Once, in a D&D campaign, when I was playing a Wilden rogue, I, along with a few other adventurers, brutally killed a dragon. I — and this I did alone — took his teeth and then displayed them on a necklace that also held other little mementos from earlier vanquished enemies. Little did I know (but very well known to our DM), I would later encounter said dragon’s mother and she, seeing my necklace, decided to poison me with her barbed spiky tail, directing most of her attacks toward me, and, instead of fighting her (I was a rogue!), I tried to seduce* her. After failing my charisma rolls and not knowing how to speak Draconic (don’t all dragons speak Common?), I was unable to woo her successfully and died in the ensuing combat, only to be revived later because my friends cut off a piece of my tail and were able to bring me back.
This is somewhat the same relationship I have to querying agents.
I labor and labor, finding out exactly what they want and how they want it, only to be bludgeoned over the head with a poisoned barbed tail.
Now, you can read websites and books and blogs and seminars galore about how to query, and these may help (this one, I found especially insightful), but ultimately, it’s a gut feeling thing. You craft a letter that you think is enticing to said agent and sometimes you win and sometimes you get eaten by a dragon.
I thought I had an in. A published author friend of mine gave me his agent’s information and I queried and waited with baited breath and trembling hands and all of the characteristic unsettllings of a Victorian gothic novel heroine, only to be rejected by what I believed to be my best chance. A REFERRAL, DEAR GOD, THAT’S LIKE THE HOLY GRAIL OF QUERYING. (Or, to continue the D&D metaphor, like the giant pile of gleaming treasure underneath a dragon’s leathery yet still quite deadly wing.)
But I was rejected. And not all of the gold nor any small piece of me cut off by my adventurer friends from my dead corpse can help bring me back from the sadness that brings.
Just like D&D, however, the story continues and you can either get back on that direboar (we saved a direboar from the evil, evil clutches of Veckna, and he — his name was Tusky — will soon become a battlemount for me to ride on into the throes of war once I get enough XP), or you can go back to your goddess or god and give up and sit in the corner and pout while everyone else gets treasure and experience points.
IN THE END, WRITING QUERY LETTERS IS LIKE GETTING EXPERIENCE POINTS. Each one makes you a little bit better and you learn valuable lessons. Like don’t kill the quest-giver until AFTER he’s given you all of his quests.
As of this writing, I have seven query letters out there. I’ve been rejected four times. I’m sure those numbers — both of them — will grow. Maybe I’ll start thinking of rejection letters as gold instead of what they are. All adventurers — especially rogues — love gold.
*On a somewhat related note: when reading a book on volcanology (hey, I felt I was becoming stupid after I graduated college and thusly consoled myself by checking out books from the library and reading them — and even taking notes — so as to slow the inevitable progression of my own stupidity) I kept on reading subduction zone as seduction zone. Changed the connotation of that book entirely. I can’t even look at a volcano anymore without thinking about that one picture of George Costanza. You know the one I mean.