Querulous Queries

Three weeks ago I began the process of querying agents for my new novel, Sentimental Journey. Before I started sending them, I heeded a lesson from my previous attempts to secure agents for Walking In Dreams, (a middle grade novel which failed to find representation or a publisher), and Autumn Colors (a romance which failed on the agent search, was published by a small publisher, went out of print in six months, and subsequently self-published).

I knew I needed an agent for “Sentimental Journey” if I wanted any chance at a major publishing house. And I knew how important the query letter is to getting a foot in an agent’s door. So I had my letter critiqued three separate times. Why more than once, considering I was using the paid service of professional editors/agents? Why did I not have total faith in one? Because this time I was determined to come up with a letter that would grab the attention of multiple agents, with the obvious goal of finding one who asked for the entire manuscript and fell head over heels in love with it.

Different agents are, I learned, turned on (and off) by different approaches to a query. The first critique cleaned out the most blatant problems with my letter. But I knew that wasn’t enough. So I took advantage of a service offered by a well-known editor, and took the letter to another level. But I still wasn’t convinced it was where it needed to be.

I toyed with the idea of sending it to Query Shark. But the risk of that was it could take months to be considered, and it might never be reviewed. I did send it to the BookEnds blog, and perhaps it will appear there – although I’m sure they get so many that the odds of yours being selected might approach the odds of winning the lottery.

So I paid an agent who offers this service. Once again, her feedback resulted in a more concise and targeted letter.

If the letter was as great as it should be, considering the editing and critiquing it underwent, I would expect to receive at least a request or two for additional material by now. Instead, I’ve received two rejections (out of 12 sent), silence from two whose websites indicated if you don’t hear from them in 2 weeks you can consider it a pass, and the remaining 8 are hanging out. I’ve continued to send to additional agents. But I have to admit to discouragement.

Thin-skinned, you say?

Well, it’s not that kind of discouragement. It’s facing the reality that in spite of what I’ve done to arrive at as perfect a query as possible, it’s still not good enough. And I don’t know what to do next. Suggestions are welcome!

Likely I will just keep trying until I exhaust my list of agents. But meanwhile, I’d love feedback on the letter content from others who have been more successful. So here is the body of the letter, and anyone out there who wants to is welcome to weigh in on its positives and negatives:

“Sentimental Journey is a 98,000-word women’s fiction. My style has been described by writing instructors as having similarities to Anne Tyler, with some Maeve Binchy, voice of Barbara Delinsky, and the emotional appeal of Nicholas Sparks.

Meredith Fields’ formerly placid suburban life is shattering piece by piece. Keith, her husband, says he’s fallen in love with his young assistant, and wants a divorce. She feels guilty over placing her mother, Katherine, in a nursing home. An accomplished author, she’s bored with her romance books, and has a tight deadline for her next book – which she hasn’t quite started.

As Meredith sorts through her mother’s house and finds clues to the woman’s shadowy past, she recognizes much of her mother in herself. She begins to understand why her mother related so poorly to her children, and is shaken by parallels in her relationships with her own children. Her growing compassion for Katherine’s difficult life becomes the catalyst for her new novel, Hope’s Illusion, the first two chapters of which are included in Sentimental Journey. Meanwhile when Meredith finds a journal she kept in her twenties, she is reminded of the love she once felt for Keith, and the extent of his loss settles in. A series of crises forces them to confront their relationship, showing Meredith the way to restore her spirit and mend her shattered life.

I am the author of Autumn Colors, a romance, released earlier this year. I’ve also published several articles in professional journals, an article in Runners’ World, and contributed chapters for two nonfiction books. More information and excerpts from Autumn Colors can be found on my website (www.dawnlajeunesse.com).

Thank you for your time and consideration.”

Have at it, readers!

About Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse

I, like so many others, am a novelist struggling for recognition. My last three novels, THE EYES HAVE IT, IN HER MOTHER'S SHOES and STAR CATCHING, are available in e-book format through Amazon and other formats by request here or on my website. AUTUMN COLORS was my first novel and is still available through Amazon and B&N in multiple formats. My early writings are women's fiction, one also suitable for YA. My work-in-progress is a historical fiction about the Armenians who settled in Troy, NY in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Come visit me at my website: www.dawnlajeunesse.com.
This entry was posted in Agents, Autumn Colors, Publishing, Sentimental Journey, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Querulous Queries

  1. Joe Iriarte says:

    There are agents who critique queries for a fee? Who? I have to admit, I find this rather questionable.

    Looking at your query, I would recommend moving your first paragraph further down, so that it comes after your pitch but before your bio. Within that paragraph, in the sentence where you compare yourself to other writers, I would suggest to cutting that number down to three. I think if you list too many it starts to come across as schizophrenic. Also, you use one comp for your “style” and another for your “voice,” and while this may not be a meaningless distinction, I would say it’s not obvious what the distinction you intend is.

    I like the jump-right-in approach that QueryShark and Miss Snark favor, because everybody on both sides of the communication in this instance knows exactly what’s on the table, so any introductory stuff is pretty much just throat clearing. The exception I made in my own query was an introductory paragraph only for the agents that I had some legitimate way to personalize to: “I met you at ___,” “I’m a regular reader and commenter on your blog . . .,” “Your client ___ recommended . . . ” That sort of thing. Otherwise, I jumped right in.

    I like your pitch itself. You immediately get to what’s wrong with the character’s life and what she does. I would not mention the presence of chapters of a book-within-a-book. I think that’s something that, if you pull it off and make it work, that’s great. But the agent will have to see and judge that for herself, and mentioning it in the query only invites doubt. I would stick to the easy sells: the personal.

    When you mention being the author of Autumn Colors, I would ditch the “this year” and instead name the small press that published it. There’s no shame in a small press credit: somebody not related to you believed in you enough to invest their resources in you, and that’s a good thing.

    Hope this is helpful–good luck!



    • mtnwriter77 says:

      Forgot to answer your first question – Jane Friedman did a query letter edit as part of a webinar she did for Writers’ Digest. And Andrea Hurst does them through the author services part of her agency. The first one was done by Terri Valentine, who is an instructor with Writers’ Digest University.


  2. Joe Iriarte says:

    Incidentally, more than two-thirds of my queries ended in rejection, and it took me about a year, tweaking all the way, to get an offer. It’s way too soon to get discouraged.


  3. mtnwriter77 says:

    Thanks, Joe, for such a speedy response – your comments are very helpful. I think I’m only discouraged because of my history with the previous two books. But I’ll keep tweaking (and hoping)!


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