Chapter Two… The Query
This book is a travelogue through the steps it takes in 2022 to become a traditionally published fiction writer. So please read the Introduction and First Chapter before this one. You do that, this chapter will make more sense, as much as this chapter will ever make sense to a sane, thinking person. (Writers are neither sane or thinking at this point in this process.)
So after years of work, you declare your novel masterpiece finished and have a party. So what next?
EVERYONE KNOWS (stupid common knowledge and not true, but we’ll go with the myth here) that you must have an agent to sell your book to a traditional book publisher. So how do you go about getting an agent to take a look at your book?
A Query Letter…
Now, a query letter to an agent is an art form these days to beginning writers. There are entire classes on how to write one, entire Facebook and other groups on how to write one perfectly. And anyone in the “know” will tell you the query letter must be perfect, whatever that means at that moment in time.
A FLASHBACK… Let me back up a moment in time, actually about 30 years in time, and let me tell you what the writer/agent relationship was like in say 1991. Or 1981. Or at any point for a hundred years before 1991.
Most writers in 1960 had not hired an agent. Almost none at all in the pulp era. By 1991, most writers had hired an agent for overseas deals and scut work. That’s right, for a hundred plus years, agents worked for writers. They got writer’s drinks at parties, they did the grunt work with writing some letters, they took 10% on books they were involved with. And when the writer called, they answered the phone and said, “Yes, sir.” Or “Yes, ma’m.” To the writer. If my agent had ever once took three days to get back to me on a phone call, I would have sent flowers because I would have been sure she or one of her family members was sick or had died.
Writers were the bosses, agents were employees. When I hired my one and only agent in my career, she tracked me down in a bar at a convention and pitched herself and her agency to me. And basically I did a job interview with her.
She never once sold a book for me or even submitted one. Not one. Ever. (I never asked her to. I sold 106 books to traditional publishers on my own.) As any good employee, she did the scut work and she answered the phone when I called. I told her what to do and what not to do, and through me over the 17 years she made well north of a half million. (Average about $30,000 per year for working for one writer.)
So somewhere around the turn of this century, agents started to think writers worked for them and over ten years this morphed into a full-scale thing. I was away from my agent about the point this started getting really bad.
So now, today, a young writer must prove themselves to an agent.
(Oh, one more point… Agents do not need testing or credentials to become an agent. They need to know how to print up business cards. (Wait, this is 2022 so it would be a web site.) Nothing more. Even a freshly minted Vassar grad in English can print up a business card or do a web site (usually with help).
Agents think writers work for them now. So a writer must write a perfect query letter so the agent can decide from a query letter if they want to spend their precious little time on the writer. 999 out of every thousand query letters are just bounced, mostly for not following some stupid direction.
That means that 999 out of every thousand masterpieces that took years to write are just sitting on a hard drive. Most new writers, right at this point, can’t handle the rejection of the baby (even though the agent never saw it) and go do something else, some even tossing out the novel.
The dreams that are shattered by this stupidity is just stunning and very, very sad.
Next chapter… Heaven forbid you are one of the one-out-of-a-thousand that the agent says, “Sure, send me a first chapter, or a partial, or the entire manuscript.”
At that point, things really do get worse.