I don’t normally blog about agents, editors, and querying, but it’s the end of the year and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Janet Reid recently urged writers to clean up their web presence, fix broken links on their sites, polish their bios, and various other things to present a professional image. Learn how to promote yourself and your work.
For me, I wish I could ask my friends and readers to join me for a sunset alert. At home in Texas, Will used to run in the house from time to time and yell, “Sunset alert!” I’d drop whatever I was doing and we’d go sit on the top rail of the arena fence to watch a particularly beautiful Texas sunset. Invariably, one or more of the horses would meander over to put their head in our laps to pet. Perfection. Dawn, sunset, and the gloaming are magical times. Would that I could share the magic with you, my readers, and my friends, and renew our hearts.
You thought I lost my place, didn’t you?
Though I seldom discuss agents, I decided to break my rule and discuss one today. Janet Reid. For those of you who don’t know her, she’s had some long running blogs about query letters and how to improve them. Query Shark is the current iteration. There are thousands of query letters in the archives. If someone wants to study how query letters are made, that’s the place to go.
What is unique is, she posts the first query letter in all its glory or shame and then points out what does and doesn’t work. Most people try again and she generously gives more advice. This process is like target practice until the querier finally hits the bullseye and Janet pronounces them good to go and wishes them much success and wheelbarrows full of moolah.
I’ve studied other sites that show successful query letters and honestly, they mostly confuse me. Many of the letters break all the rules, the writers do things the agents complain to the mountains about, but we never hear why they worked.
Janet deconstructs the letters so we see firsthand the sausage making of the query letter writing process. We know why something works and why some rules can be broken.
In addition to the Query Shark archives, there is an ongoing blog about this business of writing. Often, it includes flash fiction contests for readers to play with. Writing flash fiction is a tremendous exercise for the writing muscles.
I make a point not to talk about rejections much. It’s bad form and it’s not something you want to dwell on. World champion bullrider Gary Leffew was getting absolutely cow killed until he latched on to the principles of positive thinking. He tells up and coming riders to stop posting pictures of terrible wrecks. They are reinforcing in their minds the bad things. Instead, only post pictures of successful rides where they are in good form.
So should we do in writing. Focus on the successes.
A long time ago, in a lifetime far away…
I queried Janet with my epic fantasy. Yes, yes, we all know she doesn’t do fantasy, but she liked me and I liked her and she liked my writing. What did I have to lose?
She had minion Meredith Barnes read it and sent back some very helpful suggestions for a revise and resend. I just reread Meredith’s notes and still marvel at her complete grasp of the story and what it needed.
Revise and resend.
It’s closer. This time minion Suzie Townsend read it. Suzie, bless her, said the original problems were better and she liked the battle scene, but thought it would be better if I started with the scene where the dead uncle arrives. Thus did the new, and perfect (I hope) opening, happen.
They say bad news rides a fast horse.
No one said anything about it riding a dead one, and the black destrier my uncle now rode toward me had died two years ago.
Even though the copse of trees shielded me, he crossed the pasture as if he knew exactly where I stood. My mind ticked down a list of things I had eaten that might cause hallucinations. There wasn’t a mushroom in the bunch.
Beside me, a ewe stared at the approaching apparition, nervously flicking her ears. Then she bunted my leg, reminding me of the lamb still tangled in the witchberry vines. I knelt back down and finished cutting him loose. The lamb latched onto his mother’s swollen udder, but she remained fixed on the rider. As did I.
As he neared, she stamped in apprehension and then bounded away with her youngster. I wanted to follow. My mind screamed at me to run, but my feet were as firmly rooted as the tangle of vines. He reined to a stop in front of me and dismounted, plunging the area into a deep, winter chill. Just below his pallid face, his throat had been sliced clean as a butcher’s cut.
In between all this, there was the meeting at Surrey where Janet and I hugged and talked a lot. Then the meeting at the Denver Rocky Mountain conference where we hugged and talked more and she ganged up with my writer friends to throw me a surprise birthday party. I wept like a baby. It was the first birthday party I ever had. I am tearing up now.
Revise and resend.
Janet made notes about how to restructure sentences to make them cleaner and cut words.
On the final revise and resend, she said it was much tighter and cleaner, but in the end she just wasn’t the agent for epic fantasy.
This was not surprising. We both knew going in fantasy wasn’t her thing. When an agent says, “What the hell is a mage?” it doesn’t bode well for fantasy.
Regardless, my writing is better. I will always be thankful for that. I will be eternally grateful for the friendship and advice wherever our paths take us.
To those of you who do write what she reps, Janet is truly one of the great ones and not to be overlooked. To anyone who writes, follow her blog and her advice. She is a true advocate for writers and readers. You will not regret becoming one of her devoted Reiders.
Couldn’t agree more about how helpful Janet is to writers. Any writer wanting to get published should pop over to Janet’s blog and absorb everything she has to offer.
And I always get a kick out of what you post, Julie, both here and on the comments on Janet’s blog. You’re a great writer and I enjoy your work. Happy New Year.
Most agents really are spectacular people. Janet definitely is one of the best.
Jed, you are so sweet. Thank you. Happy New year, my friend.
Nice article, Julie! Don’t we all dream of someone who can help us get past good to great? A lot of effort went into helping you improve for submission to someone else. That’s a sign of greatness, but then I’m a confirmed Reider!
Yes, Janet really is a wonderful person and agent.
Your writing ALWAYS gives me waves of emotion. Not much writing does that to me and I’ve only read nutshells. I look forward to reading an entire book. I love the scene from Far Rider.
I’ve never met Janet in person. I’d been following her blog for years when I found the courage to email her with a question over. She answered kindly and generously.
Since then I’ve asked a few more.
Angie, thank you so much. Most agents really are pretty remarkable people. Janet is unfailingly kind and generous.