Query Me Done

The great query letter saga of 2015 continues! Sick of reading about my query letter yet? Me too. Hopefully this will be the last I need to think about it for at least a little while.

Unlike last time, this draft did not spontaneously start to suck, so I went ahead and sent it to Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft service. I kept telling myself I spent about five years on the book, the very least I could do was spend $39.99 (US, damn you people) on the letter with which I would attempt to sell that book. Was it worth it? Why yes, yes it was.

I heard back from my critiquer within a few days, a fantasy author with a long list of publications, who said he would have it back to me in about a week. I think it ended up being about ten days, which I thought was a pretty quick turn around. I got a page of comments in return.

In spite of all my complaining about query letters these last few posts, I should say that I was pretty happy with the one that I finally sent in and guess what? So was my critiquer. Hard work actually paying off?  What the…

This critique for me didn’t so much critique as confirm what I hoped, that my letter didn’t suck. He said it was witty, well-written, confidently persuasive and made him think of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. This is frigging good news because the novel I wrote should make people think of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Phew!

One criticism he did make was that I don’t give any indication of the setting and that’s a true story, I don’t. So there I was, beaming, glowing from this hard-won query battle, only to be slammed by setting. That’s okay, I thought, I can work that in somewhere.

I revise things the only way I know how; by rereading them twenty thousand times until my eyes are dry and bleeding and I find the one word or sentence that bothers me in some fashion, a weak link that hints subtly at the need for a change. I set about this noble mission and failed. I read the query until it blurred on the page, then I read it some more, then I read it out loud. Where, WHERE? Where can I indicate setting, grahhhh!

My best answer after about a week of this was helpfully, nowhere. Fantastic. I called some of my writer friends to help me. No luck there either, they liked my letter the way it was. Thwarted again, I called my mom. We spent about two hours with the letter and ended up with the same conclusion – there was nowhere.

That of course, is not true. There are plenty of places, but to do so seems to mess with the flow of the letter, send a wallop to its mojo. Final solution? Ignore expert advice that I paid for. Precious, isn’t it?

So that’s exactly what I did. I left the letter the way it was and even sent it out to the first three agents on my list. Only time will tell whether that was a good idea or not. Even though I did not take the advice, the critique was still well worth it to me. He got everything out of the letter that I hoped he would, now I just hope that an agent does too.

 

Query Me That…

 

Okay, so in my last post I said I was going to let my query letter sit for another week before I submitted it for a critique from Writer’s Digest Second Draft Service. I did let it sit for a week then something happened, the likes of which have been turning writers into maniacs since writing became a thing. When I went back to read the beloved query before submitting it, I realized something very disturbing…

It sucked.

Yep, all that work, all those rewrites, all those incarnations and I thought I finally had it annnnnnnnnd…it sucked. Ah, the observational power provided by time and space. Let this be a friendly reminder to always let your work sit for a little while before moving on to the next step. You may just find that it actually sucks.

Okay, so that was fine. I got drunk and cried for a while, then woke up the next day, headed to my office, sat down with all of the printouts of my many, many query attempts and asked myself, why does it suck? This is what I came up with:

1. It was too long. Only a page, yes, but way past the 250 words Query Shark recommends.

2. I was trying to explain my book. In my last blog I whined and complained about how hard it is to cram your entire book into one tiny query letter. Want to know why that is hard to do? Because you can’t do that, that’s why. Only an idiot would try to do that.

3. I was trying to outline the book instead of get the agent interested in reading it. This is what stymied me from the get go, too much focus on plot, not enough why would I care about this plot.

I started from scratch and dumped all the vague notions of a format I had in my little brain. I went and read the back of a few books that are in my book’s genre, picked three I thought were really enticing and tried to go for that vibe instead. Now, God help us all, I think I have something that reads like the back of a book, 288 words and it’s been a week and it doesn’t suck yet.

This was a much better approach for me. The blurb on the back of a book tries to convince the reader to buy the book very succinctly, and that’s what you want an agent to do as well.  I cannot stress the value of the Query Shark archives through this process and strongly encourage anyone attempting a query letter to read through all of them. Now, assuming (mwahahaha!) that my query can survive one more night, tomorrow I will submit it for critique and see if I’m finally onto something, or still clueless.

Onward and upward!

 

 

Query Me This…

At the end of last year I gave my completed manuscript to five beta readers and by the end of November all of their reports were in. I was mainly interested in the overall story, whether it was interesting and made sense. I worked on that manuscript for five years and needed to know if it was as good as I thought it was or, as in many aspects of my life, I was just living in a compelling fantasy land.

I am pleased to report that it got good reviews. Even the readers I didn’t think would like it because it isn’t their genre enjoyed it and I got some great feedback on some small inconsistencies and details. In other words, it went better than I could have ever imagined. That means on to the next step.

I have only one goal this year and that is to find an agent or publisher for my manuscript. Now that the lost month of December is behind me, I have been working on one thing, the query letter. I shudder to think of the hours put into one page of writing, though with any luck, it will be the most important page of writing I ever come up with.

I have my 2015 Guide to Literary Agents. I have my 2015 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market and I had what I thought was valuable experience successfully querying magazines. Wrong. I just love learning how stupid I am, keeps things interesting.

So here’s some news, writing a query letter for your novel is REALLY, REALLY HARD. Breaking down your five hundred page masterpiece into one super-awesome-amazing page is not for the weak. You will write it, you will research it, you will rewrite it, toss it, write it again, rework it, edit it, throw it out, write it a few more times. You will think you’re on the right track and then come back to it again and see how much it sucks. Your experience querying magazines? (Insert maniacal laughter here) Keep trying, sucker.

Now, after two long weeks and about ten different incarnations, I think I finally have something approaching what I need. If anyone out there should choose to take on this truly idiotic undertaking, here are some resources I found helpful.

1. The articles in the 2015 Guide to Literary Agents. Some very useful examples in there.

2. The part on query letters in Karen S. Wiesner’s very useful book From First Draft to Finished Novel. This is pretty basic info, but gets you started.

3. The article on how to write a query letter at agentquery.com. I think this one is the most honest about how bloody difficult it is.

4. Query Shark. Follow the horrible brilliance of this woman and read the archives. All of them.

5. A husband (or other human type creature) who is not afraid to tell you something could be better.

I’m going to sit on this bad boy for another week and then I’m submitting it to Writer’s Digest Second Draft Service for query letters. I spent five years on my book, the least I can do is spend forty bucks getting an objective, professional opinion on the letter that will sell that book.

Oh, and that list I have, of publishers and agents I want to submit to in my first round? Yeah, most of them don’t even want a query letter, or they want a query letter and a bunch of other stuff. I’m just getting warmed up over here.

 

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