January 10, 2013

What Writing Step Are You Afraid Of?

Dark door cracked open with text: What Writing Step Are You Scared Of?

I’ve said before that I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. However, I do have several writing goals for this year. Like many writers, my big goal has to do with making progress toward being published, and that means I have to face my fear.

For me, that translates into… *dun dun dun* Query letters.

That’s right. My fear is not about querying. I can handle rejections just fine. Rather, my inability to write the “perfect” query letter terrifies me to no end.

No, forget “perfect.” There’s no such thing. I’ll settle for “great.” Or even “good enough.” Or “just barely adequate.” Is that so much to ask?

If you knew how many hundreds of blog posts I’ve read, workshops I’ve attended, people I’ve pestered for help, you might start to understand how a perfectionist can obsess about something to the point of inaction. For too long, I’ve queried only minimally because I don’t have faith in my query—for good reason. I suck at queries.

*pshaw* I can hear you saying. “Your queries can’t be that bad. You just think they’re bad because of that writer self-doubt thing.”

Um, no. My queries really and truly suck. I’ve entered those “get feedback on your query” contests that agents occasionally offer. Their response: I’m confused. One-hundred percent of my cold-queries (those where I didn’t have a connection already established) have resulted in form rejections. 100%.

You want to know why I’m not published yet? It’s because my queries make agents weep, and not in a good way. And I’m right there with them. *sobs*

I’ve improved at so many other aspects of writing, from grammar, word count, and descriptions to sensory details, emotion, and synopses. Heck, I’ve even been able to come up with titles lately. A couple of days ago, I came up with the title for my upcoming work in progress. That’s two—two!—titles I like in a row. Yay!

But not queries. Queries are my nemesis. And even if I decide to self-publish, I still have to be able to write a query-like back cover blurb.

I’m doomed, I tell you. Doomed.

So, like a scaredy-cat, I haven’t been querying heavily because I don’t want to burn through my list of preferred agents while I’m mucking about with a horrible query. Instead, I’ve become so intimidated that I keep putting off the whole step of querying.

“I’ll send out a bunch of queries next month.” “I’ll send these after I get a chance to make my query better.” “I need to fix my query before I can touch base with her.”

Uh-huh. Let’s pretend I believe myself for a second—how am I planning on fixing my query?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought my query was “fixed” only to receive feedback that it wasn’t. “It’s still confusing.” “It’s boring.” “It’s melodramatic.” “The stakes are weak.” “It gives the wrong impression.”

I’ve suffered from all the problems, sometimes all at once. Obviously my judgment of my own query is not to be trusted, but I feel like I’ve already pestered my usual beta buddies to the point of annoyance.

So I’m doing something that many of us are loathe to do. I’m asking for help. I’m looking for people willing to beta read queries, and I’ll return the favor. I joked on Twitter that maybe writers need to have a query beta reading matchmaking service.

(And yes, I know about AgentQuery Connect’s Query Critique, but I’m leery of turning my mess of a query over to strangers. However, if you all tell me to give it a chance, I will.)

If you’re willing to give line-by-line “you lost me here” and “this makes me think the story will be like X” feedback, please let me know in the comments. Some familiarity with romance novels would be helpful, just so you don’t hate the query blurb for being a “kissing book.” *smile*

Now it’s your turn to confess! Are you scared of any steps in the writing/publishing process? Do blank pages intimidate you? Do you put off revising because you fear you’ll never get your story to live up to the version in your head? Are you terrified of sending your work out for feedback? What about queries? Contests? Or release days? Share your fears…

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Melinda S. Collins

Hi Jami! Oh boy…I understand this fear all-too-well! Like you, I’ve read and read and read all kinds of posts about query letters. I’ve even bought a book specifically for query letters. While I enjoy reading and critiquing them, I still have a hard time condensing my own work down to just a few all-too-important sentences. *cries* I also fear finishing up the last few thousand words of my current WIP because I don’t know how to finish it. But I’m going to take that as a sign to step away for a few days, then come back to the story and re-read the entire thing in hopes that it’ll give me clarity on how to end it. If that doesn’t work…then I guess I can start editing/revising it from teh beginning and then it’ll come to me? Contests are also white-knuckling for me. I put off finishing and revising this current WIP for a contest that has a deadline next month because I’ve been afraid that it won’t excel like I envisioned. While I know this particular novel has the promise to take me further in my journey to success, I’ve still been afraid. Moving homes aside, I still could’ve done *something* with it, but I didn’t. But no more excuses! 🙂 In response to your request, I’d be more than happy to give you a line-by-line critique of any and all of your query letters. Both now and any time in the future. Thanks for the great post…  — Read More »

Stefanie Nicholas

I’m currently on the first draft of my first novel, and I’m scared sh*tless to be honest! I have a very tough time getting words on paper without revising as I go. I want to be able to have the novel written and then go back and edit, but it’s so hard for me to just leave an awkward sentence be and move on. I’m working on it!

Stefanie Nicholas

On another note, I can’t wait for you to be published! I love reading new authors, I find it so motivation for myself too!

Angela Quarles

Yay Jami I’m so glad you’re going to face this fear head on! I actually used querytracker’s query forum first, it’s a little less populated and intimidating, and I got some very helpful feedback there which I then took to agentquery for the final polish! You have got to tackle this! *hugs* Did that crit I won in the fall that I passed to you help?

My last fear was having writer friends actually read my novelette. Started seeing too many comments of people saying they couldn’t wait and I was like herunk! (<– that's kind of a sharp intake of breath there) what if it disappoints? Was it smart to come out first with an Indie? etc etc. I seem to overrun these different fear hurdles though, meaning I don't stop long enough, which could be a benefit, but also could bite me in the butt at some time. Like the recent GH submission. I kinda let that go by me too fast and didn't spend enough time on the entries as I should have. I had months to work on them and didn't. But maybe stopping too long is a danger. Does this rambling make sense at all? Anyway, barrel onward my dear! Don't let your fear own you!

I think my current fear is living up to my agent's expectations of me 🙂

Kimberly Gould

I’ll admit I’m not fond of queries. I often use my bank of writing acquaintances to nail out a good hook and blurb. However, I’m not afraid of that part. I’m afraid of the selling part. I’m shy and do a terrible job of representing myself. I don’t like exposing myself to others, although I’m eager for them to read my writing, go figure. It’s the part I hate as well as fear. I fear the risks of paying for something that flops. I fear being rejected. I fear getting lost in the crowd when in any other situation, that is exactly what I would do and enjoy. I like being in the background normally, but you can’t sell books that way.

My fear, as ever, is failure. It plagues most steps of the writing process, but this self-promotion step most of all. And I do fail, because I’m too scared to try.


Hi Jami, I can sympathize with the fear of writing queries. I have a similar problem writing synopses, both before and after the story is written. Granted, I have only completed two first draft manuscripts (Nano ’11 and Nano ’12) but condensing 80k down to a single page is daunting. Trust me when I say that your queries can not be any worse than my synopses. I quake not because I can’t take the criticism but because I know I suck at condensing. In my college classes, I record lectures because my notes taking skills were atrocious. I recently submitted a plot synopsis of the first five or six chapters of the Nano ’11 novel that is on it’s third revision to Janice Hardy for a critique. After reading her review, I was amazed at how much information I left out. Important details like motivations and goals. I know the story is good, just like I know it could be better. I am taking her advice with the goal of resubmitting to improve both the story and my summarizing skills. I refuse to let my fear hamper polishing the story or submitting it for publication. I guess I will just have to continue writing while my hands shake. Fixing typos is easy, right? I am willing to critique your letters but as I am inexperienced, I am unsure how much help I can be. I am willing though and I have lots of experience in reading paranormal romance(about 33 years…  — Read More »

Buffy Armstrong

Hi Jami!

I’d be more than happy to take a look at your query if you’d like my opinion. Not that I’m a great query letter writer, but I’m better at looking at other people’s work than my own. And I’m happy to do it for you.

Besides, it’ll be a great distraction from my big writing fear of the moment – finishing up a draft of an older story that I’ve been working on FOREVER. I’ve been avoiding it since the beginning of November when I started NaNoWriMo. I tried to reread the freaking thing over the weekend, but it’s painful. 🙁



Don’t ask me why, but I’m terrified of finishing things. Whenever a story’s about to hit the climax, I find myself stalling. I have to sit down and tell myself “I will muscle through this!”

Once I get going, I can usually end up finishing the story fairly quickly.

I’m hoping I’ll be on track to making a habit of muscling through by the time I’m finishing novel #6. (I’m muscling through #5 now—and #1 will never see the light of day, though it might someday be mined for scraps, because there’s the makings of a hilarious YA dystopian in there.)

Laurie Evans

I haven’t been writing for very long, but I found the process of writing a query to be one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced! Right up there with pitching it to an editor. eeeek. I cringe at my early attempts. I’m not ready to send my book out to the world, but I signed up for a critique…thinking it was just a critique, but later finding out I needed a query letter. I suck at writing queries/blurbs of any kind. It’s a skill I do not possess. I know I need to work on this, but I found the process of writing a 500 page book less painful!

Sydney Aaliyah

OK. I entered one pitch contest and had three rejections and decided I am a bad query letter writer. Now, I know that is totally off base, but now I am scared of this process. But, its not the only thing. I am scared of editing, writing a synopsis. Heck, I can’t even write my own bio. It is ridiculous. I can write the story, its the stuff after that I need a lot of work on.


Jami, I would be more than willing to read your query letter.

But I want to tell you one thing: don’t assume because you’re getting form rejections your query sucks. I’ve gotten nothing but form rejections for all of my queries to agents except one (from Scott Egan of Greyhaus). BUT. I’ve gotten requests from editors when I submit directly to them, or at the very least, a personalized rejection. So I must be doing something right. Or maybe it’s just blind dumb luck 🙂

Monique Headley
Monique Headley

I feel your pain! Deep down in my bones. *shudder Query letters terrify me too. I’d be more than happy to beta read yours. I’m an avid reader and I write Romantic Suspense and Paranormal. We are also Desert Rose chapter mates.


My most feared writing step is the revising stage, since I have so much trouble making my words sound as though a real writer wrote them. I haven’t even gotten to the query stage yet, so I haven’t worried about that–until now! Argh! Now I have another fear to keep me up at nights.

I’d be glad to read your query, with the caveat that I don’t have much familiarity with romance novels. Still, getting a novice’s point of view sometimes gives you a different perspective on things.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

What truly sucks about query writing is that, to me, it’s not a true representation of a writer’s ability to craft a great book.
I’ve read some very sucky critiques for my critique partners over the years, but their work, the novels themselves, are awesome. They just have trouble, like you (and me) condensing an 80,000 wrd novel into a paragraph or two.
Who wouldn’t?
I think it’s unfair that agents and editors rely so heavily on a query.
I know, I know, they can’t possibly read a bazillion synopsis a day and weed through the bad and good without going insane. And without a synopsis they don’t know whether the story will work or not…but that doesn’t help.
I still think it sucks.
I WILL joyfully, willingly, lovingly read your query or queries!!!
Send em over!!!
You still have my email right?
If not, let me know and I’ll give it to you.
I’d be honored to look at your work and judge for myself whether it sucks the big one or not 🙂

Best of luck to you, Jami. Your talent astounds me and one day, some lucky ed or agent will see that.


Jessica Schley

Jami, get thee to a query critiquing spot and critique like your life depends on it. That’s how I got better at writing queries. Instead of worrying about strangers critting yours, be the stranger who crits others. I’m sure you know how it’s easier to see something in your own writing after you’ve seen someone else’s. I’m a regular over on Absolute Write, and while Query Letter Hell there can get brutal, I learned a TON by forcing myself not only to have 50 posts, but to have 50 crits before posting my own. Like others have said, your words should be out there, and a poor query shouldn’t stand in the way of your books. But, if you’d so desire turning your query over to someone who is almost a stranger, given how little I actually comment here, I’d happily take a look. My query request rate across my own and the ones I’ve helped my CP’s write is quite high. As for what I’m afraid of…you know, I honestly think I’m afraid of succeeding at this. I asked an agent a year ago if it’d be okay if I sent her a revision based on her spot-on comments when she rejected my full. She said sure. So….I’ve almost not written a word of that novel since. I can’t put my finger on why it’s so scary, but…I just don’t do it. Perhaps because if I get an agent, then I have to write another book, or if I…  — Read More »


Huumm…I don’t think I’m actually “afraid” of any part of the writing process, because I’m so obsessed with writing that I enjoy every part of it, haha. But I do get annoyed when I write a long (esp. sci fi) story and then forget some details and thus create plot inconsistencies, lol. Keeping a fact file of all the sci fi techs, characters and their traits/ personalities/ likes and dislikes/etc, and loose ends does help though. The loose ends part especially.

I’ll be happy to be your query beta reader. 🙂 You can just message me on Facebook anytime.


Oh just note that I won’t be a “professional” beta reader though (I’m not a publisher!) Just imagine that I’m an ordinary reader out there perusing the shelves and checking the backs of all the books to see which one I want to buy. 🙂 I guess an opinion from the “general audience” like me might be helpful too? (Though what a reader/ customer likes may differ from what an agent or publisher likes.) What do you think?

Taurean Watkins

Jami, let me first say that once again, you’re playing my song, and be warned my reply’s longer than even my usual, so let me get a key point across first, I’d love to look over your query letters. (You can message me via Facebook for my contact info) Read the rest when you can, but know I want to help you, your blog is often the only hope I get some days, and I see this as a chance to repay you for giving me hope, and understanding my writing challenges as real, instead of childish rants with no basis in reality. Words alone can’t express my thanks for understanding my concerns in a way few writers significantly older than me understand. Anyway- You know from some of my replies here we share a lot of frustrations about writing. While what we write is different, we put the same level of care, heart and persistance in it, and query letters aside, critiquing others was my weakest skill, now I’d say it’s stronger than most of my other strengths involving my own stories. You’d be helping me as much I know I can help you as a second pair of eyes to your query letters. Thanks in part to my old critique group, I know how to be the editor I want to have for my own work, honesty without insensitivity. Even though I suspect you’re not as easily frustrated in some ways that I am, it doesn’t mean you’re…  — Read More »

Taurean Watkins

As for what specific step I fear most, while query letters are in my top 5, the biggest step is revising, because it feels like it will never end, it’s hard to move on to new books without having the “Not giving the previous book a fair shot” complex if I put aside too easily.

I obviously can’t take a decade on every book, just from a pratical standpoint, but I also won’t even write the first draft if I don’t put a certain level of myself in it, you know? I need to draft new books this year, but it isn’t as automatic a process for me.

Of course, I don’t let the fear stop me permenently, no one revises a book for 10 YEARS if fear constantly gets in the way, right?

Cindy Dwyer
Cindy Dwyer

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you don’t know fear until you get your first request for a full. The second you submit, panic sets in. Every day you’ll come home fearing there won’t be a response, but fearing even more that there WILL.

I wrote NOTHING for over a month. When the rejection came, kind and encouraging, it was actually a relief. And I was able to write again.

I’m decent at queries – especially at other people’s queries 🙂 – and I’d be happy to do a line crit. I agree with what someone else wrote, critiquing queries in my on-line writing group helped me see what worked and what didn’t work much more clearly. Afterwards, I was able to use that to improve my own query.

What also helped was writing that dreaded synopsis because then I had a several page summary to use as a starting point. I kept cutting less important details until only one page remained.

Juli Page Morgan

I think I worked harder on my query letter than I did my final revision. And I still hate it. Despite that, I must have done something right, because an editor liked it enough to request a full, and the book launches next month. But I still hate my query letter. 🙂 I think I despise writing queries so much because the whole process is so subjective. At the end of the day you never know if you were rejected because of a poorly written query, or because of something going on with the agent or editor that day that has nothing to do with how your query is written. They may pass on it on Wednesday, but if they get it on Thursday when circumstances are different and they’re in a different mind-set, they may love it and request a full. But there’s no way for a writer to know if their query bites or three publishers passed on an agent’s submission in that same genre that day. Yeah, writing a query is the thing I dislike most about being a writer, and I’ll do anything to avoid having to sit down and do it. But I’d be happy to take a look at your query if you’d like. 🙂 If nothing else, I can tell you whether or not it would make me want to read your book which, in the end, is the main thing a query is supposed to do. Let me know!

Maryanne Fantalis

Argh! Queries are so hard, I KNOW they are why I haven’t worked as hard as I should have over the last year or so in trying to get published. If I had a query I knew was solid, I’d be sending it out five at a time with a nice shiny spreadsheet like I know I’m supposed to, secure in the knowledge that persistence will pay off. But instead I wallow in insecurity and panic and like you, I worry about turning off an agent I really want to please.

Like the old joke about porn, I know what a good query is when I see it. And what kills me is, when if you ask me what someone else’s book is about, I can give it to you: one-sentence, two-sentence, whatever you need… because there’s nothing at stake. But my books? I can’t do it. I’m reduced to cliches and generalities because I’m afraid of rambling, and I lose everything that makes the story unique.

Bottom line, yes, Jami, I would love to trade query reviews with you! I have looked everywhere for tips and advice, but I think nothing is as valuable as another writer’s eyes and impressions.

Maggie Amada
Maggie Amada

I’d be happy to read your Query Critique. Feel free to email me to discuss.

I totally get what you’re saying on queries. I’m terrified of them myself. At first, I hear mine are okay but are missing a lot of information. Then, I make things clearer and I’m told they sound more like a synopsis. I feel like the guy in Aesop’s fables who carried the donkey into town because people complained if he rode the donkey or his son rode the donkey or no one rode the donkey.

Sadly, the thing I fear the most is succeeding and the success not measuring up to my expectations. This applies not just to writing but everything else. How neurotic is that?

Elizabeth Poole

Finishing. I am afraid of finishing. Every time I get half way through a book, I think it would be easier to rewrite the stupid thing than to revise the broken mess it currently is.

I’ve written five books and this never gets easier. 🙁 I guess I am being too much of a perfectionist. It feels easier to abandon ship and start from scratch than to tackle a monster revision.

I am currently beating my head against the brick wall of this very problem. Sheer stubbornness shall prevail.

You can add me to your list of people to help with queries. I can’t say I am the bestest ever at them, but I’ve taken a few classes and they seem to help.

One thing I can say is start small and then build on that. Start with your main character, the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, and a cool detail about your book you think will make it stand out. Usually I frame it to look like this: Protagonist has conflict with Antagonist, in a neat setting, with cool details.

That might not be the perfect sentence for your query, but it’s a great way to boil things down to the most important parts.

James Scott Bell has a good query template on his column on The Kill Zone, too.

Email me at : writer (dot) elizabethpoole (at) gmail (dot) com when you need help. 😀

Maryanne Fantalis

Gee, Jami, sounds like you could set up a network of terrified query-ers and we could all help each other! 🙂


[…] What Writing Step Are You Afraid Of?  by Jami Gold – I am afraid of Writing Query Letters, but I think my reasons are off base, how about you? […]

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