Query trenches redux

The recording is 6:49 minutes long. Text follows. I could rewrite this 100 different ways, and who knows, maybe I will, but enough! If you’ve been wondering why the quilting and posting here has slowed, this is some sort of explanation. And by the way, I’m not looking for strokes or for advice. Just blowing off a very specialized steam here.



Send us the first five chapters of your manuscript. Send us the first 10,000 words. Send us the first three pages. Send us the first three chapters. Send us 100 pages.

Make your query letter sing. Write it in a tone consistent with your novel. Limit your query letter to a single page. Include a blurb, target audience, word count, comparable titles, and your special qualifications and publications. Limit your query to 750 words. Add a synopsis. Tell us outcomes in the synopsis. Don’t hold back, you can tell us the ending in your synopsis, but not in your blurb or your query. Make your synopsis 500 words. Make your synopsis 200 words. Make your synopsis 2000 characters. Make your synopsis fit within the box provided. Don’t get frustrated when you can’t edit within the box and we just cut off text that doesn’t fit. Don’t get frustrated when all your line breaks disappear in the box. Patiently re-insert them, and hope you catch them all.

Tell us who you are in ½ a paragraph.
Tell us your special qualifications, publications, and awards in a sentence. Don’t worry if you don’t have any. Make it colorful.

Be sure to capture font changes. You won’t know about this until you read back a sent-query and discover that the first paragraph is blue for some reason. You decide you like it blue and leave it for the next few letters but then, going forward, take the trouble to highlight all your text and select ‘black.’ Don’t get frustrated by this or by reinserting line breaks or by having to repeatedly cut and paste text in online submission forms.

Revise your novel’s beginning radically so that the first five chapters, 10,000 words, or three pages, actually reveal the overall tone and voice of your novel. Question yourself about re-querying one or two agents who only got third-person male chapters that provided backstory when the entire novel is first-person female, meaning they didn’t even sample the voice of the novel. Try not to hate yourself for not thinking this through more thoroughly two seasons ago.

Include your sample pages in the body of your email. We do not open attachments. Send your sample pages as a word doc. Make sure every page is numbered and has your name on it. Send your sample pages as a word doc but exclude all identifying information. Space it at 1.5. Double space it. Only use New Times Roman.

In the re line put your book’s title, your name, and the agent you’re querying. In the re line put your book’s title, its genre, and the agent you’re querying. Do not query more than one agent at a time.

If you don’t hear from us in 8 weeks, consider your manuscript rejected. If you don’t hear from us in 10 weeks, consider us uninterested. If you don’t hear from us in two seasons, you figure it out. If an agent dies or moves to another agency, you’ll have to subscribe to QueryTracker to find out. Subscribe to QueryTracker, the deluxe package, but also subscribe to Duotrope in case you like their screen better. Notice that 5% of the agents you want to query are not in either data base. Ignore their suggestions that you inform them.

Give us comparable titles and make sure they’re recent. Don’t list prize-winning books, be humble. List at least three but not more than five. Don’t worry if one of the books is also about your subject matter and still selling briskly on Amazon. Tell us why these novels are comparable but don’t let your query exceed one page. Don’t let your query letter exceed 700 words. Limit yourself to 2000 characters.

We have a reply rate of 58%. We have a reply rate of 8%. Of .7%.  We do not reply, generally.

Look at our recently published books to see if we’re a good fit. Be sure to do this even if the selected agent’s wish list lines up with yours. Try not to cringe when all the titles are romances, mysteries, or young adult which you have nothing against but do not fit with your novel.

Read the agency’s ‘about page’ Does it matter if they’re a new agency with up-to-date outlooks and methods or a well-established one with the credentials only time can provide? Boutique agencies say they can give authors special attention. Their reply rate is 8%. The agencies with offices in Denver, LA, New York, and London have a reply rate of 70%, 90% of those, rejections.

All agents have too much work to do. Most agents are underpaid. A significant number of agents are closed to submissions. Agents die and move to other agencies and agencies fold and you will have to find that out on your own.

They say they want compelling, inventive, unforgettable prose that tells a story highlighting marginalized people or forgotten histories. They say they want character-driven stories that also have a plot that drives like an engine. They say they want stories saturated with a sense of place, with complex characters but also with a plot that drives like an engine. They say they want historic fiction, but nothing before 1800, please. They say they want history fiction but will not read anything with sexual violence.

They like dark humor, quirky twists, complicated relationships, and a plot that drives like an engine. They say they want literary fiction that is also women’s fiction, that is also commercial upmarket fiction, that is also book group fiction, that is also historic fiction but nothing prior to 1800, please and don’t send anything with sexual violence. 

Try not to cry when every single braggy announcement on twitter about signing with an agent or getting a book deal involve witches, vampires, demons, and magic powers. Every. Single. One. Try not to get hung up on the prevalence of Young Adult and Middle Grade. Don’t consider rewriting your novel a fifth time so that is would appeal to readers aged 12 to 20.

Do not reply to an email acknowledging receipt of your query. If you get a rejection, do not reply. It is a courtesy and it is boilerplate. But do notice how the bleakness and overarching silence of the query trenches makes a little pop of pleasure burble up when you receive an agency email, even when it is a boilerplate rejection.

Also notice how the initial satisfaction at getting rejections and joining that club —  Hooray! – fades very fast and how you have to keep going and try not to cry when the next tweet announcing an agent contract or book deal is for young adults or features a queer maiden with magic powers who sells her soul to an archdemon.

Keep going but start thinking about when you will stop. Keep going and wonder why. Keep going and wish things were otherwise. Ignore people who tell you to write another novel like it’s taking a shit or unloading the dishwasher. Keep going and watch how the dread about self-publishing might morph into a slow accretion of resources.  


Sleeping with a robot

Covid quarantine, continued.

The air purifier in my room is cylindrical, white, and about two feet tall, coming across as a cute robot — until you operate it, that is. It emits an eerie blue light that waxes and wanes — a chilly blue. Eye cover takes care of that, but the noise is inescapable. It should read as white noise but somehow doesn’t. After three days I can’t help but feel the thing is sentient and a tad malevolent.

The bedroom now reminds me of a somewhat creepy Airbnb we stayed in for a night near Portland, Oregon. It was a filler stop the night before flying home and I hadn’t been terribly picky, but you never know with these places, do you?

We got to the modest bungalow late and the place was dark. Everything was in order — clean, well-appointed, but? There was a communal kitchen you didn’t want to be in. The bathroom forced you out into a shared and dark hallway. I couldn’t put my finger on why it made me feel uneasy then and still can’t really. But it did.

I know not to doubt these impressions anymore. Maybe if I wrote about it one of my fellow writers would say the piece paints a classic picture of anxiety disorder (thanks, Linda*). But, so? When K and I were looking at houses there was one that made my skin crawl. K didn’t understand why I so badly wanted to leave but terrible things were happening within those walls, I just knew it.

The robot-air filter must be disturbing my sleep because I didn’t wake up until 10:30 this morning. TEN-THIRTY! I was vaguely aware of the mechanism timing out and going dark and silent — probably around three. I fell into a solid, deep sleep at that point.

Tonight, I’ll run it from five until bedtime and leave it off during the night. K hasn’t tested again yet but is likely still positive. I just read a physician’s explanatory twitter thread about how long a person can remain contagious. Oy.

I’ll cap this off with another mushroom picture from yesterday’s walk — ar, ar.

* Not her real name and it was okay, really. You should’ve heard the prompt response. It was about what a woman does to feel safe when her husband is out of town and might have involved setting up booby traps on the floor outside of her bedroom.

Barcelona and Covid

I borrowed a friend’s super duper HEPA filter. I have three fans in position, ready to circulate the air. My husband’ll take our bedroom and bath and I’ll take one of the boys’ bedrooms and their bath. We’ll wear masks.

Because? You guessed it. He caught COVID. K spent the week in Barcelona duking it out with Tylenol and room service. He didn’t make his presentation. “It’s like a bad cold,” he said, as many do. He stayed longer than his coworkers but is traveling home now after a positive test.

I know. I know.

I stopped to buy ham so I can make one of his favorite meals this weekend: ham, au gratin potatoes, and something green. I also bought a generous pack of chicken wings to add to the chicken carcass that’s in the fridge. This batch of chicken soup has to be good, silky-good. His senses of taste and smell do not seem to have been affected.

Today is cool. A beautiful first day of fall. Finn sniffed things on our walk this morning per usual and tried to roll in some very stinky soil amendment near The Terraces which was not usual.

I listened to This American Life — about a couple that travels to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. The husband had Alzheimer’s.

Did I already post this? (speaking of dementia!)

No one understood why I didn’t want to go to Spain with K. I kept saying, “It’s because I don’t want to get Covid.”

When K gave me the news earlier this week, I laughed and said, “You didn’t have to get sick to prove me right!” (Not immediately, of course. That wasn’t the first thing I said …)

I’ll be back to answer comments from last post. I seem to be missing some of my usual mojo lately.

PCC image this week: B&W photos of men

A Saturday dog walk

It’s the kind of day when you take your thin cardigan off halfway through your walk. Beautiful, in other words.

I swear dogs are so much smarter than we think. Case in point: passed a beagle who howled in just the right register and with just enough volume to penetrate Beyoncé on ear phones. Oh, hello over there!

I never wear earbuds the whole way because they create a barrier to the world. Before Beyoncé, I briefly sampled a recent Sisters-in-law podcast and whew, switched that off fast. I wouldn’t mind a day of not thinking about Judge Cannon and classified documents.

Do you see the chipmunk?
I love all the directions here
Another arrow in the form of a shadow

A friend who is also an intellectual property lawyer gave me a free and informative rundown on copyright law yesterday. It was excellent timing because of that notice I got on Instagram last week.

I had no idea, for instance, that posting too many words from a book could be problematic (and here I thought I was promoting the author!) I will be more judicious in future, maybe limiting quotes to a short paragraph.

Also “fair use” (a defense against a copyright violation allegation) is broader than I thought. For instance, an image doesn’t necessarily have to be transformed if the artist is using it to make a commentary that differs from the original.

Not making money is a factor, BTW, but not an exemption. I thought it was.

There are also privacy interests apart from copyright issues. Public figures have no privacy interests to protect. So that means, for example, that the recurring Jeremy Irons face in one of my collage series would not run afoul of the actor’s right to privacy. Only the photographer in that case might have a grievance.

Home. Garden having a final flourish
Paper only — border is a photo of a quilt I made. Buildings from a magazine. Barn eave from PCC

The upshot of all this is I want to use more exclusively my own images. The interior magazine image above was originally whole. Yesterday while thinking about all of this, I ripped it in half and oriented one half upside down.

Paper collage discussed above is here doubled exposed and filtered with another quilt I made (below).

Or is it the one below? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. I don’t mind that.

Oh stop now! You’d never know I meant to be very brief here. I have an AWA workshop in a few.

But no discussion of copyright is complete without noting the value of proper attributions: please find some of Deb Lacativa’s extraordinary fabric in quilt above (if you hurry, she has a new batch of vintage, hand-dyed fabrics available). Also, both the nine-patch and woven cloth strips arise out of a long association and class-taking with Jude over at spiritcloth. A real mensch and a maven, she is.