Tag Archives: query

Red Planet: Access Denied.

I’ve been leaving out the names of agents and agencies for the most part as I track the query process largely because I wouldn’t want any particular agents to feel bad or attacked for saying no. I do include this blog in my query (that relentless ‘About Me’ paragraph) so I don’t want them to be over concerned about how their response might look.

Anyway, that being said, I think I got the saddest ‘no’ this past weekend.

I hadn’t even realized it existed, but Barbara Bova founded a literary agency that continues on after her passing in 2009. Her husband, Ben Bova, is the President. If you aren’t or weren’t a science fiction fan growing up, you might have missed the amazing talent of Ben Bova. His book MARS, published in 1992, was once of my first realistic science fiction loves. I had that book for as long as I’d had anything.

Sure, they still said no. In fact, they said:

“Unfortunately, your query does not meet our particular need at this time, but thank you for giving us the chance to review your work. Good luck in future.”

It doesn’t hurt my feelings or anything. In fact, I almost feel like I touched a little bit of awesome just having my MS pass through their hands.

It did get me thinking a bit about how personal to get in query letters. I didn’t include anything about how much I loved MARS and I didn’t mention that the book used to sit on my nightstand, anchoring a table lamp with a wobbly base and therefore being the last thing I saw at night for several years. I don’t really think any of that is appropriate in a query because it has nothing to do with the manuscript. That said, I sometimes feel like I could really hook an agent after I’ve read their profile on an agency website. You found THE SILMARILLION to be an enormous and purposefully convoluted time-sink? Omigosh, me too! We should have tea.

I don’t know. Maybe there’s a delicate balance. I haven’t been looking at queries as an opportunity to sell me. I’ve been trying to sell my manuscript. Perhaps it’s high time I gave both a shared space in my query letters. Until then, does anyone else remember having these around? Such a fine line between fantasy and awkward pre-teen spankbank material:

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Posted by on July 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Weekend Query Crash

Well, I was out at the park enjoying a sweltering Pride Festival when my phone did the musical little boopboopbeep thing it does for incoming email. I probably should have made my way to the booze vendor before checking it, but I have that smart phone OCD that disallows notification icons spending any time on the home screen. Maybe, just maybe, had I waited to get that weird little bucket of innocuously named, red-tinted booze into my hands first, the email would have read differently than this:

 “Thanks so much for letting me take a look at THE COALSLIDES. While I found the concept appealing, I’m afraid I just didn’t connect with the voice as I’d have liked to, and so I’m not the right fit for it. I do appreciate you thinking of me and wish you the very best luck finding the ideal agent to represent you and your work.”

So there’s another query crushed to death. I still have a pretty long list of potential agents to work my way through, so I’m not going to spiral down into some blubbering depression yet, but it’s always a little sad to see your baby punched in the face.

The upside: This agent was honest. If an agent can’t connect with the manuscript then they won’t do the best job selling it to a publisher.

The downside: If the ‘voice’ is the biggest problem my manuscript has, then it has an enormous problem. This is one of those things that are difficult to determine on your own because you read it in the same voice you wrote it in – your voice. If that voice isn’t connecting to a reader, then the problem is much more difficult to fix than grammar, spelling, inconsistent tense, character development, or any of the myriad other reasons an agent may hate what you write.
Personally, I will choose to believe that though this agent did not connect to the voice, another will. Maybe the one that this next query is going out to.

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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


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For Summer Solstice, I Will Query More

One of the original queries I sent has now reached 5 weeks with no response beyond the initial auto-generated confirmation that the email was received. From this particular agency’s website:

“How long will it take…
To answer your query letter, up to four weeks. To read your sample chapters and outline, about the same. To read your whole manuscript, overnight to a few months. (If we request it, please check with us.)”

Delicious query looks delicious.

I largely let the fifth week slip in because I’ve been spending more and more time flooding the city with resumes and cover letters. Either way, it seems it is time to send out a new query and consider that one expired, bloated, and drifting down the Mississippi to feed carrion birds and catfish.

The last of the original queries is still floating around out there. It never received an automated email to let me know it was received, the agency’s website is under construction (though somewhat navigable), and they do not list an expected turnaround on queries. Even so, it’s a big agency with a lot of popular talent, so I will probably let it sit for another couple of weeks at least before I count it among the dead.

I still have more than a month until I can expect to hear back from the agent that has the entire manuscript, so there isn’t much to do in that direction. In the meantime, I’m reworking my fantasy novel, Blood of a Godkiller, to pick up the pace, deepen some characters, and really smooth it out overall. After completing The Coalslides, I was better able to see some of the shortcomings my first completed manuscript was facing. Luckily, it had a general sort of success in drawing interest when I was sending queries out for it, so I’m confident that sorting out the ms itself will do wonders for its viability.

So, that’s that. I’m off to find a new agent to replace the one that I haven’t heard back from.

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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Third Response: A Nibble

So, my third query return today was from the most recent I sent. That means that two of the original three are still out in limbo awaiting a response. Even so, this little nibble is step one! Certainly there is no guarantee that this particular agent will take on the manuscript, but she is a lot closer to it since she’ll be reading the whole thing.

After I gave myself a little pat on the back and sent the entire MS on, I received a reply that was pretty much as I imagined it would be: “Thanks. My response time is woeful right now (about two months) so I appreciate your patience.” Chances are that the agent has teetering stacks of manuscripts waiting a good thorough read. Last in gets shuffled to the bottom, so I’m looking at a good long wait without word. Or, possibly, this agent shares a single eye with two other agents and they have a tendency to fight over who gets it for reading time.

Should another agent contact me to look at the manuscript, I will give myself the same gentle back pat and add another chunk of waiting time to my calendar. The only possible problem arises if two or more agents, after having read the whole MS, decide they would like to represent me. This is a problem I would take on with as much glee as I could without looking like an absolute ass. For now, I’ll keep on as I have been and send another query in place of this response so that I’ll maintain three active queries.


Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Second Response: Quick and Painless

Well, that was probably just about as fast as I imagine a query can die. It took less time for this agent to turn me down than it did for me to research their particular interests and preferences. Even so, this just means I’m on to the next one.

(15 minutes from query sent to query killed)


Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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First Response: DOA

So, I had absolutely no expectations that my first query response would be the one that sold the book. I might have hoped for a request for more chapters, but I’m a realist. If anything, I think this is the nicest and most convincingly non-form letter response that I’ve seen. Not that this means it wasn’t a form letter response. It just reads rather nicely so I’m choosing to believe it wasn’t.

When I was sending out queries for my fantasy manuscript, I received a similar response in that the story just didn’t fit the agent’s wishlist. This particular agent does list both YA and Steampunk as areas of interest, but may not have an interest in YA Steampunk. Or may prefer Offworld Steampunk, or older age-group YA, or non-American Steampunk. The genre lends itself to a lot of different areas, so who knows. Not every fish likes the same sort of worm, you know?

Of course, there is always the chance that this response is a blow off and that the content of the sample is what failed to interest the agent. If you want to keep your sanity, however, it is best to not read more into the response than is truly there. Agents can (and should) be brutally honest about quality. There is no point in sparing my feelings if the writing is bad, so I can only assume that they would say exactly that.

Anyway, I have a list with another agent at the top, so I will be sending out another query today – keeping my total to three in the wind at a time.


Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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It’s Only Been a Week

Or 8 days. Whatever.

I honestly don’t expect to hear back from any of the agents I queried for at least another week. I am neither tense nor anxious about it. In fact, I have found a few more great leads on potential agents, so I can count disinterested parties as simply opening up room to send out another query. This is truly my favorite part about the entire process. Granted, it is the furthest I’ve gotten in the process, but even so I do enjoy it best. Things are out of my hands and beyond my control and I can do something else for a moment.

Speaking of which:

I’m leaving for Louisville next weekend to attend Wonderfest. This is my first convention/expo/nerdpalooza of any sort and I’m really quite excited. I’m not a huge fan of roadtrips, but some good friends, good fun, and all-around geekery may be just what I need to reset myself. The Iron Modeler looks especially fun: Eight 3-person teams are given a “base item” (could be a kit, could be a random item), a big pile of parts, greeblies and assorted castaway household items, and 4 hours to build the best model they can out of what they’ve got.

Then, the weekend after we get home, we’re hosting a Dead Celebrity party which will be amazing and, most likely, terribly embarrassing for most everyone. I love costume parties and I always push the envelope as far as possible. So, yeah, I’m definitely dressing up as David Carradine. At time of death. I’m not spelling it out any more than that.

So until I hear anything from any agents, consider me relaxed and enjoying the weather.

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


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3, 2, 1…Submit.

I just sent off the first three query letters for THE COALSLIDES. It isn’t advisable, I think, to send too many queries out at once because an agent may ask for an exclusive look at your manuscript. If that happens and you agree (you will), then you may be forced to say no to any other agents who reply afterward. My fantasy manuscript sat exclusively with one agent for nearly six months. If I had sent out 25 queries, I could potentially (not likely) have had to turn down 25 requests to see the rest of the manuscript.

The agents I sent my queries to were found at where I was able to search specifically for agents listing Steampunk as a genre of interest. Of the five results, I excluded the magazine and the agency that did not have an entry at Predators & Editors. Three was exactly how many queries I wanted to start with, so I didn’t need to expand my search to all YA or MG agents, or urban fiction, sci fi, or whatever else I thought might apply. The search feature isn’t amazing anyway – there are, in fact, other agents in search of Steampunk that do not turn up under this search.

Two of the agents required a query letter, synopsis (included as part of my query), and the first 5 pages. The third required the first 20 pages. In almost every case for e-queries, you will be asked to copy and paste everything into the body of the email. Nobody wants to open 100 attachments every day and put their computer at risk for countless bugs, viruses, or bogeymen.

Within a minute of submitting each of the queries, an automated response popped up in my email. The first read:

Thank you for querying me! This is an automatic email letting you know I
received your query; I’ll respond as soon as I am able.

If you received this email in error, don’t worry. I regularly check for
emails that my automated service mislabels, so I will respond to your
non-query email shortly.

The second:

Thank you for submitting your work to ******* Agency. We do answer all queries so we appreciate your patience awaiting our reply.

And the third:

Thank you for your email.

If this is a query, consider it received.

There really isn’t much to say about the automated responses that would have any bearing on how things may turn out, but I promised to share the entirety of the experience with you, so there you have it. As things progress, I’ll let you know.


Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Question of a Query

I’ve decided, given the advice of some trusted friends, to go ahead with my Steampunk manuscript, tentatively titled The Coalslides. The query letters will start their migration from my home to agents on Monday. We’ll see if the word count becomes an issue at some point, but I am pointedly choosing to ignore that possibility for now.

Because this is the best and worst part of writing, I’ll do my best to share the experience with you wholesale. I’ll leave out the names of agents or publishing houses, but I’ll share whatever responses I get as they come in. For now, understanding that changes may be required, here is the query letter I will begin with:

Dear [insert agent’s name],

The summer of 1878 beat hot and oppressive on St. Louis and Oscar Tumblety and his friends were looking for adventure. They found it in the The Coalslides, the sprawling undercity deep beneath the city. The Lamplighters and Tunnelflushers , a stolen automaton, a band of dangerous ruffians, and the strange waterworks quickly become an adventure more exciting and perilous than the trio could have imagined. Oscar learns truths about himself and secrets about the post-war state of the nation among the mysteries of the Coalslides.

Oscar recognizes Billy Lemp’s wild streak and utter fearlessness. He sees Constance Scott for her sharp wit and rational mind as well as her strength and speed. What he doesn’t see is his own invaluable contributions to the close-knit group.  The trio sets off to hunt down a Golem stolen from the old Orthodox clerics and discover a plot that threatens to destroy the tenuous peace they’ve found in skulking the city’s alleys and rooftops all summer. To survive and thwart the shadowy men set on upsetting the delicate recovery of United States, Oscar discovers the strengths his friends had always known he possessed.

I’m an unpublished writer seeking an agent to foster my manuscript through the publication process. In an effort to begin building a community with interest in the novel, I have started a blog at and tweet as @tobiaswrites as well. While my background is in Anthropology and Higher Education, I have been an avid Steampunk reader for more than a decade. As an American Steampunk/alternate history tale, I would describe The Coalslides as a YA compliment to Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this story with you. The manuscript is available for your reading and is 43,504 words in its entirety. 


Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Middle Grade, Young Adult, Confused Gen Xer

Yesterday was a big day for me. I completed all the edits on my Untitled Steampunk (yes, I know) and considered it ready to shop to agents. It’s been about a year since I last shopped out my Blood of a Godkiller manuscript to agents and I’m ready to get back to actively trying to sell a book. The elation, the pride, the self-satisfaction. I had a solid, worthy manuscript on hand.

For about 10 minutes.

Some little brain worm burrowed itself into my grey matter within moments of giving myself an internalized huzzah. The completed manuscript is 43,504 words. Prior to really getting involved in writing this story, I reread some of the books I read growing up. I needed a little experiential instruction on the YA format, so I read these familiar stories with a different eye. I looked more closely at character development, pacing, and content. I even looked at word counts. I felt confident. So where had this insatiable brainworm come from and why was it siphoning off this newfound confidence with such gusto?

Careful dissection of the nefarious beast revealed two things. First, is this manuscript intended to be YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade)? Second, does the admittedly sparse word count greatly affect which category this manuscript can be considered for? See, I’m not overly familiar with the MG classification as I had intended this story to fall into YA. Now that I wasn’t so certain, I had to do a little research.

According to Colleen Lindsay at the swivet, my manuscript falls just shy of expectations at the lowest end of YA (45k) and just over the highest end for MG (40k). Okay, that isn’t entirely disconcerting. It is acceptable to have some variation, I’m sure.
Well, then I read at that  YA generally starts around 55k words. Even so, they still classify MG as topping out around 40k, so there must be some shady grey area where anything between the two resides.

Naturally word count is hardly the defining factor in classifying a book. The writer at The Mixed-Up Files and Michelle Schusterman at YA Highway take a closer look at content as the dividing factor. Subject matter, naturally tops the list. The overarching theme in my Untitled Steampunk manuscript is self-discovery which, in both cases, seems to best fit into the MG category. However, being an American Steampunk tale, there are issues of ethnicity, class, and politics that are largely linked to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Someone dies. So, unfortunately, I fear that this particular designation is a bit murky as well.
Romance is quite disparate in MG and YA. In MG it would typically involve hand-holding and maybe a first kiss. In YA it can go so far as intercourse and could potentially deal with such subjects as rape and abandonment. Well, I’m not much for romance as a reader or, really, as a writer. Even so, I did include an unspoken adoration between two of the three protagonists. As it is neither central to the theme nor important to the story, it never progresses beyond furtive glances, lingering touches, and the like. So, does this mean it falls squarely within MG?

Finally, and most easily adjusted to suit my needs, is intended readership. While an 8 year-old would not be put off reading about a 13 year-old, it might be less likely that a 13 year-old would read about an 8 year-old protagonist. At present, my protagonists are 11, 11, and 12. Technically, that would place the book into the MG category. If I (or an agent or publisher) felt more keenly that the book should fall into the YA category, I could probably push the characters into the 13 and 14 range, but not much further. I wrote them to be independent and worldly and they are self-sufficient with little interaction with their parents. If I push the 1878 setting to 1880, I may have to change some of the historically accurate names and realign the timeline in reference to events, but I don’t think the characters would be forced to change much. It had always been my intention to give them more responsibility, freedom, and capability than might be expected of children.

So, yeah. I am somewhat deflated in comparison to my brief joy at having completed edits because it seems more work may need to be done. “More work” could include adding another 30-40k words if I decide the manuscript does not easily fit into the YA category.

I think I’ll go ahead and put together a query letter and let the responses I receive determine how much more work I may need to put into it, if any.


Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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