McStubs Monday Musings

This past weekend I attended a writers conference. It was my first conference ever. The day started out great. I was lucky enough to be able to have a table where I could set up and display my book for the other conference attendees. I was also able to get a professional head shot. (I’ve been wanting/needing to get one done for quite some time).

All the guest speakers were awesome! I learned a lot, especially in the self publishing area.

The session that broke me was the Query Letter Gong Show. Let me explain…an agent and two acquiring editors (all from different publishing houses), read your query letter. They ring the gong when they come across something that would make them stop reading. I submitted my query letter for City of the Gods: The Descendant…that was my first mistake.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m open to constructive criticism, that’s why I submitted my query in the first place. I wanted to know what I could do to make my query the best it could possibly be. I knew when I submitted it that there would be things that needed to be fixed…

The gong was rung on the first line of the query.

Already? This isn’t a good sign… 

There’s a typo… an ‘a’ instead of ‘as’ 

Holy shiznit! Really? An agent will stop reading for that tiny of a mistake? F*** me! I’m screwed. 

Then there was discussion on whether or not to continue on…

At this point, I’m not sure if I’m as prepared as I thought I would be for this session.

The decision is to continue on like the typo didn’t happen. The gong was not rung again… Thank you Lord!, but then, the discussion begins. Oh, no…

The Agents opinion: It’s too factual. It comes off as a history lesson. Since it is an urban fantasy, she wants to see/feel excitement, which she isn’t getting from the description. Also unless you have been with a major publishing company, there’s no need to put prior publishing accomplishments into the letter. (In the letter I stated the book was previously published with a smaller company that had closed and that all rights had reverted back to me). See, I was listening, even though I was horrified that the query was definitely not up to par, and even more horrified that the book for the query being ripped to shreds was, at that very moment, sitting on a display table. How in the H-E-double hockey sticks was my book ever picked up by a publishing company to begin with???

The agent did say the idea for the story was interesting, but the description sounded boring, so the writing was probably boring as well. Again, I’m screwed. I said good bye to any sales I might have made that day. *Blows kisses & waves as dreams fly out the door* You will be missed.

The editors were a bit nicer, but agreed with a lot the agent said.

Here’s the kicker: I submitted 4 different queries. I went through this 4 times. (By the end of the first one, I was ready to kick myself for submitting anything). There were 2 for short stories and one for the sequel to City of the Gods: The Descendant. I thank my lucky stars there wasn’t enough time to go through and shred the query for book 2. I learned my lesson the first go round thank you.

The Query Letter Gong Show has held in a smaller room while another session was being held in the main room. I feel fortunate in the fact that only 20-30 people attended the gong show. If they paid any attention at all to what was said, they knew exactly who I was. Those 20-30 people will probably never buy my book. =(

I went to the conference hoping to learn a lot (which I did), but to also come out motivated and ready to continue writing (which I didn’t). I went home ready to throw in the towel. 

You know what I did instead? I contacted my publisher and told her we need to rework the blurb on the back of my book, because it probably wasn’t hooking a reader the way it should. I talked to my husband and a good friend about it, who both encouraged me to continue writing because the story is a good one.

AND, a reviewer contacted me via Twitter to tell me how much she was enjoying City of the Gods: The Descendant, that it was an intriguing and unique story.

Having my query ripped to shreds may have momentarily knocked me down, but I’m not out. It’s time to put on my big girl panties! I will take what the agent and editors said and use it to my advantage. I will make my writing better.

I also hope my query helped the other writers that were in the room, because that was really the point of the query letter session to begin with. If my example helped someone learn what to do or what not to do then the session was a success.

Want to see the City of the Gods: The Descendant query letter? I’ve posted it in the comments section. 

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19 thoughts on “McStubs Monday Musings

  1. clankids says:

    Dear _______________,

    In 700 A.D. Teotihuacan, Mexico, the High Priest believed himself to be a powerful as the gods. He set a plague on the city as a demonstration of his power. The Gods took pity on the remaining loyal congregation. They granted each survivor immortality and an extraordinary ability. Three loyal survivors were given a mission of great importance: train the lone human descendant of their civilization to stop the evil from damning the rest of humanity.

    Now in San Diego, California, the time has come to finally make Katalina Deckard aware of her destiny. Her life has been a constant struggle since the loss of her parents when she was young. These struggles have made her a fighter, but she doesn’t believe they have prepared her to save the world. Her friends, who have survived for so long, must convince her that she has what it takes to accept the mantle of the Redeemer.

    City of the Gods: The Descendant is the first in a planned trilogy. It is an urban fantasy, complete at 87,000 words. It was picked up by Ruby Lioness Press and released in late May 2012. It was only available for two months before Ruby Lioness closed its doors and pulled the book from retailers. All rights have reverted back to me.

    My pen name is S.J. McMillan. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.mcmillansj.com, or on Facebook or Twitter, also under /mcmillansj. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Sincerely,
    _________________

  2. sarakayjordan says:

    Don’t be discouraged! Writing a query is almost as painful as writing a synopsis. Just use it as a learning experience and go on. And hey, the book is published, so the STORY must be better than the letter. 🙂

  3. lisawellsauthor says:

    It’s hard to put yourself on the line and ask for public feedback. Thank you for being so brave. I sent in my query, but wasn’t there to hear the feedback so I didn’t have to endure what you went through.

    You should take a bow for bravery.

    • clankids says:

      LOL, you’re not the only one who said I was brave for doing so. I lived through it! Yay! The advice was good, I can’t deny that and I intend to use it. How many authors can say they had an agent critique their query? Not many.

  4. How did your book get published? Because Saturday’s criticism was (mostly) one person’s opinion. A well-informed, professional person’s opinion, but still an opinion. A successful agent with thousands of queries to sift through every month might stop reading if the query letter isn’t exciting enough, or even for something as simple as a typo, while a newer agent or acquiring editor with a smaller publishing house might take the time to look deeper and give the story a chance. Your query letter is good, and it obviously worked. Now that you’ve seen ways that it could be better, you can decide whether you want to use that advice or not.

    I hate the fact that you left the conference discouraged, but it’s great that you’re already picking yourself up and making your work better. After my first tough criticism, I couldn’t write again for a month. But if I hadn’t gotten that feedback, my story opening would be dramatically weaker.

    Remember that just because it could be better, doesn’t mean it’s not good. Believe in yourself. Believe in your writing. Keep plugging. And know that you looked fantastic in your headshots. 🙂

    • clankids says:

      This is why ORA wants you as their president. You are such an awesome person!
      I am taking the advice that the agent and editors gave out. I would be a fool not to. I think what got me down the most was that it was public. If I could get that kind of feedback one on one, it would be amazing! I learned many things at the conference. I’ve got 4 pages of notes to sift through.
      One of the highlights was getting my head shot done. I’m so excited to see them =D

      • I’m editing them now! You really did look adorable.

        And I don’t think anyone there thought any less of you or your book because the panelists found a few things to critique in your letter. I admire the courage of everyone who put their work out there.

  5. Chris Cannon says:

    Writing a query is harder than writing the book.

  6. Beth Carter says:

    Oh, I hate that you left discouraged. I wasn’t in that session but OUCH. I’m sure that did hurt. And writing is so subjective. Please remember that.

    I’m proud of you for being so brave and for contacting your editor to rework the blurb. We’ve all been knocked down. Getting back up is the important part.

    • clankids says:

      Before I left the conference, I emailed my publisher. I’d been wondering if my blurb wasn’t as exciting as it needed to be. I even asked people on FB for their honest opinion. All I got was “It’s good” “I don’t think you need to change it” etc. The feedback from the agent was tough, but needed. I’m glad she told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear.

  7. Last year I went to a conference in Arkansas and decided to do a pitch session with a NY Agent. After the first sentence was out of my mouth she proceeded to tell me what a dumb idea it was and no one would want to read my book. Who did I think I was, Vince Flynn? I could take it because I thought I had a good idea. She never gave me a chance. Then she did the same thing to many others. “That which does not kill us makes us strong.” I’m not sure who said that except I saw it at the beginning of Conad the Barbarian movie. But it’s true. I was furious I spent all that money for someone to tell me my project was meaningless. My book has gotten good reviews. I feel like sending her a copy. Did I make mistakes? Yes. Will I do better next time? Yes. Should you let this get you down? No. I believe in you! So do a great many other people. Keep up the good work!

  8. Susan says:

    Don’t be discouraged. Two different editors and a different agent would have three different opinions. I was in there also and became enlightened.

    • clankids says:

      I’m glad to hear it was educational. I think the worst thing for me was that it was public. One on one criticism like that from any agent or editor would be fantastic. I took notes and plan on using all advice that was given.

  9. VJ Schultz says:

    Good for you. Glad you are getting right back in there. Criticism hurts even when it is meant to be helpful. Not everyone will like what you write, but the right people will. Go girl!

  10. Cara Bristol says:

    You had great courage! What you did was very hard, but you did get something positive out of the experience — the knowledge that you should rewrite your blurb. And I’m sure your future queries will be better for it.

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