Absolute Write and Query Lessons: Heaven or Hell?

A couple months ago, I joined Absolute Write so I could read the posts in their Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check forum. A few small presses had requested my work through twitter pitch parties like #DVpit, #PitDark, and #pitmad, so I wanted to do my homework before submitting. I was warned away from a few publishers, but discovered a couple were legitimate.

I didn’t explore the site too much at the time. There threads seemed to go on and on, and debates got heated enough to scare me away. It wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered the true gem of Absolute Write: Query Letter Hell.

I’ve querying novels for a little over 6 months now, and the first one is getting close to 100 agent rejections. After getting feedback (from agents) for a new project/query on Operation Awesome’s Pass or Pages, I started wondering how many of the agents who rejected my work made it past the query to the sample.

At this point, my second novel was getting more interest in its first 11 queries than the other had gotten in 50, so I was obviously doing something a little better, but those request became rejections, and the new queries I sent out came back as rejections.

I decided it wasn’t enough to have my husband and critique group read my query. I needed to throw it into a tank where the sharks would tear it up, or, let it burn in hell.

I did some searching, and found the Query Letter Hell forum, but there was catch. I couldn’t post anything in it until I had posted at least 50 in Absolute Write.

I posted in the newbie forum, added my two-cents to some “Beware” threads, and then I started critting. From the few weeks I was reading queries, their critiques, and adding my own, I learned more than I had from any article or blog I read about queries. I identified a lot of my mistakes and revised my query.

When I hit 50, I posted it with a surprising amount of confidence.

And guess what happened?

They loved it!

Just kidding.

The critters tore into like raccoons on a food-filled trash bag.

My query sucked, but I was thrilled with the feedback, so I revised. Someone else commented and I revised again. I revised four or five times in maybe a day, but instead of getting better, the comments were telling me my query was getting worse. Finally, someone spoke up and told me I was revising too fast, not giving myself a chance to process the feedback.

I waited, read, waited and tweaked my query. I waited to post it, revised and waited some more. When I finally did post it again, it was still flawed, but people were saying a mix of good and bad things. The overall structure was working, but details and wording needed work.

It was feedback I could work with – feedback that asked me to fix things within the query, not rewrite it from scratch. I haven’t sent that query out yet, and am still waiting for feedback on another revision. However, I know the query is better than what I started with.

The MC is introduced in the first sentence. The main conflict is introduced in the first paragraph. I show as much as I can in a couple hundred words. I use active verbs. I’m specific. The stakes are clear at the end.

Does this mean every new critter who comes along is going to like my query?

Hell no. Writing is subjective. One could post forever and there would always be someone with something to critique. Sooner or later, I’m going to need to decide that I’m done with it and send it off. #SFFpit is coming up this week, and I plan to pitch that novel.

They call the forum query letter hell because people go crazy commenting. They don’t bother with tact. Often, people will even disagree with each other. However, it’s also heaven because it is a treasure trove of feedback and publishing know-how.

If your planning to query, and if your skin is thick enough to handle the critter’s claws, send you query to hell before you send it to agents.


Published by Sara

Sara Codair lives in a world of words, writing fiction in every free moment, teaching writing at a community college and binge-reading fantasy novels. When not lost in words, Sara can often be found hiking, swimming, or gardening. Their first novel, Power Surge, was published in October 2018. Find Sara's words at https://saracodair.com/ and @shatteredsmooth.

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