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Querying Is A Long Game

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lurker extraordinaire

A Catalogue of Promiscuous Praise: Dubious Blurbs

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Paul Whybrow

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Lots of sense in that article, but there's still no guarantee that querying 100 agents will get you favourable results. I queried 156 agents and publishers with an open submission window in the first seven months of 2015. I've received 53 form letter rejections and 5 personalised refusals which offered guarded praise and some useful advice.

What exasperated me the most about querying was the bewildering variety of stipulations that agents make for the form of a submission. Some want the first three chapters, others the first 5,000 words, while one requested what I thought to be the most typical chapter of my novel. The latter struck me as quite sensible compared to those who were making judgements of the opening of a story, looking to be immediately grabbed by the throat with a potentially gimmicky bit of sensationalism. If you take into account the advice that writing is rejected in the first five pages, or even the first five sentences, then any submission comes under heavy fire straight away. I strongly recommend Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile to anyone polishing their manuscript.

It became plain to me that the publishing industry is stuck in past times, with book companies and agencies operating as individual fiefdoms—all demanding different things of their serfs, the unpublished writers waving their manuscripts vainly at them. There's certainly no standardised way of making a query, no shared clearing house where potential novels are sent to the best book company. Publishing is a cutthroat business, and there's a lot of collateral damage—us!

The best thing about making multiple submissions is that it helped me to hone my query, to become much more selective in who I approached and to view rejections as adding another layer to my rhinoceros hide. When I read that JK Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers I smile grimly—a whole dozen—what a baby!

I have the feeling that one has to keep knocking on doors in the hope that by being persistent (irritating) someone will finally look at your work properly. It's almost like an initiation rite, whereby agents sluggishly respond to those that they've swatted away dozens of times before.
 

Nicole Wilson

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It became plain to me that the publishing industry is stuck in past times, with book companies and agencies operating as individual fiefdoms—all demanding different things of their serfs, the unpublished writers waving their manuscripts vainly at them. There's certainly no standardised way of making a query, no shared clearing house where potential novels are sent to the best book company. Publishing is a cutthroat business, and there's a lot of collateral damage—us!
Or it could be that this process is subjective. There can't be a formula for art. Each agent has different requirements because they know what they need to determine if your book fits with them.
 
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Alistair Roberts

Guest
Agreed Paul, but the problem with JK Rowlings is that although she was rejected by a dozen publishers, I've never found mention of how many agents rejected her?
 
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Jason Byrne

Guest
I'm not discouraged. I just haven't looked at or sent any query letters in three months. There's a difference.
 
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Alistair Roberts

Guest
He never failed, cause he never tried! Damn, why didn't I think of that? Cause I was probably too busy writing, so I better get back to it. :D
 

Jimithyh

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Lots of sense in that article, but there's still no guarantee that querying 100 agents will get you favourable results. I queried 156 agents and publishers with an open submission window in the first seven months of 2015. I've received 53 form letter rejections and 5 personalised refusals which offered guarded praise and some useful advice.

What exasperated me the most about querying was the bewildering variety of stipulations that agents make for the form of a submission. Some want the first three chapters, others the first 5,000 words, while one requested what I thought to be the most typical chapter of my novel. The latter struck me as quite sensible compared to those who were making judgements of the opening of a story, looking to be immediately grabbed by the throat with a potentially gimmicky bit of sensationalism. If you take into account the advice that writing is rejected in the first five pages, or even the first five sentences, then any submission comes under heavy fire straight away. I strongly recommend Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile to anyone polishing their manuscript.

It became plain to me that the publishing industry is stuck in past times, with book companies and agencies operating as individual fiefdoms—all demanding different things of their serfs, the unpublished writers waving their manuscripts vainly at them. There's certainly no standardised way of making a query, no shared clearing house where potential novels are sent to the best book company. Publishing is a cutthroat business, and there's a lot of collateral damage—us!

The best thing about making multiple submissions is that it helped me to hone my query, to become much more selective in who I approached and to view rejections as adding another layer to my rhinoceros hide. When I read that JK Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers I smile grimly—a whole dozen—what a baby!

I have the feeling that one has to keep knocking on doors in the hope that by being persistent (irritating) someone will finally look at your work properly. It's almost like an initiation rite, whereby agents sluggishly respond to those that they've swatted away dozens of times before.


Paul I understand and agree with much of what you have said. However, I feel that the publishers and agents have this one aspect of the reader's psyche correct; a story has to grab the reader from the off.

Perhaps I am being too fickle or impatient, but I know as a reader that a good first line grabs my attention. A good first paragraph does the same. If you have the first, but not the second, I give the author to the end of the first page (invariably a half-page) and if that has not sparked enough interest the book is returned to the shelf. The last "literary" novel I read took two thirds of the book before it became interesting, and I only kept on reading because it was a choice made as part of a book club. How that got published and considered a classic is beyond me. Other than perhaps because it was a novel of a rural African community, written as if semi-autobiographical.

My point is, there are loops that we writers have to jump through to get the attention of agents and publishers (and eventually the reading public) and we can't argue that: " ... our story doesn't really get going til chapter 5."
 

Paul Whybrow

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Paul I understand and agree with much of what you have said. However, I feel that the publishers and agents have this one aspect of the reader's psyche correct; a story has to grab the reader from the off.

Perhaps I am being too fickle or impatient, but I know as a reader that a good first line grabs my attention. A good first paragraph does the same. If you have the first, but not the second, I give the author to the end of the first page (invariably a half-page) and if that has not sparked enough interest the book is returned to the shelf. The last "literary" novel I read took two thirds of the book before it became interesting, and I only kept on reading because it was a choice made as part of a book club. How that got published and considered a classic is beyond me. Other than perhaps because it was a novel of a rural African community, written as if semi-autobiographical.

My point is, there are loops that we writers have to jump through to get the attention of agents and publishers (and eventually the reading public) and we can't argue that: " ... our story doesn't really get going til chapter 5."

I agree with what you say, though how readers actually choose a book to read bewilders me. If you watch people in a library or book shop, some sample the first page and others plunge into the heart of the story flicking through several pages. The design on the cover has an influence too, which is one reason why cover art is changed so often and is different for foreign markets.

The strangest selection criterion I've heard of, which I've mentioned before, were the readers and librarians who all declared that it was the title of the book which most guided their choice. I'd watched one of these readers plucking novels from the shelves without looking at the blurb or text. I thought that she must have a keen knowledge of thrillers, possibly from book reviews, but all she was doing was finding titles that she thought sounded frightening. I must admit, this had an influence on me, which was why I floated several possible titles for my new novel on the Colony. 'Who Kills A Nudist?' was popular, and I'm almost halfway through writing it.

The opening of any story is important, and I've polished my first chapter until it shines. Bearing in mind increasingly limited concentration spans these days, and going for the throat, I chose to make my opening chapter very short but sensationalistic. It's a mere 85 words long, but immediately places the reader into role of voyeur watching a nude man on a beach. He's a corpse, which becomes apparent when a seagull begins to peck at his eyes. With the hooks of nudity, voyeurism and gore I hope to trap the reader into trying more. The opening baby chapter toddles into a longer 900 word second, with the third slightly lengthier still. I've paid much more attention to word counts of chapters with this my second novel, and the longest is 2,400 words. This is broken into separate episodes with section breaks—I love section breaks!

This awareness feels a bit manipulative to me, but if it works then this is what I have to do in a world where people are consuming their reading in bite-sized chunks on smartphones.
 

Nicole Wilson

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I'll admit, if it's a book where I'm not already familiar with the author or going off a recommendation, I'm one of those that judges on cover and title. If it makes it past those, *then* I look at the blurb. There are just too many books to pick from for me not to have a selection criteria to thin the herd, even if it is shallow.
 
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Jason Byrne

Guest
I'll admit, if it's a book where I'm not already familiar with the author or going off a recommendation, I'm one of those that judges on cover and title. If it makes it past those, *then* I look at the blurb. There are just too many books to pick from for me not to have a selection criteria to thin the herd, even if it is shallow.
Completely agree.
 

Chase Gamwell

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I'll admit, if it's a book where I'm not already familiar with the author or going off a recommendation, I'm one of those that judges on cover and title. If it makes it past those, *then* I look at the blurb. There are just too many books to pick from for me not to have a selection criteria to thin the herd, even if it is shallow.

I typically try to give the author at least a single chapter before deciding whether the book is good or not. Two of my most recent reads were like that. The first - The Martian - almost immediately grabbed me. After that, I bought the ebook and didn't put it down till it was done. The other - A Darkling Sea - was strange for the entirety of the first chapter, until the very end. What happened then grabbed me enough that I kept reading. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed.

Back to Querying for a second.

I know that querying is a long game, but I'm starting to wonder whether I should continue to query for the long novel I'm writing. The issue I'm having is that I've sent it to about 15 agents and have been rejected by most. While I understand that my query letter wasn't really on point and the book needed more editing, the more I read it, the more I wonder whether it should be published. I'm sure that I could keep pestering agents until someone picks it up, but the first book just feels very "meh" to me. I haven't had other eyes on it yet, so I'm not sure how others would feel about it, but I would probably feel confident in saying it is the weakest of the trilogy.

I feel better about the mystery novel I just wrote, but have the same reservations. I don't know if the first sentence, paragraph, or page is grippy enough for anyone to want to continue reading. Even then, how far will they read before just giving up. I mean...I love writing, but I constantly find myself wondering whether what I'm writing is worth publishing. If I sent it to ten or a hundred, or a thousand agents, would they pick it up? If it isn't good enough now, it probably would with rewrites, but I'm guessing that's part of the long game we're considering.

In the end, I'll just have to quote @Jason Byrne:
I'm not discouraged. I just haven't looked at or sent any query letters in three months. There's a difference.

I'm going to buckle down and polish my sh*t until it sparkles enough for someone to want it. :cool::D
 

Jimithyh

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Chase, there are two things that spring to mind after reading your post.

First, we as authors are our own worst critics ... and what we think might be tripe (by virtue of having read it for the millionth time ...) might very well not be ...

And secondly, during a one-to-one with Peter he suggested that my novel might have taught me all I could learn from it and perhaps I should try something new; taking the skills elsewhere.
 
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lurker extraordinaire

A Catalogue of Promiscuous Praise: Dubious Blurbs

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