September 21, 2013

The most challenging part of querying

Dear M,

Most writers would agree that the toughest part of getting published is the querying. And in querying, you know what is the trickiest job? Not just writing a query letter that could whip up the publisher's excitement and make them dash to our doorstep. Of course that is important, but the most challenging thing is to halt their world in mid-spin with our three sample chapters.

The opening of the novel pretty much determines if anyone wants to continue reading or throw it into the trash. So what if your novel becomes awesome from chapter four? No use at all. We get three chapters - but in most cases not more than three pages, for apparently they deal with a hundred manuscripts every day - to prove our worth, to take the editor's breath away. Everything we do after those three do not matter!

In the case of a novel, at least you have the luxury of saying that these are my first chapters, whatever happens. I can modify and edit them to my heart's content, but I cannot send chapter fourteen in the place of chapter one. But when you are submitting an anthology, the story is different.

Submission guidelines specify that the author should send three (or in some cases, five) of his best stories as a sample. Sounds simple and clear enough, but you will know only if you try it a few times. To an author, choosing three of the best stories is like choosing the most beloved of his children. All stories are amazing and original and exceptional and well-written, in his eyes. He can ask a few others, but the problem is that each person will have a different set of favourites. Which leaves you, wide-eyed and wondering, back to square one. There might be a few common stories, though, and most of the time, their selected stories don't match the author's!

A big problem, if I ever saw one. And I do not have the right answer to it. What I do now is, imagine that the folks sitting at the other side of my query are all alike, even though they belong to different publishing houses. So I send a different set of stories to each. Maybe a bad idea, but who knows? I don't. It hasn't worked so far, but neither has sending the same set to all. I stubbornly refuse to believe that my stories could be rejected because the trouble lies with my stories and not with the folks who read them!

Meanwhile if you can tell me how to select my top three stories to submit to the next publisher, I could certainly do with some hints.


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