Yesterday I sent out my first query letter. For those who have been in a similar position, you will no doubt hear that this will be the first of many … failures. There is an endless supply of diatribes designed to put the fear of whatever deity suits into the budding author trying to get their work published.
Looking at my query letter in my outbox drafts felt like I was under the crushing weight of a thousand boulders. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, a query letter is a short, one-page letter sent to a literary agent to convince them to represent you and your book to publishers. As an author, you have exactly that one page to convince the agent that they should not fall asleep, should not switch over to Facebook or Twitter, and should not hit delete. Further, after that page, you also need to be so compelling that the agent craves more, that they feel a need to read the first few pages of your book. Sometimes agents will request a synopsis with your query letter, which has the unfortunate side effect of requiring you to have finished your book before querying.
In business, politics, and just about every other industry, it is well known that you only get one chance at a first impression. When you look at a query letter, however, that one chance is magnified. It is a singular choke point through which years of your excruciating work are funneled. In my case, this story has been in my head for over a decade and I have been actively writing it for the past two years, with the previous year spent working on a version of this story I eventually scrapped.
So, as I sat there reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading my query letter and my synopsis, the only thing I could think of was that one out of place word, one typo, one poorly placed semicolon could mean the difference between three years of work paying off and three years of work being wasted. In case you hadn’t noticed, authors are prone to exaggeration and drama – that is, after all, what we do.
I tried, I really did. I tried to hit send, over and over again my fingers hovered over my mouse, ready to send off the query letter. I couldn’t bring myself to do it at first. The pressure and the consequences of doing a poor job of querying were overwhelming.
Eventually, my hesitation made everyone around me frustrated. I’m pretty sure at one point there was a conspiracy to throw a dog treat onto my keyboard so the puppy would be forced to trample the enter key and send my query. After much sweat, stressing, and gut-wrenching indecision I finally hit the send button.
Now, the fate of my book is in the hands of an agent who gets dozens of these agony-soaked query letters per day, becoming another choke point for not three years but collective decades of work by dozens of authors. There’s nothing I can do now but prepare myself to go through this same process over and over again.
I suppose it’s some small consolation knowing that the fact that I actually want to do this again and put myself through the same torture again means I’m doing what I’m meant to do: writing.