Sunday, May 16, 2010

When (and how) to ask for help.

As most of you know, I'm in the midst of querying for my completed novel, The Devil You Don't Know.

It's not pretty.

In fact, querying reminds me a little of gym class back I was a freshman in high school. I dreaded going to my 3rd hour class that year, because I knew what was going to happen before I ever got there. My stepfather was a police officer, so I had a target on my back. I remember thinking that I might as well just shove my own head into the locker room garbage can and save the seniors the trouble.

In other words, it seemed pointless and fruitless -- and I knew how it was going to go before I even got there -- but I kept going because, well, because I had to. Querying is like that for me. I'll bet it is for most of you, too.

I sent one query Thursday to an agent who reps my genre and whose web site said is actively looking for new writers. Swell, I thought, and sent that baby off. She also requested the first 50 pages of the manuscript along with the query, which thrilled me to no end. So I copied and pasted and sent it off.

Four minutes later, I received a form rejection. Four freaking minutes! Either my query flat out sucks, or that woman is the world's fastest reader.


Like many of us, I suffer from crippling self-doubt. Big-time, serious self-doubt. Tell me my novel is really good and I guarantee you I will think you are lying to me. I don't know why I'm this way, I just am. And I deal with it. But it makes it hard to work in a business like publishing in the year 2010, when rejection isn't just a possibility but a fricking lifestyle.

I talked to one of the final three beta readers who are going through TDYDK today and he seems to genuinely like it. That should make me feel better. But I got my seventh form rejection from a prospective agent at 6:30 this morning. Do these people not sleep? Do agents really get up that early, just to ruin my day? Good Lord. (Okay, I'm kind of kidding here. It didn't ruin my day. I mean, come on. The Cubs finally won. Nothing could ruin my day).

Asking for help from anyone is very, very difficult for me. In fact, it's damned near impossible. See, I'm the one who is always helping other people. I was a professional journalist for a long, long time. An editor. A mentor to dozens of journalism interns and young reporters. I shouldn't need help. See?

Bullshit. I need help. I need help on this query letter, because I don't think it's getting the job done. I also need help on the first 50 pages of my manuscript. Oh, and the ending. It sucks too.

I need help.

There, I said it. Now, of course, I have no idea how to actually get some help. I've put the query up on numerous online sites and have paid very close attention to the valid criticisms. I've made changes accordingly. But the fact is, agents are reading my query and rejecting me -- sometimes in record time. Something needs to be done before I run out of agents to query.

So I'm asking you, dear readers: How do I get help with this? Shall I post the query again and see if we can somehow figure out what its problem is? Whatever it takes, I'll do it. I'm that desperate. Seriously.

And while I'm not ready to dump TDYDK yet, I am beginning to suspect that it may end up being a fairly decent first attempt. The latest beta did say he felt my writing becomes more sophisticated as the book moves along. I suspect that's due to the fact that I honestly didn't know what I was doing when I started it back in February 2007.

In fact, I suspect I love the new WIP so much because I know what I'm doing now. I think it flows better, is more professional. Is more publishable.

But see, I have this huge MS just sitting here, finished, so I will try to keep selling it. I will continue to query and will make whatever adjustments I can until I am convinced that it's a non-starter. Then, I will park it on the hard drive and sell it once I become a famous best-selling author. (Heh heh.)

I've also signed up for an Editors Intensive workshop by Writer's Digest at their Cincinnati headquarters in September. The workshop's purpose is to get the first 50 pages of your MS in shape. Also, I get a 30-minute one-on-one meeting with a professional editor who is supposed to work with me on those crucial first 50 pages. God knows, I need it.

Problem is, I don't know which book to bring. The completed one that might not ever sell? Or the new one that represents my best efforts so far? I hope I'll have a better read on that come September.

I'm also interested in some kind of online writing crit group. I read about people being in crit groups all the time, either online or in real life. Since I live in Peoria, Illinois, and I don't know one other fiction writer in the area, doing it in real life is a problem. So does anyone know how to get into an online critique group?

I'm listening. I love writing, and want to continue doing it as long as I can. So I'm all ears.

UPDATES: I have reached 20,000 words on the new political thriller (I really need to come up with a name for the damned thing). It's coming along very nicely so far. In fact, it's such fun to write I almost feel like I'm doing something wrong. Surely it can't be this enjoyable, can it?

Also, a reader asked me how the situation with the grouchy old lady at the gym turned out. Well. Ahem. I, uh, changed my schedule. So the situation is now, um, resolved.


  1. Listen to your gut, Terry. And do what it suggests. Our instincts are normally right.

    As for your query letter, there maybe nothing wrong with it at all. It just hasn't fallen into the hands of the right agent yet.

    If I could help I would, however, you and I are in the same boat. Saying that, let me know if you want another pair of eyes to look it over?

  2. Why don't you do like Mary did . . . post your query here and let your blog friends give you their thoughts.

    In order for you to get a rejection four minutes after you sent it, I'm thinking there was something else at play there. I just can't believe that the agent was sitting there waiting for a new query to come in and she got it, read it & hit the reject button in four minutes. What really sucks is that you'll never know that and assume that it's you.

    Querying sucks! And I know what you mean. I've decided to work on fixing my first chapter. It's the ONLY stinking chapter in the book that I'm not 100% comfortable with. Of course, it's also the one all agents are going to see first. *sigh*

  3. I'm about the embark on the great rejection quest myself. Again. It's daunting, and like you, I already know I'll be rejected. Like buying a lotto ticket once in a while though, you'll never win if you don't keep trying.

    I have a couple sites to suggest, though you've probably already been through them. I don't know how to post links in comments, but I'll copy the URLs.

    The Public Query Slush Pile is a great place to get awesome, constructive feedback on a query.

    Agent Janet Reid runs The Query Shark. If she chooses to critique your query she posts it online. She has a reputation for ripping apart a query, but you know, she is an agent, and its good to get an insight into how an agent thinks.

    critXchange is a great place to ask for readers for your query, synopsis, first 50 pages, or even the entire novel. Anything you want read. I got a few beta's to read my novel from there, and the feedback was very useful. I know several other writers who have liked the results.

    I'm just starting to beta read a novel, but would be willing to critique fifty pages. Sounds like my kind of book to read. I don't usually offer unless I've been blogging with someone for a while and get to know their style, and they know mine. I'm pretty blunt; don't always know how to comment in a completely positive way. So far, I haven't offended anyone. My e-mail is on my profile you want to contact me.

    And Wendy and Tracy are right; its not always about you as a writer, but just as often about the Agent. Four minutes seems to me like an auto reject, something maybe the Agent doesn't even know is occuring. Or the query could have had something that looked like spam in the title, and instead of going into a spam folder, it was just kicked back as a reject.

    Personally, I'd take the completed novel to the work shop. Whatever you take away from the experience will help with both writings however.

    Good luck with your many decisions.


  4. Oh, I'm looking at your favorite places on your side bar and see you already have those resources.

    See, I really should check out a site before posting a comment. I think its past my bedtime.


  5. Oh MY goodness gracious!

    I have a link that I'll e-mail you. It's an agent website that I check daily. It's got some good advice, I think. About once a week they post a query letter that was accepted and then feedback from the agent as to why they liked and accepted it. It might help. You may already know about the website, but I find it helpful.

    I'll send it tomorrow because I already deleted them from my inbox for the day. I'll have a new one tomorrow and will send the link.

    I think about an ending for you daily, but lately little scenes for my WIP keep popping into my head, FINALLY! So I've been typing away. We'll figure it out. Just keep doing what you're enjoying there and it will all fall into place.

    You pal

  6. The best place I know of to get help with a persnickety query letter is Query Letter Hell at Absolute Write.

    You have to be a member, because QLH is in their "Share Your Work" section, which is password protected to guard against googlebots, but it's absolutely worth your time.

    The squirrels (yes squirrels, they are terrifying and carry query torching bazookas) are ruthless, but they can perform surgical reconstruction on the best of the worst. (They don't rewrite the query for you, but they do point out what doesn't work and why.)

    Grab yourself a flame retardant flak jacket and jump in. :-P

  7. "I suffer from crippling self-doubt. Big-time, serious self-doubt. Tell me my novel is really good and I guarantee you I will think you are lying to me."

    OMG. Me too. I am The Worst.

    I really wish I had some suggestions for you as far as query letters are concerned, but I don't have a clue how to go about that just yet.

    Hopefully you will get a response from someone that doesn't reply in 4 minuets with BAD news!

    PS: The only thing that helps me get through my writing process at all, is having a writing buddy, and one that isn't afraid to be direct and constructive with criticism.

  8. This is why I like to self-publish my stuff. I really hate agents (the one's I've met are complete and utter morons who wouldn't know an original idea if it bit them in the ass) and would rather do my own thing and have complete control over it. It makes the odds of becoming a famous and/or rich author/writer really stacked against you, but I don't care. I'm a control freak when it comes to my writing and projects and would rather not make a dime off of them rather than compromise my stuff. Agents and publishing houses hate the fact that self-publishing is so easy these days, if everybody self-published they'd be out of a job. This is just me and I'm not putting down anybody for trying to get a deal or hook an agent, just be aware there are other avenues when it comes to writing.

  9. Four minutes for rejection is insane. I don't blame you for being put-off by that.

  10. "So does anyone know how to get into an online critique group?"

    Agents Colleen Lindsay and Jennifer Jackson recommend the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (...I'm guessing TDYDK falls under fantasy). Colleen Lindsay also says to mention your membership in your query letter. Some famous writers have come out of it, like Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files.

    The first four weeks are free, then it costs $49 a year. It's password protected and you can take your work down at any time. The site has a mix of professional and amateur writers.

    Try the four free weeks and see what you think. Post something, scroll through the submissions, find a good writer, review their work, and they will crit your work in return.

    -- Holly

  11. If you think it's your query letter, could post it for us to see. It could be just that the market isn't good for your genre. I wish I knew as I'm still having the same issues. Maybe if you change your main character to a teen and call it YA. ;-) It seems that's all that's getting interest by agents.