Someone recently asked what it was that made my agent pluck me out of the slush and offer to represent me (beyond the obvious awesomeness—his words, not mine). I ventured that it was my high-concept hook that grabbed her attention, and then having a manuscript that lived up to the promise of the query. All it takes is an awesome, agent-baiting query and a manuscript that backs it up.
My agent happened to be present (thus the question), and while she agreed, she also laughed and said, "OH IS THAT ALL?"
Yes, if only it were as easily done as said. I certainly went through plenty of "Nope, not quite the right formulation" with prior novels.
But then I thought about it. Getting an agent obviously isn't easy. But it is simple.
Do you see the distinction?
It's like the game Operation. The directions aren't complicated. Get the tweezers in the opening, grab the little plastic piece, and pull it out without touching the edge of the hole. It's simple.
Does that make it easy? Not if you have unsteady hands like I do. It takes deftness and just the right touch. It's hard—some pieces harder than others, and some people struggle with it more than their friends.
Some may develop the skills quickly. Others may never be able to grab some of the pieces. The difficulty varies, but the simplicity of the process is the same for all.
I think sometimes we get frustrated in the query trenches by trying to unravel a magic formula, some secret complexity that only agented writers know about. Start with the title, genre and word count. No, those go at the end. Never use this phrase. Always close with that one.
Certain "rules" are handy for not giving agents headaches, but really, we don't need to expend energy worrying about that kind of stuff. It's simpler than that. Get the agent's attention so they're dying to read more. Once they start reading, make them fall in love.
It's also really hard. It takes work and research and even some luck.
If something's worth doing, it's worth working for.
What else in life have you found is simple, but not easy? How do you keep yourself motivated when the "hard" makes you feel like it's more complicated than it is?
ETA: It seems some felt this post was condescending, with me talking from my high post of now being agented and deigning to tell you all "how it's done."
I am truly sorry if it came across that way. It was not my intention. Those of you who are regulars on AQC know that I get asked for advice on querying all the time. Even before I was agented, but especially now. I am NOT AN EXPERT. Never have been. Yet I get asked. So I do my best to come up with advice that's universal enough, that's encouraging while still being realistic about how FREAKING HARD it is.
My only point in this post was to say, don't focus on the wrong stuff. Don't freak out over the minutiae. Remember the goal—the simple, but not easy goal—of getting the agent to read more, and then having the super-shiniest manuscript you're capable of to hand over.
Will the best you're capable always be enough? No. That's realistic. My best didn't get it done for years. I learned, I grew, I kept at it, I got lucky with some timing, and it happened. It can for you, too. I can't say it WILL happen for all of you. I won't lie.
But it certainly won't if you quit trying.