Queries: advice for the searching

I came to the novel writing late in life, having enjoyed what I was doing as a human being. I was satisfied with my life and with an occasional published short story.  I didn’t want to tip the balance. Sadly, the short story market mostly evaporated. I took the plunge and began a novel. Many writers struggle with depression, some of it might be induced by the writing profession itself. After all, only trouble is interesting. Fortunately, my worry-wart grandma along with being a chemist gave me enough lessons in foreseeing trouble.  When I returned to writing, I could do it with minimal disruption to my mental health.

I finished my first novel around the same time as my mom died. The tolling bell of death reminded me of the slippage of time. I wondered if I’d ever live to see the novel published or enjoy a writing career.

You could say I jumped into publishing my novel with death sniffing at my heels. I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, I had publishers willing to take a chance with my work and now, ten years after, I’ve learned a thing or two.

When I took up novel writing, I had no idea how to go about getting my foot in the publishing door. I’m too careless of a proof-reader to go it alone and I like editorial feedback. I read advice about writing a query, done after the whole novel was written. In a nutshell, a query is a letter of inquiry, asking if the recipient would like to see some or all of the novel. It should include these elements:

The title, word count, genre or category, how it compares to published novels.

The pitch or hook which describes the story and the most important aspects of it.  If the recipient is looking for romance, describe the romance for example. This is usually 150-300 words.

A little about yourself to convince the agent or editor you aren’t a one-hit wonder.

Before querying have a polished manuscript ready to go. Until I found a publisher, I paid for both copy editing and proof-reading. You should know what the agent or editor is looking for—their Manuscript Wish List.

You should never have to pay to submit your work.

Author Lauren Connolly advises making a personal connection. She says, “I found attending in-person events helpful. The first year I put a book out, I was focused on self-publishing, but at a romance conference I happened to sit next to a literary agent. And we had a nice chat and she gave me her contact information. A year later when I had a book deal offer, I reached out to her asking about representation. She remembered me, and I think having a face to put to a name was a big help. Making personal connections and showing that you’re ready to put yourself out in the writing world is a good way to show agents and editors the passion you have not only for your writing but also the writing business.

Lauren brings up a reality I had difficulty facing: being an author is a business and you need to be ready to commit to selling yourself and your work. This is tough if you’ve been trained not to bother people or ask for things, as I was at my previous job. She gives another bit of advice, yes you can submit to publishing houses and agents at the same time. Lauren says, “There are plenty of publishers that accept un-agented submissions (like City Owl), and if they offer you a deal you can request some time to seek an agent to represent you. You certainly don’t have to do this, but the fact that you already have an offer makes their job easy, then you have someone to negotiate your contact, and they can shop your future work for you.”

Author Emily Hornburg adds,” Etiquette would be if you get an offer from an editor or publisher, request two weeks before you say yes or no so you can reach out to the other people you’ve submitted to. Email those…you haven’t heard from yet and let them know you have an offer and when you need to know by.”

For my latest query, a new series, I won a query critique from author Em Shotwell. Her advice was this: “The query’s ONLY JOB is to make the reader request the pages. You want to keep it snappy and short—but leave them wanting more.” She helped me with a problem I have with my queries. My books have comic elements, but when I query, I’m business serious. 

Here’s the finished query:

SNAKES IN THE CLASS is a 68K novel and Book One in a series set at Manster College, for humanoid monsters.  I plan to have the series follow the same characters, led by gorgon Professor Gormley Grimn, as they struggle between being monsters, fitting in with humans, pacifying the fickle demigods, and claiming an education for themselves and their students. 

At Manster College, monster professors guide students in the fine art of fitting into human society–easier said than done. 

Professor Gormley Grimn didn’t choose the Gorgon life—the Gorgon life chose her…sort of. Born a human, Gormley led an uneventful existence until graduate school, when she was cursed by the jealous fiancé of her study partner. Her only recourse was to leave her behind her husband and son and become a professor of chemistry at Manster College, teaching young Gorgons, trolls, and other monsters. It’s a passionless and secluded life…until she falls into a lusty affair with Dean Ormr Snaakemon—half smooth-skinned man, half smooth-scaled snake, one hundred percent hottie. They tell themselves snakes don’t get attached, but the attraction is undeniable. Besides, Gormley is overdue for some fun—and Ormr is more than happy to oblige. They even start partying with the trolls at the local bar!  Life as a cursed Gorgon finally doesn’t seem so bad.

 A hostile intruder from the Purity League suffers a fatal mishap in Gormley’s chemistry lab. Seeing financial opportunity from an anonymous backer, the President Reaper insists Gormley tutor her Gorgon students in the art of “civil defense”.  There’s a problem. Gorgon powers don’t work as described in classical mythology. Instead of turning instantly to stone, men are more likely to have accidents such as falling onto soda dispensers and getting attacked by stray dogs. It doesn’t matter, anyway—Gormley is far from an expert wielding the ancient powers. And even if she did know how—she isn’t sure it’s the right thing to do. That is, until her long lost son appears. It turns out he is a were-coyote. The Purity League wants to stamp out all monsters. Should Gormley stick with her no-killing-just fit in principles, or join forces with the Knobbers—a group of demigods, including the woman who cursed her? And is Ormr going to stay by her side, or is he a snake in the grass?

Snakes In the Class is playful with a heat level of 4.  Think: The Adams Family with mythological creatures, and an even spicier Gomez and Morticia

 I’m happy to make any changes you find necessary to reach readers. Thank you for taking a look and I hope you enjoy it!

Catherine (Cathy) Haustein

author of Lost in Waste, Mixed In, Wolves and Deer: A Tale Based on Fact, and Cleaner, Greener Laboratories for Analytical Chemistry and Instrumental Analysis,  Wrinkles in Spacetime



I’m glad to have the query stage behind me. It took a few jolts of Vietnamese coffee to get me this far. Now, on to write Book 2. And many thanks to my editor, Danielle DeVor.

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