Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Seven Stages of Querying

by R.S. Mellette

Much the way my old scene partner and I had an epiphany by going back to the basics with Shakespeare, I had one a while back with my query letter.

Like all writers, I'd been through the seven phases of query creation:

Denial: "I'm a novelist, damn it, not a business writer. I can't write a good query letter."
Pain: "Reducing my entire book down to one paragraph? I can't! It hurts too much."
Anger & Bargaining: "These agents are all so stupid. If they would just read my work, I know they would sign me in a second. I'd be doing them a favor by letting them read it."
Depression: "Why do I even bother?"
Resurrection: "Every writer has been where I am now, so maybe it's not that bad."
Reconstruction: "You know, maybe my query letter wasn't perfect. Maybe those people over at AgentQuery Connect had some good ideas."
Acceptance & Hope: "I write because I love to write, and if I never land an agent or get published, that's fine by me. I'll still keep at it, because tomorrow is another day."

And then, of course, the cycle would start all over again.

It was during one of the Reconstruction periods that I had my epiphany. I thought about my query letter the way an actor or writer does a scene. "What is my objective?" "What do I want?"

"I want to get an agent."

But is a query letter going to get me an agent?

No. Never in the history of the universe has a query letter landed an agent for a novelist. Only the manuscript can do that. It's one of the things I love about this business. No one is too old, too ethnic, not ethnic enough, too male or female. Your work is all.

So, yes, I want to get an agent, but that's my super objective. That's what my character wants by the end of the play, or novel, or the next few years. In that case, what is my objective for the query letter?

I want whoever reads this letter to want to read the book. I want the agent to hit the reply button.

That's it. That's all. Anything else is a distraction.

I went back to my letter-in-progress with that mindset. The changes were subtle, but important. I created an exciting build in the last paragraph, ending with an emotional punch. Then, in a cocky (some say stupid) move, I signed off with:

"Wanna read it?"

My request rate went way up. In one case an agent got back to me in minutes saying only, "In a word, yes."

Eventually, of course, it was the manuscript that landed me representation, but without that application of artistic cross training, I'd've never tapped into my inner salesman.


Yvonne Osborne said...

Hi! Great post. I remember you from Agent Query. Love that place but I haven't been active lately. I have been writing but, no, I still haven't had "the call". I'm still uncomfortable with my inner salesman.

Sophie Perinot said...

"I want whoever reads this letter to want to read the book. I want the agent to hit the reply button.

That's it. That's all. Anything else is a distraction."

TRUER WORDS HAVE NEVER BEEN WRITTEN. The query is the lure. What a great post.

Jemi Fraser said...

Fantastic post RS! I love the 7 stages and agree with Sopie on that one section - so very, very true!!!

RSMellette said...

Thanks, guys. Always nice to share personal break throughs.

Leslie Rose said...

I need a poster with the seven steps to hang above my writing desk. It's amazing how we can overthink the pieces of the process and toss ourselves into a whirlpool of crazy.

RSMellette said...

"whirlpool of crazy" now there's a title for some Chick Lit. :)

And posters... hmmmmm, sounds like a marketing opportunity.

KellieM said...

I'm just getting to the query stage and this post is a perfect reminder.

The work is all. Love it!

This post was very helpful and has given me a lot to think about as I begin to rewrite the query letter.


RSMellette said...

Glad I could help.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Wanna read it? haha love that! I'll file this away for when I'm ready to query the WIP.

RSMellette said...

On AQC we started calling that a Tail Hook, or if you like a pun, Tale Hook.

Keeping with the idea that all you want is the agent to click that reply button.