Querying in Troubled Times

So, covid-19.
Times are strange, y’all.

Lots of people are now working from home. Some people have lost their jobs due to mandatory business closings, or due to small businesses being unable to weather losing customers en mass.

For those of us (ie writers us) telecommuting or at home-home, there may be an internal struggle between feeling as if we should be taking advantage of this new schedule to write more vs guilt or anxiety at engaging in writing fiction during a world-wide catastrophe.

Writing and other art forms are not frivolous. People need art, beauty, and hope during a crisis.

Don’t feel guilty for diving into imaginary worlds. If your mental health allows it, don’t give up on querying agents or submitting to editors. Publishing will carry on, and with people looking for safe diversions, there may be even more demand for stories. It’s okay to get your work out there.

I can’t do much to help with the pandemic. However, after having recently participated in a mentoring program with my co-conspirator Anne Raven, and going through almost two-hundred submission packets, I can toss out a few quick and dirty observations on common problems that might result in an agent/editor rejection.

The first and most prevalent theme? Unneeded prologues and slow first chapters. In most cases, the pages were well written. But they did nothing to draw a reader in either because their was nothing but backstory going on, or the opposite and they started mid-fight. In the first instance, if there’s no anticipation, no tasty question of what happens next, readers will close the book. In the second, jumping into a life-or-death situation without giving readers an emotional attachment to or reason to empathize with a character can have the same result.

The second reason involved the dreaded query. Queries are weird critters, and we’ve discussed nuances before. Oddly, the biggest issue we saw wasn’t micro-level, but macro. Many of the submissions confused the query with the a synopsis. The query is the place to tantalize with just enough information to get the reader wanting to know how the central conflict plays out. Save the point by point plot wrap-up for the equally dreaded synopsis.

The final reason was a surprise though–writers not understanding the genre they thought they were writing. Make yourself aware of expectations in your genre–happy ever afters/happy for now in romances, centering the heroine(s) journey in women’s fiction, resolving the main mystery in in mysteries. As a loose rule of thumb, if you can’t find similar books to compare to yours in your genre, think about taking a beat and researching where your manuscript meets or fails to meet genre standards.

Aaand, that’s all I got, folks.

Stay safe, and stay creative.

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