Friday, August 24, 2012

So You Want to Get Book Pregnant

by Sophie Perinot

If you want to get book pregnant—there is no delicate way to put this—you have to DO IT.  You know . . . query agents (what did you think I meant?).

Not a romantic task, granted.  Query letter composition is unlikely to leave one creatively satiated in the way that writing an 80,000 word novel will.  To torture the sexual innuendo a little further—writing a query is a highly technical and clinical business, like the type of fertility-driven sex that has people taking their temperatures, or leaving specimens in cups.
It’s enough to put a would-be-pregnant author out of the writing mood.

As a result, many writers bog down at the query letter composition stage.  I know someone who has been thinking about querying and working on a query letter for more than a year.  I am NOT making that up.  Yes a query letter is a vital sales document and a badly written one may leave you without the requests for partials and fulls that are necessary preludes to a positive pregnancy test.  And yes writing a good query is not easy (if it were there wouldn’t be hundreds if not thousands of articles and blog posts offering advice on how to compose one). BUT should it really take months and drafts in the double-digits?
No.  To be a little more adamant, NO, NO, NO.

Do NOT let writing your query becomes a Sisyphean struggle (you remember, the guy who had to push the big rock up the hill over and over), because a perfect query letter is NOT an end in itself.  It’s a tool. And tools need to be USED to get a job done.  At some point the incremental improvements you are making as you revise your letter for the umpteenth time are NOT worth the time or the agony. More than this, an over-edited letter can lose voice.
Picking through the query critique forum at Agent Query Connect (my favorite on-line community for the aspiring writer) it’s pretty easy to find threads with ten, twenty, even thirty versions of a single query.  Such treads make me want to scream “GET ON WITH IT! SEND THE DARN THING.” But that kind of verbiage in a critique threads would hardly be appropriate.

So I am saying it here. Just DO it. Stop painting the nursery and query.
I am not saying send your first draft. I am not saying don’t seek critique. I am saying all things in moderation. How many drafts of my letter did I do—maybe four. How many people did I show it to before it went out? Five (and two of them weren’t even writers). Did it work? More than uncommonly well (I had a very high request rate, snagged an agent I adore and now have a published novel). Could my letter have been better? Sure. But if I were still working on polishing it, then my book baby wouldn’t be nearly six months old!


  1. I was horribly, horribly slow at querying, and you're right: less agony, more action. Best tip a published author gave me: For every rejection you receive, send out another query. You have to keep the cycle going.

  2. SO glad I'm out of query hell. But that's where we met, so it wasn't all bad. LOL Loved the post!

  3. Query hell? Well yeah. I loathed that part of the process, but it is the step you have to take. I found my agent through the slush pile

    1. I spent nearly two years in query hell, Priscille. LOL

  4. This perfectly sums up my feelings about writing my query letter for Sacred Fire, especially the "Sisyphean struggle" metaphor. I'm sure I've hit the double digits in drafts by now! After getting burnt multiple times, it's easy to lose faith in something as simple as a 200-word letter.

    At least I know that when I finally get it right and snag an agent, I don't have to write queries anymore!