is enough” – Coming to the end of your query rope

As many of you know, I have been in what I’ve called “Query Hell” for over a month now.   One month and eleven days, to be exact.

It hit me a few days ago.  I finished the first draft of Fire in the Woods in 40 writing days. It was 40,000 words at the time. (After three months of editing and beta reading, it is nearly 68,000 words)

That means that it took me the same amount of time to write 40,000 words as it took me to write this 249-word query (mainly, the 155-word blurb inside it)

How crazy is that?

A few days ago, I said. “Enough”.

This is my problem — I know I am not good at queries, so I had requested a lot of help.  Seriously – I think people were cringing. (With smiles on their faces, I hoped)

But the problem was… I was getting SO MUCH feedback, with contradicting opinions, that I was getting NOWHERE.

A few weeks ago, I complained about this process on Facebook, and an acquisitions editor at a small publishing house commented “Just write the back cover copy of the book.  That’s all we want to see”

Well, yeah, I know that.  That’s what I was trying to write… but people kept saying I needed more.  A little more voice here, a little more danger there.  It was getting TOO LONG.

A few days ago I sat down, cleared my head… thought about all the suggestions people have made… and I just wrote the dern thing.

Funny, the best parts of all their suggestions just flew out of my fingers… and I sat there and stared at it.

Wow.

I mean, I think Wow… but I’d thought Wow before… so I (being the glutton for punishment that I am) send it to three people (leaving out the person who always found flaws)

I got two enthusiastic thumbs up, and a slight modification.

I made the modification (which fixed something I was uncomfortable with anyway) and asked for one last check – including the most critical person this time. (Who I love by the way-if you are reading this)

Triple thumbs up.  And all around “I’d ask for this in a heartbeat”

**Whew**

You can’t believe the sigh of relief.  Part of me feels like I have wasted a month and a half.  I could be nearly done my new novel, but part of me realizes I have made an important first step to getting where I want to go.

The truth is, Fire in the Woods is too important to me to be flippant with the query.  I’m going to be reaching higher than I have before.  I need to take my bumps and bruises just like anyone else.

So… if you are writing your query, or your synopsis… and feeling the pain… I sympathize.  But believe that you can get to the finish line.  Believe me, if I can write a decent query, anyone can.

Marketing your novel while querying.

How do you do this?  Should you do this?

Everything I’ve read, and every author I’ve spoken to says: “Yes.”

When I pressed the submit button to the Publisher for my novelette LAST WINTER RED, I mulled for a little while about how important Marketing was to them.

Now, don’t let that surprise you.  All publishers are interested in authors who are marketable or able to market themselves.

As I’ve said before, my Facebook page stinks. (From my perspective)  My website/blog, however, I spend a lot of time on, and I am very proud of it.

I hoped they would see the value of that.  But then, as I thought it over, I took it a step further.

I decided to post my LAST WINTER RED query on my website.  I gave it its own tab.  But that was boring, and I don’t do boring.  I need to spruce it up a bit.

As most of you have noticed, I have an arsenal of artwork, and I am more than capable of manipulating graphics and text to bend to my will. (All of this artwork is copyrighted and paid for, by the way.  Don’t copy it—that’s stealing)

A short while of scanning brought me to a model that looked just like my MC Emily.  Throw an ashen Victorian dress on her and plop her into the snow in the middle of the woods.  Perfect.  Now, add the red cloak, laying on the snow.  Pout, Emily, you’re sad and confused.  Walla! Instant marketing piece.

If you look long enough, and if you are willing to pay for it (it’s not too costly) you can almost always find exactly what you need.

Now, I plopped this “advertisement” up really quickly, and spent more work on the art than the text since I used the actual query that I submitted to the publisher.  I’m not crazy about the tone of the query for the advertising purposes, but I wanted to get it up quickly, in case the publisher stopped by.

In the next few days, I tightened the query to be a little more readable, and make it look better visually in conjunction with the picture.

A little extra effort shows that not only am I marketable, but I will also be willing to, and have already, marketed my novel.

Please take a look and let me know what you think!

Is this a great idea?  An awful idea?  Whattya think?

Click the LAST WINTER RED tab in my title bar or click HERE to take a peek.

Are you going to send out queries during Christmas break?

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are finishing up their novels (some of them from Nano) and are going to query their brains out during their Christmas vacations.

Me?  Nope!  No Way!

First of all, even though I am done, I want to get one more round of good solid beta reads in.  But there is another reason.

I remember reading something a long time ago that made a ton of sence, and it really stuck with me.  Oddly enough, I came across the article by accident the other day.  (The link is below) Re-reading it again made me feel even better about my timeline skipping right over Christmas and starting to query in a few months.

Nathan made some really good points in this article.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nathan Bransford, he used to be an agent, but recently left the agenting business and is now an author.

Nathan said there are not any good or bad times to query, with two exceptions.  You can read the full article below, but for those of you who are terrified of little links, here it is in a nutshell:

Don’t query if you know the agent is out of the office. Also don’t query around major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.

The reason is that many people have off, and a lot of them are using their time to send out queries… to agents that are not there because they are on vacation, or are leaving for vacation.  This means the agents are rushing through their submissions so they can finish before they leave, or they are just coming back to a pile of work that they have to RACE THROUGH to get caught up.

As Nathan said “take it from me — you don’t want to be part of a massive query pile when an agent is feeling a time crunch.”

“Ideally, sure, we’d give all queries equal time, consider every one similarly, whether we’re reading a pile of 10 or a pile of 500.  Ideally. 

“Reality: human nature is human nature.  When faced with a mountain that feels like it won’t move, you start moving a little quicker, take fewer chances, etc. etc.  I really aspire to keep a constant pace regardless of my workload, but it’s hard not to adjust how many partials you’re requesting based on how much work awaits.”

“Just don’t do it.  Avoid the weeks around major holidays.  It’s better to be part of a trickle than a flood. “

I think these are sound words of advice, especially since he wrote this when he was still an agent.

So, are you querying now?  Are you planning on querying next week?   Please, by all means do!  (She grins and giggles with her evil witch laugh)

I will be more than happy to tip-toe over you lightly in a few months if you are sitting in the slush pile.

Please check out Nathan Bransford’s site, and his first novel, Jacob Wonderbar.

Nathan Brandsford:  Is there a best time to Query?