Shooting Star, Pawel Kadysz

How to write a query letter

I’m usually pretty good at writing query letters. I have a fairly good track record with them, meaning that I have a decent enough percentage of getting full manuscript requests from a query letter. The last two novels that I queried had a 35% and a 27% manuscript request rate, which I consider pretty dang good. None of those full requests have translated into an offer of representation, however.

So I felt pretty good when I finally sat down to write the query letter for my most recently completed novel. But then I ran into a block. This query letter was harder than previous ones. Which then made me question what that means.

And then a whole host of other questions came to mind …
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Time, by Judy van der Velden / flickr

A history of writing in my life (part 3)

This is part three of the history of my writing life. If you missed it, here’s part one and part two.


I already talked about my early years and my schooling years, so now it’s time for a short foray into the years since then.

I wish I could be a writer full time, though I can’t imagine getting any more writing done than I already do. Now, I have to squeeze writing in time during my lunch break, on the weekends, in the car (Google text to type is both great and awful at the same time), before bed — any time I have a few minutes. Mostly, though, I’m just exhausted and uninspired and don’t write at all. Still — I have a feeling that if I ended up with the time and ability to write full time, it would end up as a constant list of things I did instead of writing.

I’ve written a lot since graduate school. One short story, a handful of poems, several novels. All of the novels are YA. I’ve queried four of them. I’ve had no offers of agent representation. It’s a maddeningly, frustrating, seemingly-endless loop of write, revise, re-draft, edit, set aside, read, touch-up, query, reject, reject, shelf it — start over again with something new.

As I started out five years ago, I tried to remember to stay on top of the trends. Instead of vampires, I tried a riff on werewolves. The novel, The Moonstone, is not one of my best. In fact, it’s probably only slightly above my MFA thesis in terms of writing, plot, and longevity. To be honest, I don’t even like werewolves and the supernatural / paranormal / fantasy obsession in YA fiction. What business did I have writing it? I know now that I was so eager to publish that I thought hitting the edge of a trend would work. Too bad werewolves never picked up post-vampire age.

Moving on, I tried to merge the uniqueness of my birthday (February 29) with a fantastical notion of what happens after death. In-Between and Ever-After came out of this, and I still adore this novel. It’s unfortunate that I was about a year behind on this trend, too. I started querying about the same time as Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and a few similar novels popped up. Even though I queried a little bit with The Moonstone, this second novel felt more a part of me than the previous. So getting rejections from both queries and requested manuscripts was more devastating than before. It also taught me a lot about the process, about “agent speak,” and about my own expectations. I still love this novel, and I probably always will. But what I know the most is that I really want to make sure that somewhere, sometime, in my career, I revisit the meaning and interest of Leap Day.
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A Writing Journal, photo by Sarah Reck

Easy to be a Writer?

The other night on Jeopardy, one of the contestants said he decided to write a book because he needed money for an engagement ring for his girlfriend. He said he was working for a non-profit at the time and just decided that the way to get the money was to write a romance novel. He said that the first book paid for the ring and the second book paid for the wedding. It was as though he decided to be a romance novelist and a moment later money was thrust into his hands.

A sweet story, yes, but it also frustrated me. Not everyone’s writing and publishing story is this simple. In fact, most of ours are instead long-term, hair-pulling, ready-to-quit-at-any-second endeavors. But isn’t what he said how many people think it happens? There are a lot of publishing stories out there from people who just “fell into” publishing, but for every instantaneous book story, there are a dozen or more rejection after rejection stories and a hundred more unpublished author stories.

It’s true that I’m in the unpublished writer camp. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a contract. I don’t have a book published. Outside of a few short stories published in the lit journals of schools I was attending at the time, I even have a long list of rejected pieces of short fiction and poetry. I can wear the unpublished moniker proudly, even if all I really want is to see my name on the spine of a book on the shelf at my local library and bookstore.
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