What I Did on My Summer Vacation…Or Not

Post Date: August 15th, 2010

If I mention this often enough will you stop doing it?


If I see this in a letter addressed to the Query Shark, your chances of getting on the blog drop to zero. If I see it, you haven’t read the archives. Or you read the archives and didn’t pay attention. I’ve mentioned this enough times that I’m starting long past boring myself.

Learn it. Know it. Follow the damn directions.

— Query Shark, Query #168

I doubt English teachers assign that back-to-school essay anymore, or, if they do, let’s hope they’ve found more inventive titles. “What I Did…” does carry a whiff of nostalgia for me, bringing back my teen years, when all I had to do was watch those newfangled MTV videos or follow my romantic heroes on The Guiding Light; maybe meet my friends at the pool with SPF 8 rather than 30+ slathered on my skin; dream about boys for hours; or read, read, read. All that free time…In a manuscript I’m reviewing, the teen narrator gets up one Saturday morning, eats a waffle her dad makes, and goes back to bed–to read. Anyone miss that?

What I’ve done on my summer vacation is write queries, edit queries, learn about agents, and query agents–and doing this whenever I’m not revising my novel, getting feedback from kind readers and writing colleagues, or giving feedback. Somewhere in this frenzy, I make time to read. While the learning process is no vacation, there’s something invigorating in the journey. A steep learning curve will keep you wide awake.

First, good news: there are many agents out there. For those who think a few rejections signal the demise of their writing career, hold on. Agents exist who want unsolicited submissions; start your search on QueryTracker. It’s free and it’s inspiring the number of names returned to you.

I’m amazed at how easy the Internet makes it to find agents, learn their submission guidelines, and send a query. Today, there’s no excuse for misspelling a name when you can copy and paste or sending too many or too little pages when they specify exactly what they want, such as “NO ATTACHMENTS, EVER.” Basic courtesy aside, the spam blockers, viruses, and different operating systems of the world demand such rules. Do you want your email to arrive or not? Perhaps it’s the English teacher in me who always had a bulleted list of guidelines for her students, but I get this system, 100%, and I follow the rules. I don’t mind the time it takes; it’s a sign of respect as you knock on the door, pretty much like dressing up for an interview.

While I might have the formatting and etiquette down, I’m still mastering the art of the query. That’s a journey in itself, learning how to capture not only the substance but the spirit of your novel and then to sell it with style.

I’m also impressed with how many agents take the time to educate writers. At our Googling fingertips is a university course in “how to write a query”: everywhere, tips from agents who blog weekly, daily, with concrete examples of what to do and not to do. If you don’t already follow Rachelle Gardner or Nathan Bransford, do. Then there’s Janet Reid’s Query Shark: she puts your query through boot camp. I’m working up the courage to enlist, and just that thought has me trying draft #10? #15? of my mine. I note that despite her drill instructor MO, she is patient with the very, very weak queries that keep streaming her way like minnows eager to be eaten.

I’m also discovering my own particular process. I skim the QueryTracker profile of an agent, then the one at the agency site; I search for interviews with the agent, such as Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, Guide to Literary Agents. I want reasons to submit, and I need to get a feeling this person could be a good fit. That research fuels the final paragraph of each query, a two-sentence summary of why I’m submitting to this particular agent.

One of my writing colleagues, who has a fabulous blog of his Argentinian Fulbright adventures and a superb YA novel he’s querying, gave me this response when I asked how many agents to query and how many rejections should freak me out:

“This is the typical story I hear: 100 queries sent, 5 partials requested, 2 fulls, major revisions requested, then an offer of rep. It’s a long process and if we’re lucky an agent will offer some advice which makes the book better.”

I won’t say how many I’ve sent, but a report on the specifics of agent responses is coming soon. I will say my colleague’s concluding line sums up the attitude one must have to make it through: expect the process to take a good while, and appreciate the feedback you do get.

Some way to spend a summer vacation! I won’t lie: I did go off the grid for about 8 days–no writing, no querying, no work–and it was glorious. But when that true vacation ended, I returned gladly back to the grind. Sometimes it’s the sweaty, complicated work that makes you feel life force at its strongest. It’s fraught with as much hope as disappointment, either of which will get me up o’ mornings either mad as hell or driven as can be.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Note these are mixed-age prompts this week.

1. Complete one of these sentences:
–This has been the summer of my content/my discontent…
–In hot weather, I…
–Summer makes me…
2. What is your favorite season of the year? Why?
3. What was your worst vacation, ever?
4. Describe summer using one sound, one color, one smell, one shape, and one taste.
5. What is the sum of summer?
6. Are you a better person in summer or winter? Why?
7. What’s the hardest work you’ve ever done in a summer?


  1. Teresa says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog. I wish you the best of luck as your search for the right agent. Whomever he or she is they should snatch you up quick – before someone else does! Your writing speaks to the soul.

  2. Thanks, Teresa! I’m so blessed to have support for my dream.

  3. bobmust says:

    It’s like fumbling for a toothpick in the dark, but hang in here, Lyn. You write really good stuff.

  4. Thanks, Fellow Traveler and Fumbler. You feel my same pains and joys!