Queries – From Rejections to Success

I’m not sure which part of the writing & publishing process is the worst – agonizing over the actual writing, or trying to compose a query once the manuscript is complete.

But to have that wonderful novel published, if you’re not going to self-publish, you have to write one. Be warned, though. Trying to create a good one can cause nightmares. As writers, not only do we have to condense the entire story into three paragraphs, but we have to make it immediate and compelling.



Just trying to get the story down to three paragraphs is enough to drive a teetotaler to drink, but then make the darn thing interesting and intriguing enough so an agent just has to read more?

And now, some agents are requesting a one-paragraph mini. Where’s the scotch???

Ok. It had to be done, so I faced the horrible task and looked up every reference I could find on how to write the darn thing. One wonderful thing about the internet – you can find references to most everything. So I read and read more, again and again.

Some say to open with why you’re querying that particular agent. Ok, I could do that. A little flattery can go a long way. Then, the experts say, include your three paragraphs and then your credits. If you have none, just close with the standard closing used on any business letter.

Others say to open with a hook similar to your manuscript and go from there, so I tried that, working again and again on my three paragraphs. No matter which way I wrote the thing, it was D-U-L-L. After pulling out a few gray hairs, I went from neutral iced tea to the hard stuff – Diet Coke, which I love, but had been trying to cut back on excess amounts. Now was not the time to cut back, I reasoned, so fortified after a few glasses of the bubbly, I finally came up with what I thought was the best I could do. I sent it off. The result for Beyond the Quiet is below:

Beyond the Quiet

ORIGINAL QUERY, where I tried to follow all the advice. It received nothing but rejections:

Lisa Montgomery never learned how to show love. As a child, she was acceptable only if she were clean, composed, and quiet. For most of her forty-three years she survived by keeping her life and emotions tightly controlled. Then, after her husband succumbs to cancer, she discovers her control was only an illusion. His secret life has left her in debt and nearly penniless, and her daughter, instead of offering comfort and support, is judgmental and emotionally distant.

Bitter, Lisa returns to work and meets Gene O’Neal, a retired fire chief who pursues her with a passion that melts her icy façade. She falls in love and learns how glorious true lovemaking can be. Only her troubled relationship with her daughter dulls her new happiness, so Lisa prepares to make one more effort to talk to her, to offer the love she’d always felt but never knew how to express.

When her life changes again, she realizes pain and loss has made her stronger. As a woman who has learned to cherish each moment, she leaves her old life behind to follow her dream, welcoming each tomorrow as a new opportunity for adventure.

REVISED, and written from the heart. With this one, I landed an agent who sent the manuscript to a certain line with major publisher. My agent said the acquiring editor for that line was interested and would get back to  her. After weeks of nail-biting anxiety, my agent regretfully informed me that the publisher was discontinuing that line and all negotiations were off.

After picking my heart off the floor, my agent and I discussed the next step. She wanted me to revise the story to fit one of the publisher’s other lines, and after a period of intense self-examination, I decided to keep the story as originally written. My agent and I parted company.

Then I sent the query to a small, RWA recognized, indie publisher. I received a request for a full the next day. Within a week, they offered a contract:


When I lost my husband to divorce after nearly thirty years of marriage, I read everything I could, desperate to learn how other women coped and what they did to rebuild their lives. Beyond the Quiet, my mainstream novel of approximately 90,000 words, is my version of how one woman struggles though bitterness, loss, and betrayal, learning to cherish each moment and follow her long-buried dreams. It’s the story of how a quiet, passionless widow becomes spirited enough to climb onto her lover’s shoulders for a piggyback ride in the nude.

“To all of our years together,” Lisa Montgomery’s husband said one evening, raising his glass in a toast, “some of them good.” They laughed and clicked wine glasses. But after his death, Lisa discovers he hadn’t been teasing. When she discovers his secret post office box, she struggles to come to terms with his betrayal. Forced to examine her life as a wife, mother, and as a woman, she realizes her troubled childhood didn’t allow her to be anything but composed and quiet, and she’d never learned to show love.

A chance meeting with a retired fire chief leads to changes she’d never imagined, and she falls in love for the first time. She learns to open her heart, to let go of the sterile woman she’d become and passionately embrace the woman she wishes to be. Only her relationship with her estranged daughter dulls her new happiness, so Lisa prepares to make one more effort to talk to her, to offer the love she’d always felt but never knew how to express. But a jealous coworker watches, wanting to destroy what he can’t have.

Beyond is my second novel. Ten Times Guilty, the story of a struggling single mother learning her strength after a brutal attack, garnered a four-star review from Romantic Times BookClub Magazine, January, 2006. One of my stories in True Story Magazine was featured as a ‘Twelve-tissue tearjerker’ and another story, Am I Wife or Daughter, climbed to #3 with Amazon Shorts. My articles have been published in my local newspaper and I’m the restaurant reviewer.

With Full Malice

For my next novel, I went back to the one-hundred-word mini-synopsis I describe in my Writers’ Tips and snagged a larger publisher’s interest:


Dear xxxxxxx,

When a shortage of reporters forces traumatized restaurant reviewer, Madison Young, to cover an execution-style murder in her quiet California town below Big Bear, she has no idea her life is about to change. Reluctantly interviewing a witness, she jots down one word, one seemingly insignificant word that will link to a chain of murders across the country, and to a secret society, a vast and deadly organization that will stop at nothing to protect its secrets. She traces clues, shocked when they reveal a connection to the man who slaughtered her parents, horrified when the evidence leads to her own grandmother, the gentle woman who raised her after her parents were murdered.

Credits here.

I received a request for a full, then, after about four months of anxiety, 5 Star offered a contract.


I'm a novelist, short story writer, and I currently serve as CEO for L. Cooper Press, a service for writers. Thomson-Gale bought one of my novels, With Full Malice, for their 5 Star Mystery line, then Harlequin WorldWide Mysteries bought the mass market paperback rights. I lead a novel critique group in Redlands, CA, so if you're in the area and writing a novel, join us: http://www.meetup.com/SoCal-Novel-Writers-Workshop/ When I can't attend, Amy Fletcher leads the group. You can always contact me through my websites: www.brendahill.com www.lcooperpress.com

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