10 things I learned in the query trenches

I’m super stoked that I have signed a publishing contract with Literary Wanderlust (a Denver, Colorado based traditional publisher) for my manuscript, A Fractured Land. But the process was not easy. I learned some lessons along the way. If you are in the query trenches, these might help you



  1.  Twitter is important. The writing community there is warm and welcoming and very supportive. But you need to be nice and recognize it’s not all about you. In fact it’s not about you at all. Engage, connect, do unto others, give, show interest, be sincere, read other’s work, review, compliment, learn. And did I mention be nice? Because that’s the most important thing.
  2.  A mine of publishing information can be found on the timeline of Susan Spann. Her website is also very helpful. She is an author, blogger and lawyer who specializes in publishing law. Have a look on her website here or on Twitter @SusanSpann
  3. The fairy godmother of all writers in the query trenches is the lovely Ms Brenda Drake. Her contests make dreams come true. (Not all at once. Some dreams take time but contests like #PitchWars and #PitMad  form part of the magic.)
  4. Another great hostess of Writer contests is Michelle Hauck She hosts Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street and Sun Vs Snow.
  5. The first manuscript I threw into the twitter contest ring got nowhere. I was, however, exposed to pitches, queries, subject matter, hooks, stakes and plots that were successful. I learned how to pitch to the point how to improve my query, how to write a better synopsis, and most importantly, how much easier it is if you have plotted your novel smartly in the first place.
  6. South African publishers, bless them, have a tough gig. They carry the burden of putting local literary fiction into the hands of erudite readers and ensuring that local literature is nurtured and flourishes. (Although I do suspect they  pay the bills with the true life stories of rugby heroes and celebrity chefs.) But here’s the thing. Not all readers are academics (I am not) and plenty of readers are tired and have no concentration, thanks to the instant gratification of television and social media. However, one of the failings of my manuscript in the eyes of a local publisher was -*the environmental issue*  becomes a mere prop in the drama, instead of elevating the story to the thinking man/woman’s whodunit-with-a-bit-of-romance.                                                                                                                                                                                                           But my question is whether reading is the exclusive domain of the so-called thinking man or woman?  What about the not so thinking man or woman? What about the tired mama who would rather read herself to sleep than doze off in front of the TV? What about the corporate guy who has dealt with crap all day and would like an easy escape to another world?  What about the person who just wants to be entertained by a good yarn?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                So, where does the writer of this non-erudite literature take their wares if not to local publishers?  The answer lies over on Twitter, in the contests, by following agents and their #MSWL as well as #TenQueries where you learn that there is a style of writing, an agent, a genre, an audience and a publisher for many types of well written stories that are not necessarily geared for the academics of this world. And you learn there is no shame in writing a so-called non-thinker.
  7. You  story might be easy reading but it must be compelling. There must be a hook where the main character and the conflict are introduced. The stakes must be clear and there must be sizzle. (The sizzle is explained Here by Jane Friedman)
  8. NaNoWriMo is super useful to get your bum in the habit of being in the chair and your fingers in the habit of being on the keys. There is no other way to write a book. Do the time.
  9. I purpose wrote a new manuscript set in South Africa but accessible to an international audience. I have an American mother, so I wrote the manuscript in my mother tongue, in the voice of the land more likely to publish my genre, though set in the land of my birth. I was unsuccessful in PitchWars but  was offered a publishing contract via Pitmad.
  10.  Never give up. Don’t give up on:
  1.  reading widely,
  2. polishing your work till it shines,
  3. improving your query,
  4. pitching your manuscript,
  5. backing yourself
  6. writing new material
  7. connecting with other readers and writers


  One thought on “10 things I learned in the query trenches

  1. November 7, 2016 at 10:38 am

    great advice here Melissa, and such a shame about the SA publishers. I do believe they should rethink publishing lighter-weight reads. Well done to you though, fantastic to hear about your book deal.

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