Writing. Thinking. More Writing

Novels, Writing

Beasts of Sonara v1 – Initial Query Process

Beasts Header v1

This is a legacy post about the original
and never published version of Beasts. 


I have written the great American novel. Now, I just need to find an agent and publisher who recognize my genius, and it’ll be easy street from here on. Or not. I’m going to track the process of finding an agent and getting published right here so that, when I’m famous, I’ll be able to look back and chuckle at how naive I was. Maybe I’ll learn something along the way that’s useful to others. We’ll see..

Current Status

  • Query Round 2:
    • Just getting started…
    • 20 Queries sent / 9 Rejections
      • 8x v4 / 4 Rejection
      • 1x v3.5 / 0 Rejections (Edgy Bit)
      • 11x v3 / 5 Rejections
  • Query Round 1: Industry 1 / Shawn 0
    • 43 Queries sent / 43 Rejections inc. 25 assumed
      • 27x v2 / 27 Rejections inc. 18 assumed
        • 0 Full MS requests (so far)
      • 16x v1 / 16 Rejections inc. 7 assumed & 1x Full MS
        • 1 Full MS request (rejected)
  • 3 Drafts Completed & Edited
  • 1 Idea Born

Updates & Commentary

September 21, 2018

Rejection Friday: “Thank you so much for giving me the chance to consider BEASTS OF SONARA. It’s clear that you’ve devoted a lot of hard work to this project, and your passion comes through in your writing. However, while there is a lot to be commended, I struggled to connect with the manuscript in a meaningful way, and therefore don’t believe that I would be the most effective champion for your book. Please remember that the publishing industry is subjective, and another agent or editor may feel differently. I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you, but I wish you all the best on your road to publication.”

August 20, 2018

Putting marketing on hold while I review Archer Jockers analysis of Beasts of Sonara (the novel’s actual title) and possible re-write / update.

August 13, 2018

Last week, I started to realize that this book might never be published the traditional way, and that self-publishing may be the only path forward. I’m not sure yet, but I started looking into it — realizing as well that the way books are marketed and sold these days is far more about commodity churn than a search for quality. You either have an angle and platform, or you’re nothing. Given that the novel fits no main genre and I’m just another white dude, it’s a bit challenging.

With that in mind, I approached a successful SD author who does well on Amazon for advice, and ended up pitching a concept of co-authorship to help get my next book off the ground. He was kind enough to consider the concept and review the first several pages of the next book. While he ultimately declined the idea, his feedback was generally positive:

Initial thoughts: “Shawn, I’ve read a few pages, and I have to say, the odds have gone from a thousand to one (I was lying when I said a hundred to one), down to 50 to 1. I can tell in a few pages that you write better than 90 percent of the garbage that’s on Amazon (I know, garbage doesn’t write, but you get what I mean). Still unlikely (really) but the odds are getting better. I’ve got a busy schedule, but I’ll try to get to it and make a decision by next week. The writing is good, but there are a number of other considerations.”

Second thoughts: “Shawn, thanks for the look. I’m going to have to pass on your proposal, as I expected. This just isn’t close enough to my work or style for it to make sense for me, and there are other complications to doing this, as well, that I won’t go into. I can say that you have a nice flowing writing style, a great imagination, and impressive world-building skills. I might start off with a prologue that lays out the stakes a bit. Then you can circle back to your beginning. Because it is well written and quirky, but I still have no idea what it’s really about. Wherever it is going, when the stakes are high, readers should have a taste of this to keep them engaged. (in my opinion, but I’m not a patient man, so others might find the world building compelling enough on its own… Best of luck to you. It takes a lot of luck and talent, but you’re one of the few who actually has the talent part going for you.”

So even while this was a rejection of concept, which is a bummer, he offered both positive feedback and some specific ideas not mentioned here. Not bad coming from a NYT bestselling author. I’m intensely grateful to have gotten any feedback at all.

My current feeling is that I went into this process naively, or perhaps just based on an archaic sense of how the market works. A lot has changed in the last ten years, and not much of it to the benefit of traditional publishing (obviously). I think I can figure out how to make a living on Amazon with self-publishing; I’m just not sure how long that will take or if I have the runway to do so… My traditional introversion and disinterest in social networking does not play well in this realm.

August 2, 2018

Rejected: “Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, this is not quite the right fit for me.” I keep thinking I’m getting “better” at this, but there’s no evidence in support of that statement. 🙂

August 1, 2018

Nearly instant rejection: “Thank you for thinking of me for your work; unfortunately, it’s just not quite right for me. As I’m sure you know, whether or not to take on a client is a very personal decision, and has as much to do with an agent’s personal preferences as it does an author’s writing abilities. I wish you lots of success in your writing career.” I found one typo in the query letter, which is a bummer, but still — that’s efficiency.

July 31, 2018

Query, query, query…

July 23, 2018

Rejection from recent query: “Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to read your submission. Unfortunately, after careful review, I have decided to pass on this project. This industry is incredibly subjective, and there are many agencies out there with many different tastes. It is for this reason that I strongly encourage you to keep submitting elsewhere, in the hopes of finding an agent who will be an enthusiastic champion for you and your work. I wish you all the very best of luck and success with your writing.

Rejection (from April query): “Thank you for the opportunity to consider your work. I am sorry to say that I do not think this material would be right for me, and therefore I would not make your most effective advocate. Please remember this is just one agent’s opinion, and there may be other agents who feel differently. Thank you for thinking of me, and best of luck to you. I apologize for the form letter, but the volume of queries makes a personal reply impossible.

July 20, 2018

Great feedback from my friend Jim, who would be honest with me if it sucked. Some more queries. Like firing cannonballs into a black hole.

July 17, 2018

Rejection Tuesday: “Thank you for your query. While your project does sound interesting, I’m afraid it’s not quite right for me at this time. I genuinely appreciate your email and wish you luck finding an agent who can successfully champion your work.”

July 16, 2018

Rejection! But, It’d already assumed the rejection after three months: “Thank you so much for your query and interest in representation by [Agency]. I regret that [Agency] is unable to take you on as a client at this time. We receive hundreds of queries a week, and as such we must turn down plenty of projects that could have wonderful commercial potential. Please know I personally read each query, and sometimes these rejections are based solely on the subject of material, which may not be an appropriate fit for my interests. Keep searching for someone who has the same spark as you do. If and when you find that agent, you’ll be glad you kept looking! I wish you all the best in your publishing pursuits, and on your hunt for the right agent for your book.

July 8, 2018

I removed the more melodramatic opening I’d put into the novel prior to the recent sent of queries, in part because the first sentence may have been overly dark. In today’s environment, and when submitting to a primarily female agent cohort, anything that even implies violence against women is probably a negative (unless written by women), so we’ll see. The opening is more pleasant now, but loses some of its visceral force…

July 8, 2018

The Sunday-O-Rejection! Two came in Sunday and one early Monday AM. All are on the new synopsis. I’m wondering if /a/ synopsis still sucks or /b/ the misdirection of the dark opening of the book itself is turning agents off. Rejection: “Dear Author, Thank you for your email, and for giving me a look at your material. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I must pass, but I hope you will accept my best wishes for your future success.” One of my favorites because there’s no attempt to personalize, and it’s not even signed. Rejection: “Thanks so much for your query. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound right for XXX’s list. We wish you all the best towards seeing your book through to publication.” That’s rejection by the assistant. Nice. Rejection: “Thanks so much for contacting me about your book project, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be the best representative for it. Best of luck on your path to publication.” Ahh, my path to publication. Am I even on it? Hmm.

July 5-6, 2018

More querification. Going to try for more male agents if I can find any — they all seem to be women these days, and all have such a professed focus on “women’s fiction” that being a dude is probably a disadvantage…

June 29, 2018

Rejection excitement! “Thank you so much for your query, but I am going to pass at this time. Unfortunately, the concept and sample pages didn’t connect with me as much as I’d hoped. Due to this, I don’t believe I’m the right agent to champion this piece. Thank you for considering me for your work, and I wish you luck in your writing future. In your search for the perfect agent, you may want to check out Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents blog. We have found it to be a great resource for finding new agents who are looking to build their lists. We also encourage writers to gather beta readers and critique partners to help hone your craft; their suggestions can be invaluable.” I think this is a Jr. Agent. She needs help making her boilerplate rejections sound less pedantic. Maybe I’ll reject her rejection.

June 28, 2018

Rejection something or other: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I am not a good fit for this.” Received within 24 hours. I think it’s a record.

June 27, 2018

I’m up to 50 queries sent as of today. Let’s hope somebody out there is listening.

June 22, 2018

I’m assuming at this point that all queries have been rejected, even if there is no response. I’ll have to go back and look at my query letter, synopsis and excerpt to see what I can better due to market the book…

June 20, 2018

No news is bad news. Not a single response since I left for Denali and returned. Should I assume a 100% rejection rate (0/43)? If so, that’s a drag. Will have to restart the process…and figure out what’s going on. My first attempt at a writer’s group was not helpful. Will try that again as well.

May 23, 2018

Rejection: “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but this one’s just not quite right for my list. Due to a very full workload, I have to be extremely selective about pursuing new projects. Please know that this is a very subjective business and that tastes range widely among agents. Someone else may feel very differently—you deserve someone who is passionate about your work and is confident about their ability to position it. Best of luck with this, and thank you so much for thinking of me.

May 22, 2028

Rejection: “Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the right agent for your project. Best of luck in finding representation, and thanks again for the query.

May 14, 2018

More querification and waitifizing. Starting to think a lot about the next novel. Given what I’m seeing so far, there must be millions of unpublished novels out there, and just as many desperate authors waiting for the slightest positive reception. It’s like praying to god, except agents answer even less. Strange that it never occurred to me I’d be this far down the track with so little positive feedback. One of my author friends was right; humiliation is a large part of this process.

Decided to try out a writer’s feedback group. For anyone who knows how I loathe networking, you’ll know this is hard for me. In a funny way. Looking forward to what they have to say. The last and only other time I went to one of these was in 2002 (?).

May 7, 2018

Rejection #18: “Thank you so much for thinking of [Agency] for your query. We wish we could offer a more personalized response but on average, we receive 500+ email query letters a week. Do know that every query letter and sample are read and even though your project is not right for us, it might be right for another agent so don’t give up! We are also sorry to have no agent recommendations to offer. Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.” Five hundred queries per week? Egads.

April 27, 2018

Rejection #16: “Thank you for the opportunity to consider your query for Beasts of Sonara. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s quite right for my list at this time, and am going to have to pass. I’m sorry it isn’t a fit, but I wish you the best of luck in finding the right agent for Ray’s story.” At least, not a completely form response..

April 19-20, 2018

More querification.

April 18, 2018

Sent a few new queries out today. Sent two status update requests, as per website instructions. Assumed two queries have expired, creating virtual rejections #14 and #15. Some cool new agents out there…

April 13, 2018

Well, it is Friday the 13th, so I guess it’s only natural to expect my first full manuscript rejection. One agent had requested the MS more than a month ago. I can’t tell you how excited I was to get that far, nor how much emotional energy I invested in the hope of this one acceptance. It’s quite a roller coaster. In any case, here is the nearly form rejection (#13 on the 13th):

“Thank you so much for sending us [your novel] with a view toward representation. We’ve had a chance to read, and while we saw much to admire in these pages – particularly your wonderful and distinct voice – we didn’t find ourselves falling into them with the kind of all-in, no-reservations enthusiasm that we would need in order to serve as the book’s best champions. This isn’t to say that it’s not succeeding on its own terms, but rather that we’re likely not its best readers, and as such won’t presume to offer specific editorial suggestions—to do so would be irresponsible. That said, we’re very glad to have had the chance to read and familiarize ourselves with your writing. Please know that we’ll be wishing you the very best with this and all else going forward.”

Gad, I need a beer.

April 11, 2018

Rejection #12: “Thanks so much for the opportunity to consider your work! Unfortunately, this project isn’t right for me, but I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors and in finding representation!

April 10, 2018

Some great feedback from a friend reading the latest draft. Also, a nice form rejection (#11): “Thanks so much for letting us take a look at your materials, and please forgive me for responding with a form letter. The volume of submissions we receive, however, makes it impossible to correspond with everyone personally. Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time. We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work, and we thank you, once again, for letting us consider your materials.

April 4, 2018

Got some great feedback from my fried Kathy and made some minor updates to the manuscript. Amazing how other people perceive what you’ve written. I can’t wait for some high school teacher to ask about all the metaphorical references to transcendentalism and I have to pretend I know what he or she is talking about.

April 2, 2018

Rejection #10: “Thank you for thinking to query me with your project. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a good fit for my list at this time. Again, thank you, and best of luck finding an agent.

March 29, 2018

Rejection #9: “Thanks so much for thinking of XYZ Agency and giving me the chance to review your work! Unfortunately, after reading your letter, I just didn’t feel strongly enough to request pages. I’m of the belief that authors deserve an agent who will be passionate about the projects they represent, and I didn’t connect as much as I’d hoped. Please know that every agent feels differently, and this is merely my personal preference. I encourage you to keep querying as what doesn’t fit for one agent is perfect for another. I wish you all the best in finding the perfect agent and good luck in your future writing endeavors.

March 21 – 28, 2018

No updates. Taking a break from process to see what comes in.

March 20, 2018

Second rejection for the day (#9): “Thank you so much for submitting your query and pages to me here at XYZ Agency. Please know that I read all queries myself and consider each and every submission carefully. Unfortunately, I am going to pass on asking to read the full manuscript of your book – I’m sorry. I wish you the very best in your agent hunt!” So, generically positive I guess.

Brief rejection (#7) from email submission: “Thank you for submitting your query, but we’re not the right agency for your project. Best of luck elsewhere.” So, I guess there’s not point submitting to other agents at the same agency. This particular agent show no (zero) requests for manuscripts on Query Tracker. Actually, none of the agents show any recent interest in any manuscripts. Interesting.

March 19, 2018

Form rejection (#6) from form submission: “Thank you for sending your query. Unfortunately I have to pass as this is not quite the right fit for me. I wish you all the best success moving forward and finding the right home for your work.” First rejection using synopsis / query #2.

March 15, 2018

Personalized rejection (#5) from agent assistant: “Thank you for your thoughtful email. After careful consideration, [Agent] does not feel your work is the right fit for him. I should note that his current list is quite full and he’s not actively seeking new clients at this time. Thanks again for the opportunity. We wish you the very best in finding the right home for your work.” I thanked the assistant and asked if it was okay to submit to other agents at the agency, and she confirmed that it was: “You can certainly try others…”

Going forward, I think I need to focus on goofy agents who rep magical realism or related fantasy, so they get my sense of humor and tone. Brianne Johnson from Writers House, for instance. Some of my queries were clearly to people who are far too serious for this novel.

Another note: This industry is technologically broken.

March 12-14, 2018

The battle continues!

March 11, 2018

Today’s rejection (#4): “This is not right for me, but thank you for the look.” Not even a form letter. Is that good or bad? Came from a personal email address, which was different. Maybe just a smaller agency.

March 8, 2018 – Query v2

Started the morning off with a form rejection (#3): “Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time. As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate. Again, thank you very much for allowing us this chance to consider your material, and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors.” It was at least prompt, polite and positive.

Rewrote the dreaded Query Letter. Hopefully, it’s more bang and less whimper. MORE BANG!

March 7, 2018 – Looking for an Agent

Several query letters sent to agents today. Interesting that I was so reluctant to submit to Science Fiction / Fantasy agents before. The novel is nominally magical realism, but given that it’s not exactly literary fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy is as good a classification as any. Plus, I feel less ridiculous describing the plot to agents who probably see far stranger stuff.

Best advice so far from a published author: “Let me only say that preparing oneself for a steady diet of humiliation is excellent training for any author. ” Off to the races!

Received one rejection (#2) on the same day from VSA: “Thank you for considering XYZ Agendy as a potential agency to represent your work. We have reviewed the material you sent and we regret that we will not be offering to review your work further at this time. Please know that we are very selective with the materials that we request. We encourage you to keep writing and we wish you every success. Please forgive this impersonal note. We receive a tremendous number of queries and are forced to focus our attention on a limited number of projects.” I wish I could know if this was due to the quality of the query or the material itself, but such is life.

Found a great article on SFWA : “How to Find a (Real!) Literary Agent.” My gut tells me I need to work more on my query and synopsis.

March 6, 2016 – Looking for an Agent

Several query letters sent to agents today. Frustrated that I don’t see some typos until too late, but overall what I’m sending seems professional. I’m still not comfortable selling myself, so it’s a bit of a slog mentally.

I received two responses the same day. The first from TCA requesting the full manuscript for review. I was ecstatic when the request came in. After reading more online, I have the impression this is more SOP for them (quick responses, quick reviews), which is great…but it tempered my optimism somewhat. Now waiting eagerly (over the next few weeks for some response).

Not 100% sure on etiquette. I know it’s fine to send multiple query letters simultaneously, and not fine to send multiple full manuscripts simultaneously, but is it okay to continue sending queries when a manuscript is out in case it’s rejected (which is highly likely)? Some investigation to do here.

The second response from IWM was a quick personal Rejection (#1) note: “Thanks for sending my way. I didn’t fall in love with the sample so we’ll have to pass.” Interesting. I have the impression you can submit to more than one agent as long as it doesn’t overlap, but I wonder if he’s speaking for all IWM agents? For now, I’ll assume so.

Late February 2018 – Synopsis

Blech. Man. Sometimes writing a summary of what you done really makes you question what you’ve done.

February 2018 – Ready to Start Marketing

Finished third draft of novel and now preparing to send out query letters. I like the writing part. I didn’t even mind it editing. But this marketing phase is intimidating and…banal. I know it’s part of the business of writing, but damn. It’s a completely different skill set.

January 2018 – Finished Second Draft

I had to cut the novel down from 130k words to under 110k for marketability reasons. Turns out, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Got rid of a lot of fluff. Sped things up. I like it. Wouldn’t have gotten here without Juli’s help. Well, that’s not true; but it would taken longer and been a lot less fun.

Watched James Patterson Master Class, and started Aaron Sorkin’s. Patterson was pretty engaging, but I learned more from Stephen King’s On Writing. Was very impressed with Patterson’s work ethic and productivity. So far, Aaron is far more erudite and detailed, but his focus on dialog (screenplays) may not translate perfectly to novels.

December 2017 – Finished First Draft of The Novel

Gave a copy to my mom for Christmas to read. Sweet reaction. And she didn’t hate it, which is good. Her main advice; speed it up, man, speed it up! And, more distinct dialog. Also gave copy to friend Juli to review. Feedback positive, with usual sarcastic input. Go figure; she likes the most sarcastic character.

November 2017 – Quit My Job

Not really related. I was trying to write in my spare time, but it was taking forever. And work was making me grumpy. .Quitting allowed me to focus and make real progress. Probably the most important factor if I’m ever successful. I mean when. Other than Kathy taunting me for taking so long to write it. Pbththth.

Sometime in the Past

I wrote a vignette about a surfer and a decapitated sex doll. How can that not be the basis for a novel?

Before That

I wrote a dark little science fiction novel in college that was rep’d by Sandra Dijkstra until she asked for a rewrite and I lost interest. Ahh, youth. A few years later, I had another novel — true crime-ish this time — that was actually pretty timely, but was so dark (and long) that my friends thought I’d lost my mind. Put that in a drawer and haven’t seen it since. Net-net, the novel I’m working on now is not my first novel, but I hope it will be my first published novel. Hope. Lots of hope.


This is just some of the stuff I’ve used along the way. Some good, some bad, some genuinely odd. The whole industry has yet to be modernized in some ways, and I have a feeling that when it is…it won’t be good for authors, agents or publishers. Sometimes inefficiency is a good thing. In the meantime:

  • MasterClass / Great relatively new resource to learn from the masters in writing and other areas.
  • Mrs. Snark / Blog about all the nonsense, recommended by a friend.
  • Publishers’ Marketplace / Good information on agents and agencies, most of which seems up-to-date.
  • Query Tracker / Insights into which agents respond when and how.
  • Writer Beware / Good general resource on the trials and tribulations of writing. Also recommended by a friend.
  • Writers’ Digest / Some good articles covering most areas of writing and marketing.



  1. Imnotputting Mynamedown

    How do I comment on this thing? OK I feel like Grandma here. Hope this works.

    I just stopped in to see progress and your 5/14 entry on the “next book” reminded me that I am enraged about looking for the text explaining Ray’s backstory in this one, only to be told there is a whole prequel in your head. Stop mooning about and get it on paper. If that’s already on paper, write the next bleepin’ novel so (a) when success hits, you have more ready to stoke the fire and (b) you have something better to do right now when not doing insane physical things, which you cannot 24/7, than moon. You are like a giant working dog that needs a job to do, see Bouvier des Flandres. We are thinking of getting one of those in retirement but are sort of scared of what will happen if it gets bored/introspective. I digress.

    An Irascible Fan

    PS I hope to never again be single, but just in case, I should save some of those agent responses (“you deserve someone who’s passionate about this…” “I’m really not in the right head space for this now…”) for Tinder replies. Does Tinder actually require replies? Do crochety old people use Tinder? Sorry, drifted off topic. Get back to writing!

    • Shawn C. Butler

      Well, that is the best comment ever in the sense that I have been compared to giant slobbery animal with a short lifespan and yet still found it flattering. Someone else said the same thing about the prequel, BTW… 😉

  2. Kam

    Next book please! You can’t just leave me hanging.

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