How to Query

So my 2016 new year’s resolutions were to 1) get some smaller stories published and 2) finish my novel, Abduction. Through all the damn nonsense that was 2016, I managed to keep my head above water enough to get some shit done. My story Dámelo o Te Lo Quito was published in Transfer, winning the Leo Litwak award, I published some stuff online, and my collection of short stories, Life’s Too Short, won the Michael Rubin Book Award, and will be published by Fourteen Hills Press in 2017. And I finished my novel, just in the nick of time. I guess having a couple of set resolutions works best for my focus, which at best is, oh look. My cup of coffee is empty. Guess I should make some more. Wait. Focus. Resolve yourself, self. Elf? I should totally watch Elf. Again. No. Okay, that was close. So. RESOLUTIONS>

  1. I want to sell my novel. My debut novel. And since, as Molly Antopol once emphasized to a terrifying degree at a reading for The UnAmericans, you only get one debut, I better get it right.
  2. Get 100 rejection letters. Because if I get 100 rejection letters, at least I’ll have tried 100 times. And since I’ll be simultaneously focusing on querying, 100 submissions seems like a totally appropriate without not being completely unambitious amount.

shift-key

My reasoning being that I spent most of 2016 doing readings and writing my ass off. The muse was truly with me, and I was fortunate enough to write 70,000 words of prose. Carolina de Robertis, my writing idol and desktop background, told me to just keep writing as long as the words were coming, and to worry about submitting later. Which I think was such great advice, because somehow submitting always depletes my creative energy. How am I supposed to feel inspired if I have to submit the same story under 30 different guidelines? Bah humbug. But now I have a novel that I have slowly and painstakingly been trying to edit without revising because I am done with that noise. As terrifying as it is to be in a state of flux, now is very much later. So I want to spend 2017 getting published, which means submitting, submitting, and querying. I’m familiar enough with submittable, stalking journals’ submission periods, and submitting to smaller literary websites, but I have never queried an agency before.

So now what? Like actually, what do I do? How do you organize your time when you’re querying? I once asked a well published novelist this question, and she told me to organize my work in terms of the paragraph of the query letter I’m writing. She broke it down like this:

Paragraph 1

The first paragraph of your query letter is about them, the publisher. What made you query them? Why do you admire their work and feel that their agency could be an incredible fit for your work? Contextualize your work in their agency – what is your novel like, who is it like. End the paragraph by giving them a 1-2 sentence elevator pitch.

Paragraph 2

The second paragraph is about your book. Describe your book as if you were writing it’s back cover (note* I never like to read the back cover so I’ve been reading them a lot lately trying to get a feel for them. I’ve noticed they never resolve the book, but give you some notion of what kind of flavor the book will have.) What are your hopes and ambitions for the book? How will this particular publisher help you achieve those goals?

Paragraph 3

The final paragraph is all about you. It’s your writing CV. Where have you been published, who have you studied under? Where have you read, who are your readers?

Since I like to start at the beginning, I’ve spent the morning working around paragraph one. I’ve been reading reviews of recent debut novels (I like Nylon Magazine’s taste in books, so I started there) and whenever it sounded like that novel and my novel could be friends, I made a note of the title and author. After my novel makes 100 or so friends, I plan on buying the agent information for those works from Publisher’s Marketplace. But until then, feel free to send me a message and let me know: how do you query? What new books are you loving right now? Where are you submitting? What are your writerly resolutions?

cactus-and-books

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