I’ve queried four manuscripts. As my craft developed, my stories moved closer towards marketable, and my aptitude for the actual querying process grew, the request rates slowly climbed.
1st queried manuscript = 2%
2nd queried manuscript = 3%
3rd queried manuscript = 7%
4th queried manuscript = 32% (so far)
That’s an unbelievable increase on the 4th one, like, BOOM. Even now, I’m floored by it.
The core of what writers must do is (we know, we know, we know) craft an amazing story. Solid hook. Identifiable conflict. Unique voice. Unforgettable characters. Consistent worldbuilding. Tight dialogue. Emotional resonance. [Insert a seemingly million other requirements here]. The writing has to be not just strong, but irresistible. And, let’s be honest, the story needs to possess the promise of $cha-ching$ flowing silently beneath the words.
The writing is the most important part, but it’s far from the only element we have to master. And every separate skillset only comes with practice. You know: effort, rejection, frustration, painfully starting over with a fresh manuscript, bringing the scars and callouses and wisdom into the process the next time. Trying again.
This time around, when preparing to query, I became conscious of something I’d been aware of, but never purposefully honed in on—the most common sample lengths agents ask for.
– 5 pages
– 10 pages
– 1 chapter
– 3 chapters
– 50 pages
This little lightbulb went off. Towards the end of my revisions, I focused on making sure those breaking points were loaded with as much tension as the narrative allowed at that point in the story. My goal: to (hopefully) leave the agent thirsty at the end of the sample, to spark that desire to request more pages. Which is the point.
We know to do this at chapter endings. But check this:
When querying, we need to treat the end of each of those sample lengths the same way we would a chapter ending.
For what they’re worth without context, examples of my breaking points:
I sighed, and she pulled me closer to stain my cheek with what was left of her cherry-red lipstick.
“Katers demands I hang out with her tonight,” I said, pulling away. “She’ll tell me if I need to quasi-freak-out over this unholy union or totally Astro-freak-out.”
Olivia nudged me from behind, jangling my keys.
Gma pointed at me. “Check in with your daddy first.”
I pretend-counted on my fingers. “If we’re including wicked stepsisters, crazy stalkers, and secret boyfriends, then that’s, oh, I’d say, four-point-five. Ish.”
Katers rushed towards me and grabbed my sleeves. “Boyfriend? Why is this the first your supposed best friend in all of creation is hearing about this love connection?”
The shadow in the greenhouse shrank to normal size, then the light went out. I grabbed my suitcase and rushed to the house, inside, up the stairs, and into the dark bedroom designated as mine. I peeked through the curtains. Axel Chicory, formerly known as Daddy, looked so inconsequential, a lone silhouette crossing the big lawn.
The New Moon floated directly above him, but its magic had already run its course.
I let the curtains fall closed between us, then locked my bedroom door.
Setting my journal in the grass, I focused on the other book. Plain, black cover. Not the unnamable blue-black of the night sky. Truly boring black. I hooked my finger under the cover’s edge, half-expecting the wind to pick up or a meteorite to land in the orchard when I opened it.
But nothing happened.
So I turned the first blank page.
And then another.
Until I found words.
This journal belongs to:
I jettisoned the book and jumped up, smacking at my bare legs where the blasted thing touched them.
The Heart of Joven.
Gpa had the young whiz-kid architect design the house around it. Ten sycamores planted by my Great-Gma decades earlier. Her hands began the grafting, and Gpa’s continued shaping it when she joined the stars. Axel and I had even touched and whispered to it. Four generations of the Chicory family recorded in the growth rings of a single being who had outlived two generations already.
The third was too busy to love on the tree. The fourth was too scared of screwing it up. Also, too wounded by the mere sight of it to look at it a nanosecond longer.
Among the million things we need to nail as writers-seeking-to-become-traditionally-pubbed-authors, this little piece is a secret weapon. I mean, it’s not a magic bullet. Nothing is. But it’s the savvy thing to do, a special tool to add to the toolbox we’re slowly filling. I believe it played a part—even if a small one—in that ridiculously unbelievable request rate. (Still reeling!)
We all need every hint, trick, key, and password we can get our hands on. Yes? I hope this one maybe helps you.
Invisible Ink! Yesss this manuscript garnered A LOT of requests in its 5 weeks in the trenches. And, maybe, perhaps, it has even gone beyond simple requests. 😉 Pretttty sure there will be another EXCITING post late next week…
Awesome excerpts, Lucas! And good luck, Astro! 🙂
Thx, Kay. Astro’s fingers are crossed, held up high towards the moon.
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Congratulations! I’m happy you found an agent your are so excited about. Sara seems amazing. (I queried her too. No luck.) All the best for many wonderful things in your future!
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Thanks, Jennifer. I’m way excited to start this new part of the journey!
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