What do you do with 2 1/2 novels? If you’re me, you put novel #1 in the drawer to be re-worked at some future date, and you focus on pitching novel #2 while you work to juggle all the plot threads and characters while building tension and trying to deliver both plot and insight in novel #3.
First, a little background. Novel #2 is a mystery titled Character-Driven. It features a former actress, Paula Berger. Paula lives in Oak Park (conveniently, so do I). Smart, funny, with a flair for undercover work and access to the costume cupboard at the community theater where she’s the part-time box office manager, Paula takes on the job of investigating the odd behavior of a friend’s husband. She’s an expert in husband investigations. When Paula’s own husband, accountant Mike Berger, left her for a buxom bimbo, he had taken the lion’s share of their marital assets and claimed his business was failing. Desperate, she turned to an investigator she couldn’t afford, and he advised her to “do it yourself!” She discovered Mike was not only bilking her, but his clients – and in Character-Driven, Paula deals with Mike Berger’s felony conviction and its affect on their 11-year-old son, Danny.
Paula jumps into the investigation of Dr. Jerry Stein, making liberal use of her improv skills as she tails the doctor, using “social engineering” to get financial info about him, and sneaking into his office to rifle his desk, all in the hopes of uncovering a minor transgression to set friend Betsy’s mind at ease. But the light-hearted sleuthing takes a dark turn when Jerry disappears. Suspects abound, including a scheming lawyer and a couple of mobsters. Paula, on a self-improvement kick since her divorce, is delighted by two emerging love interests: she’s drawn to Jerry’s charming partner, even while recognizing the surgeon is a self-centered know-it-all, and also meets and dates her hunky-and-sweet neighborhood cop. On hand for practical help is flamboyant Ned Hinshaw at her local Spy Shoppe (a handy guy to know when high-tech, high-priced surveillance equipment is needed and your Mastercard is maxed out) and private investigator Frank Tucker. Frank provides key information, but counsels Paula to drop the investigation. That’s good advice, but headstrong, impulsive Paula barrels ahead.
Just as in real life, in Character-Driven, everybody does exactly what their own personal psychology requires. Dr. Stein sticks to his ethics, his partner looks for a way to reinforce his own grandiose vision, a patient tries to make a buck and ends up dead, Paula can’t help sticking her nose in, and shady attorney Warren Gold piggybacks on others’ schemes. At the end, everybody gets pretty much what’s coming to them based on their own actions… the kidnapped Dr. Stein is safely back at home, Paula’s had some very scary moments, and Mr. Gold walks away $5 million richer.
So. The last time I went agent-searching, I was fortunate enough to grab the attention of a really big name agent. He read my query, read the book, and came back with some very positive comments but ultimately passed. The whole process took 3-4 months, during which I quit sending it out to anyone else. Rejection. Augh! Devastation. Why did I put all my metaphorical eggs in that basket? Whatever the reason, a couple of years have now passed (okay, almost 3 years) and it’s time to go egg-hunting again. To make sure I wasn’t nuts for doing so, I asked my friend Deb (she of the “books read since 2003 list”) to read the book. “It’s as good as (mystery series name redacted here),” she said. “If I saw this book in the bookstore, I’d buy it!”
So, thanks, Deb. I’m out there again, thanks to your encouragement. And boy, have things changed in that time! First of all, although many agents would prefer that you not make simultaneous queries, they understand that as long as you aren’t just shooting out the query letters higgeldy-piggeldy, it’s not a mortal sin. Second, the advent of e-queries has made the whole process so much less painful!
Here’s what I did last time: painstakingly research, identify 2-3 agents that might be interested in my novel, write query letters that conform to each agent’s specifications, print off the letters as well as whatever they want sent along (first 5 pages, first 10 pages, first 50 pages, chapter-by-chapter synopsis, 2-3 page synopsis – you get the idea). Include self-addressed, stamped envelope. Package it all up, go to the post office. Wait 6-8 weeks. Collect form letter rejection slips that come in the mail. Occasionally one will have a hand-written signature or a note that makes it clear they actually read what you sent, which is heartening but doesn’t ultimately get you anywhere. When two months have gone by, it’s time to do it again, with 3-4 more agents.
Today, the majority of agents take e-mail queries. Sometimes they want just the pitch, sometimes they want you to paste in some of the novel, the synopsis, or both. The exciting thing? If you’re not right for them, you get a response quickly! Wow! You do the same research, put the same thought into your pitch, send out 3-4 queries and get rejected within just a few days! (This is actually a huge improvement.) Of course, some literary agents still want to receive queries by snail mail… and some of these folks are the people who have been in the biz a long time and are very successful. And some offer you the choice, but if you want to send more than just the letter, they prefer the good ol’ USPS.
Anyway, I am excited as all get-out, because a reputable agent who is interested in mysteries sent me an email today asking for the first 50 pages! I’d queried her by snail mail with a letter and the synopsis. I was thrilled to hear from her so quickly, and promptly sent her the pages in an email attachment, as she requested. I am very interested in her feedback, hoping for the best (she’ll sign me! She’ll sell the series! I’ll get a six-figure, three-book deal!) but being realistic and prepared to continuing searching. Wish me luck.