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Continually trying to answer the question...can a man of few words write a successful novel?

I'm a Mystery/Thriller/Suspense writer from small town USA who struggles everyday to balance my passion for prose against the need to be a full-time bread winner. Finding ways to devote more time to my writing is the challenge, but for now all I can do is follow this tug at my heart to wherever it leads. I'm here primarily to soak up all the knowledge I can from the writing-centric blogosphere, but I'll do my best to contribute by thinking of new and innovative ways to churn the writing pot.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hair-Trigger


I want to thank everyone who contributed their input to help improve my query letter by visiting the QQQE last week.  Obviously I have a ways to go, but now I’m one step closer to being ready.  I must have revised that query letter a bazillion times and as I contemplate incorporating what I learned from Matt, my mind continues to agonize.  About what, you ask?  One simple thing…the hair-trigger.

Agents receive so many submissions they have to utilize whatever individualized method they can to whittle down their pile (including using interns).  In an idealized world, they’d completely read each and every query letter that comes across their desk and never fall behind.  However, here in this world there’s a gun planted on the temple of each letter, a rejection letter loaded in its chamber, and a trigger becomes touchier as the pile grows higher.  Regardless of how close to perfection my letter approaches, I will still worry about that trigger and how sensitive it can be.  The majority of literary agents out there have one and I understand completely, it’s a matter of survival for them.  But for those of us on the other side of that barrel, we live with the knowledge that one miss-step, one false move, could result in a snuffed out dream.

Put the genre and word count in the first paragraph instead of the last.  BLAM!

Misspell a single word, or let slip a grammatical error.  BLAM!

Mix tenses.  BLAM!

Your word count is 105 000 and their self-imposed limit is 95K.  BLAM!

Addressing the letter to Mr. Bobbie Robinson, but Bobbie is a girl.  BLAM! BLAM! (You needed to be shot twice for that one).

You used a cliché.  BLAM!

You failed to recognize that one element of the plot still remains vague.  BLAM!

You used the wrong font and/or character size.  BLAM!

They read your query on Monday, and Monday’s are always bad.  BLAM!

Yes, I’m exaggerating to make a point, but really, by how much?  It doesn’t really matter what their reasons are, the sensitivity of the trigger can be correlated not only to the height of their stack, but the depths of their mood.  That’s why we work so hard to compose the perfect letter, and even then it can still fall short. 

There is so much riding on this letter that I see now why it’s recommended by so many of those “in the know” that aspiring novelist should attend as many writers’ conferences as possible and get to know the agents representing that genre.  Interact on their blogs, follow their Twitter and/or Facebook feeds, anything to link your letter to an actual person and make pulling that trigger that much more difficult.



PS.  Did you know that Ian Fleming, the author known for creating the iconic James Bond 007, also wrote the children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

24 comments:

  1. I totally hear you, but I think it might help to take a holistic approach here. Of course you have to make sure your query is as perfect as possible, but if the overall premise is compelling and fresh, and if the writing is crisp and competent--one or even two mistakes probably won't sink you. You're taking the absolute right approach in terms of carefully crafting your query letter, but once you've done that, there are so many elements out of your control that it won't help to agonize over those. I know you probably know all this--I just want to encourage you! I thought your query was close to ready, and I hope you get tons of requests with it!

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  2. Yes, I did know that Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

    Sarah is right, btw. Even though there are many hair triggers that may cause a rejection -- one good reason not to take the rejections personally -- most of all, agents are looking for a story they want to read. Pitch them something they want to read, and they will request the manuscript.

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  3. Honestly, I'm no good at query/agent advise since I've decided to go the self-publishing, non-traditional, often considered inferior way of publishing. :) But I wish you the best of luck and look forward to being a part of your journey, albeit a small, tiny part, but it's always exciting to know new authors before they're famous! :)

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  4. I did not know that about James Bond. However, I do agree that it's very difficult to get an agent. I think your idea of attending conferences is smart.

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  5. And a lot of it is in the timing!
    And I didn't know that was the same author.

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  6. Yes, I did know Ian Flemming wrote CCBB. One of my favorite (and Monster's movies.)

    You can only do so much to the query before you succumb to the madness of second guessing every
    l-i-t-t-l-e thing. Just write the best one you can, get feedback on it and when you think it's ready, fire it off. It only takes one yes.

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  7. I think there should be a Query Letter Writing Service. I'd gladly have paid for someone to write mine. After months (12?) of angst, Anne Gallagher finally came to my rescue and critiqued it.

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  8. That's a lot of BLAM. :) Yes, I've received rejections of the form letter variety and wanted to beg them to tell me what's wrong. Then I can fix it. Was it my query, my blurb, an overdone premise, too unique a premise...

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  9. DL -- I think your Query is really getting good, and that you're certainly going to at least get past that initial hair-trigger rejection.

    I suspect that most of the queries, like most of the slush pile, are pure crap, and that yours is good enough to get attention. Tired agents may be swamped with queries, but deep down they are always looking for reasons to accept rather than to reject. They're eager to find that next great writer -- that's why they're in business, after all.

    Your query just has to be good enough to generate enough interest for an agent to request at least the intro of the manuscript. Then the story stands on its own, and I've read it -- it's good!

    So I wish you nothing but the best of luck, my friend!

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  10. I think that's one reason why it's so important to not take rejection personally. Also, don't give up! Because just like you'll never know if you're reaching an agent on a bad day - you don't know if you'll reach them on a good day. And no, I had no idea about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. That's very strange ...

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  11. Cheese AND Crackers! Writing is hard. Hunting down an outlet for a novel is mind-bending!

    Don, I really liked your query. I have no real advice to give in this department, since I'm still pretty new to this whole, you meant I gotta sell my novel AND *me*?

    What I do know is this: Sarah is spot on. I want to encourage you 'cause you got skills, first off. Second, sometimes we over-think and worry unnecessarily. BLAM.

    I'm reading The Help, finally. Excellent. You know Kathryn Stockett received 60 rejection letters? 60. For the love of everything good! 60. Maybe if I say it a few more times, it will sink in to my brain. I wonder what her query looked like.

    For me, believing in myself is my biggest hurdle. And boy will it smart when I fall on my face. But I'll never know that feeling of the wind in my hair and my heart racing in my chest, if I don't just put one foot in front of the other.

    Congratulations! You are already on the playing field, with your eye on the finish line.

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  12. Hi DL!

    I loved all your BLAMs!

    And yes I did happen to know that wild little tid-bit about Ian Fleming! It wasn't too long ago, though, and I was totally blown away by it!

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  13. I love the idea of a "hair trigger" in reference to a query letter--brilliant!

    And I had NO IDEA Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang--that just seems weird! :-)

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  14. I think that's exactly why you can't stress too much about the hair trigger - because who knows what's going to set it off?

    That's cool you were at Matt's (sorry I missed it, but I'm not help at all on query letters). One of my writing goals is to have him critique a query for me. :)

    Okay, off to WRiTE Club extra late this week.

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  15. CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG WE LOVE YOU!

    Query letters are the PITS. I'm getting super close to starting mine and I DREAD it. I'm going to a conference this summer and I'm going to soak up EVERYTHING like a sponge!
    Your query will hit the right person for you at the right time, fear not!!

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  16. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang??? Wow - that's cool trivia! :)

    Querying is so hard and it is such a subjective business. Those BLAMs go off with frightening regularity! :)

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  17. It is overwhelming! You are doing it all right though...it will happen. Perseverance!

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  18. Hope all is well. I've nominated you. :) http://www.aprilplummer.com/2012/01/if-this-doesnt-scare-you-off-nothing.html

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  19. Bullet proof vest?

    Keep in mind, it works the other way also. Just the right word/premise/idea. Some little joke. The voice/era/conflict. Any one of the above might also strike someone in a positive manner and BLAM they request the full MS.

    All you have to do is read some of the 'stuff' out there to know it has got to be true.

    Work hard, make it the very best it can be and then add lots of positive thinking. Oh, and never, never, never, give up. OK, maybe rework a little bit, if necessary.

    No idea that Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

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  20. I did not know that about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Wow.

    I agree that many query mistakes easily spell "Reject!" right away, but I also know of people who've written gloriously non-conformist query letters and gotten requests. Sometimes, even the rules don't work!

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  21. I didn't know that about Ian Flemming!

    How did I manage to miss your query last week????

    If it makes you feel better, my CP and then one of my beta readers wrote my query. Mine sucked. Theirs landed me requests (not that I tried querying with my old one).

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  22. So true! I've heard those gun shots in my head and at times fear of that noise kept me from sending. Isn't it funny that in such a internet-based society, we still need the personal connection?

    P.S. WHAT?? I did NOT know that!

    P.S.S. About the boots, I warned you that I love them. Ha.

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  23. I think many of these mistakes are forgivable (or should be!). I know if I were an agent, I wouldn't reject a potentially GREAT book just because of a few errors or tiny oversight. Don't focus on perfection - polish the letter and MS as best you can and believe in yourself. The agent who rejects you for a small mistake is not the agent you want anyway!

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  24. Good luck on your query, DL. I didn't get a chance to check it out, but I'll see if it's still up.
    Also, just an FYI, always send sample pages ...like the first 5 pages with your query even if they don't ask for it... just include it below, that way if they don't care for the query but read a page and the writing or story strikes them, they'll request more. It happens ALL the time!

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