Monday, January 25, 2010

"Don't Send as an Attachment"

Does querying sound like a nightmare? Come join the Wicked Writers this week as we share our mistakes, our successes, and what we wish we had known before sending out that first query letter.

“Plan your work and work your plan.” No truer phrase could describe me. What I didn’t know about writing before I sent out my first query letter could fill numerous books—no, wait, it does fill numerous books. I read some advice that said not to expect a quick response from an agent and to be prepared to wait weeks or months.

Well, they were wrong.

I received my first response from one of my “A-list” agents in about thirty minutes. It was especially surprising because I’d committed the no-no of sending my query as an attachment. When I read “no attachments,” I thought it meant don't send your MS unless we ask for it. It wasn’t until an agent’s web site spelled out the “put your query into the body of the email” part did I understand what I’d done wrong.

Thinking I had weeks to go before I could possibly hear back, I was unprepared for that first agent asking to see my work so quickly. Sure, I’d rewritten my first chapter between ten to fifteen times, and had gone through the critique loop countless more, because I knew how crucial that initial opening was to be even considered by an agent. Oh, and here’s the kicker—my book wasn't quite complete yet. I had about five more chapters to write. I thought I'd have at least a few more weeks before hearing anything and would finish the first draft before anyone actually followed up. Surprise! Thirty minutes after my first query went out was WAY earlier than I anticipated.

So, ecstatic that someone asked for my work, I gave it a quick final read-through and sent the requested ten pages over. She didn't like it. In fact, some of her reply after reading my work sounded like she was annoyed I took up her time. Interestingly enough, I have never since received a response like I did from that very first agent rejection.

Here's a part of her colorful response (typos included):
Real people’s interior monologs don’t reach so hard for lush, romance-novel-expressions to describe what they are seeing and hearing and saying. So the narrator doesn't sound like an innkeeper or a vampire, but a script that has been shoved through a Romance Novel Thesaurus machine.

My free editorial advice is to revise by removing any word, phrase, or stock expression that even smells like Womance Witing and you might have a nifty Vampire Mystery. Then remove any prose that describes the character operating like a hydraulic system or computer.

Finally, the fact that the vamperoine has a warm (ha) relationship with her husband should provide the romantic element without carving each paragraph from Romantistone.

Was I crushed? Nah. Disappointed? Yes. My writing buddy and I laughed at her new made-up words and wondered what possessed her to write them. Perhaps she had a bad day, perhaps she had high hopes based on my query and my writing disappointed her. Maybe my style just wasn’t for her. No biggie in the long run. Her rejection ensured I now qualified for RWA’s PRO status (writers in the areas between manuscript submission and publication), once I finished the book. That was nice of her.

I went back to the drawing board and rewrote my entire first chapter—again. And I rewrote it another ten or so times before soliciting anyone again in August. By then, I’d finished the draft and the first few chapters gleamed to the best of my ability.

How many rejections will I have before it’s finally published? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. Why bother to keep track when all it really takes is one “yes”?


  1. Oh, I don't know, C.J. Rejection slips could be seen as a badge of honor. I mean Stephen King got tons of rejection slips when he first started. Of course, everyone who sent him a rejection slip died a mysterious and horrible death.

    I don't recommend that sort of thing.

    Great piece, though. I guess we should follow the guidelines for query letter, but be open to change.

  2. Great story C.J.! I always love to hear the number of rejections popular authors gets before they make it big. Makes it seem all the more ordinary, yet still annoying for us up and comings.

  3. If only the market was so saturated with wannabe writers, the true-bloods wouldn't need to shed sweat and tear for days (or weeks!) crafting the "perfect" query. We could just sit down with an editor, explain our magic, and get published.

  4. Isn't that a dream come true? I spent weeks critiquing my query letter! I couldn't believe how hard it was. The synopses took me five solid days of eight hours a day - I was ready to pull my hair out!

  5. I believe Mr. King had 400 rejections and Mr. Asimov had 1,000!! That was the days before the computer age so imagine getting all those rejections in your mailbox and still having the courage to go on? Unbelievable!

  6. [...] C.J. Ellisson, Don’t Send as an Attachment [...]