Today on the blog series, “People to Learn From in the Trenches,” I interview K. J. Harrowick. She’s a resilient querying writer, and she shares some query tips she’s picked up along the way.
K.J. Harrowick is a freelance web developer and graphic designer who fell in love with fantasy worlds. This love continued well into adulthood, when she began to world build, create fantasy languages, and toy around with magic systems. In 2014, writing became a passion, and she began to write and publish books. She hides out in the rainy Pacific Northwest where she works with a broad range of projects, plots how to destroy characters’ lives, and occasionally falls down rabbit holes.
J: Hi, K.J. Harrowick. Thanks for taking the time to share what you’ve learned along your querying journey. How long have you been querying?
K: I started my query journey two years ago with a dragon fantasy about a young woman trying to reunite with her lost son. However, after a dozen queries it was evident my story needed a lot of work. I dedicated the next year to serious crafting, structure, and basically learning how to re-manipulate the narrative to make a story come to life. Last fall, I finally jumped back in the query game with the same dragon fantasy, now a much different tale than the last dozen iterations.
J: This sounds very similar to the first manuscript I queried. It wasn’t anywhere close to where it needed to be. There is such a huge learning curve, and studying craft and industry standards is a great first step.
J: Have you written any other novels?
K: I have a half a dozen stories. Looking back now, I’d say those stories are more large outlines, very badly written, doused in lighter fluid, and buried in soft peat. My goal over the next decade is to pull each forward one at a time and turn them into real stories.
J: At least you’ve got the basic ideas and structures! I’m sure you’ll make magic out of them.
J: What has been the hardest thing about querying?
K: The toughest thing is to be diligent in every teensy, tiny detail. Although I have my manuscript, query, and synopsis broken into several documents—full, partial, first chapter, etc—it’s not as simple as copy, paste, send.
The agent’s name has to be correct to the letter.
If you’re writing a greeting, it needs to be concise and focused, like answering to a manuscript wishlist or a pitch like.
You have to paste all the required elements into the email and ensure all kerneling and spacing is correct.
Signatures should be text instead of images (which can look like an attachment in some email programs).
The subject line and header must be correct.
And you have to watch out for those tricksy agents who like to split the requirements (one at the top of a page, one at the bottom—yes, I’ve seen this), ones who want the entire query, bio and comps in under 200 words, and little things that some agents will do to see if you’re paying attention.
And yes… I’ve accidentally sent a query only to an agent who asked for query + 10 pages. That one was an auto-rejection. Oops. So, you really have to be awake, diligent, and look everything over many times before you hit send.
J: I think we’ve all made mistakes before hitting send. This is great advice. Be diligent. Check and double check each agent’s requirements, and proof before you hit send.
J: What is your go-to cure for rejection woes?
K: I don’t get too discouraged with rejections. I want an agent to love my stuff, and a rejection tells me we’re not a good match for that project. Plus, crossing a name off the master list is sort of like crossing off your edits from a revision letter. As the list gets smaller, there’s a sense of accomplishment that a project cycle is complete.
J: Wow! That’s a great attitude. You’re definitely more resilient than I am.
J: What has been the best moment during your querying/writing journey so far?
K: I’ve got a couple under my belt, but I think my best ones are those moments when an agent requests a full manuscript. There’s nothing that compares to shuffling around the house, barely awake, scrambling for a cup of coffee so you can function and boom: someone wants to see your magic.
J: Yes! That is a great feeling that’ll brighten any day!
J: What was the worst moment during your querying/writing journey so far?
K: I did have one that really got me two years ago. It was a form rejection but included links on how to be a writer. That one felt personal, but also challenged me to do better. That was the day I stepped away from banging out stories and learned to craft immersive tales.
J: Have you participated in any contests? If so, what did you learn?
K: Yeah, I’m an old hand at contests. At least it’s starting to feel that way. I’ve done both Twitter and short story contests, and even won a pitch contest. The biggest things I’ve learned is writers love to talk about their work. You can see the excitement in their tweets, in contest games, and how much love and dedication they put into making every piece of their stories picture perfect. It’s a good reminder that searching for an agent is more akin to finding a business partner—you want your partner to love your work with the same spark each of these writers carries.
J: What is your favorite writing resource?
K: How much time do we have? Kidding… there are so many that I love, and each one teaches me something different or a new way of thinking. The one that really helped me leap forward was Nuts & Bolts: “Thought” Verbs by Chuck Palahniuk. It forced me to write in an entirely different way, and not long after that I started finding my writing voice.
J: Share your best piece of writerly advice.
K: I have two actually:
The first is don’t just write, craft. Writing stories is fun, but sometimes you get stuck in the same big problems over and over with each manuscript. Always teach yourself new ways to tackle both small and large issues. Ballerinas don’t just put on a pair of toe shoes and shuffle around the stage, they spend years on every tiny piece of their bodies to establish perfection in their dance.
And second is to understand that each writer is on a different journey. I see some who love helping young men and women with the transition from child to adult. Others who get excited about STEM topics and children’s literature. Some writers like sweet romances and characters who are simply protagonists, challenging the norm. Then you’ve got the deviants like me who adore dark lore, adult themes, and watching characters get swallowed by dragons. Every writer is different in the lore they love and the method they use to execute. Embrace the differences. Encourage one another and be respectful of narrative choices.
J: I love both of those. The humility and willingness to learn and grow, and showing kindness to others is important in every walk of life.
K.J. Harrowick is a fantasy and science fiction writer from the Pacific Northwest. She’s the creator of Winterviews, The Ready Room, reviews books on her blog, and has an unnatural love of villainous characters. Click on any of the links to connect with her: