Setting Sail for the Mystical Land of Literary Agentville

Posted by ches@writes4attention.com In: Writing No comments

I’m finally at the point where I’m ready to query agents. I was resigned to self-publish, traditional publishing seems like years of agonizing torture, but the truth is, I’ll regret it if I don’t try. I’m a realist. I know my chances are slim, but at least I’ll know one way or the other. I’m not even interested in money or fame, I’m playing for pride here. I’ve always had an unhealthy need for validation. If I die in a hail of bullets at the local Barnes and Noble, I’m okay with that, as long as the last thing I see is my name on the cover of a book on the shelves of their new release section. Is that too much to ask?

If you told me ten years ago that I would go on to write a couple of novels and would be querying agents in an effort to get published, you would have been met with a stare as dead as any you see from the fish on ice at the supermarket. Now here I am, writing a blog post to avoid writing that very query.

The whole concept of having an agent scares me for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Perhaps it’s that I can’t help but envision Bebe from the TV show Frasier:

I’m not sure where to begin a query even though I’ve read a great deal about it. Composing one for my novel is strangely intimidating.  There’s so much at stake, I don’t want to get it wrong. Plus, I have terrible self-esteem so selling myself seems unnatural. It’s like an army field medic in a pinch trying to convince someone he’s qualified to do brain surgery with any and all tools available, namely, some tweezers and a pipe wrench.

Is it a hopeless cause? Will agents even read my query?

I have no reason to think they won’t, yet I can’t shake the image of a woman, bags under her bloodshot eyes, staring at an inbox with over 300,000 hopeful queries. She stares blankly at the screen, dreaming about her upcoming vacation to Tahiti, finger hovering over the delete key.

Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Wait…. this looks promisi… Oh, Nevermind. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete.

And just like that, poof, all my hopes and dreams crushed by one shaky, coffee infused index finger.

How do I even begin to capture this poor person’s attention? Should I write in all caps? Pepper it with exclamation points? Should I include a picture of a kitten to melt her heart? What if I do include a picture of a kitten and she’s not a cat person? What if she has a cat allergy so severe that if she even looks at a cat her head will swell up like a puffer fish, block her airway, and suffocate her to death? Who knew a picture of a kitten could be taken as a death threat?

It’s a mine field, that’s for sure.

Maybe the key is to stop trying to figure out how to do this the right way. If memory serves, I learn by doing things the wrong way first. For example, yes, the tip of my tongue can fit in an electrical socket, but no, it’s nothing like a first kiss. When they say a first kiss is electric, they mean something completely different. Oh, and I learned not to swallow all the coins in the piggy bank when I found myself squatting in the bathroom, mom kneeling behind me with a colander, waiting like some desperate gambler who just hit the jackpot in Vegas. Maybe the best way to write a great query letter is to write a bad one first. One like this, perhaps:

TO THE LUCKIEST AGENT IN THE WORLD,

SHAKESPEARE? HEMINGWAY? TOLSTOY? MORONS! MY BOOK, “YOU ARE ALL SPECTACULARLY STUPID,” PUTS THEM ALL TO SHAME. AT JUST OVER 1,000,000 WORDS, IT IS AN EPIC TALE THAT, UPON PUBLICATION, SHOULD OUTSELL THE BIBLE IN 3-4 YEARS.

I WON’T EVEN BOTHER TO TELL YOU WHAT IT’S ABOUT BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO RUIN THE SURPRISE. NEEDLESS TO SAY, WITHIN ITS PAGES, YOU WILL DISCOVER THAT I AM THE GREATEST LITERARY GENIUS OF THIS, OR ANY OTHER, GENERATION AND THAT YOU ARE A DROOLING SIMPLETON IN COMPARISON. I MEAN NO OFFENSE, IT’S A SIMPLE FACT, AND WHEN YOU READ MY MANUSCRIPT, YOU’LL UNDERSTAND WHY.

ENCLOSED IN THE ACCOMPANYING FOOTLOCKER, YOU WILL FIND MY MANUSCRIPT, SIX BOXES OF TISSUES, A FEW PAPER BAGS IN CASE YOU HYPERVENTILATE WITH EXCITEMENT, AND A T-SHIRT WITH MY PICTURE ON IT THAT YOU CAN WEAR AROUND THE OFFICE.

YOU’RE WELCOME,
THE AUTHOR WHO WILL DEFINE YOUR CAREER

P.S. –  I WILL EXPECT REIMBURSEMENT FOR THE SHIPPING COSTS.

There. Now as long as I aim to do better than that, how can I go wrong?

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