Friday, April 22, 2011

Query letter? Gotta make it sing

I have been writing quite a bit in the past several days, hence another long break between posts. Or to be more precise, I have been writing and then rewriting chapters for my second book in the series. That much rewriting? What do you expect a veteran copy editor to do.

But as I have gone over the matter of query letters, I have reached a conclusion. I have to tweak mine. It is obvious my current query isn't catching enough attention. The problem? I think it makes the book sound too dark, too foreboding. There are dark parts in the book, parts that made me feel uncomfortable while I was writing them. (I am not a violent man by any means, but I have one chapter devoted to a crime, and the violence gets very detailed at the end. But that chapter is so basic to why one of my protagonists reacts the way he does that it has to be included.) My book is more about decisions we make, why we make them and the impacts they have on our lives and the lives of those around us. Dark and foreboding? Well, maybe dark and foreboding only in how real lives happen, but not dark and foreboding in overall tone. Now I have to make that thought be more apparent in my query letter. So, part of today will be spent honing that most important aspect of trying to become a published author.

I do have big news. I am attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs later this month, and I am stoked! How stoked? I think I might have been the first person to register for the conference.

But here is what I am most stoked about: I have a pitch session scheduled. A pitch session is basically an oral query letter. I will be presenting to Sandra Bond, an agent in Denver with an excellent reputation. I have researched Ms. Bond (isn't Google wonderful?), but I will not tailor my pitch to fit aspects she favors. My novel will stand on its own. I know that. Now I just have to sell that idea and get the ball rolling in the right direction. I will have eight minutes to accomplish that.

I will keep you posted.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The best query letter ...

Writing a novel with strong characters isn't hard for me. Putting twists and turns into a plot and creating a world of challenges for my protagonists is daunting but fun. Dialogue? I love doing it. But if you want to see my resolute confidence shaken, have me sit down and create a good query letter to submit to literary agents.

Why such fear and trembling? Oh, I can write a good query, but there is the nagging question when I'm done ... Is it the right wording to sell my novel? Have I done the best job necessary to make some agent in New York City, or Denver, or Tiburon, Calif., sit up and take notice? I may feel fine about my current query letter, but am I separating my work from the 100-200 other queries a single agent will handle during a week? Is my query good enough to avoid being lumped into the dreaded slush pile?

Judging by results, the answer is a resounding no. I still haven't persuaded an agent that I'm the author for them.

I will press on and refine the art. My first query letter was overblown, but then I made an acquaintance many authors make ... I met the Query Shark. The Shark is Janet Reid of FinePrint Lit in New York City. She invites aspiring authors to swim around the reef as she seeks new prey ... and then rips them apart. But in the feeding frenzy there is some very good information. The best of the Shark's nuggets of wisdom: Keep the query short (she suggests 250 words or less) and keep the wording very focused, with no soft or wasted words (which has to happen under that guideline).

My time with the Shark has been alternately interesting and vexing. I'm a veteran journalist and copy editor, so honing my query to Shark-specific length was rather fun. The vexing part is wondering whether the resulting nugget is good enough. It might be good enough for me ... I felt good about sending the query to a few agents ... but is it good enough for that agent wading through piles of queries in the press of high rises in NYC? I can only guess.

I will get into query letters more in my next few blogs, but I will leave you with a little knowledge of what we First-Timers go through. Since I started writing this blog, I have received a reply from one agent. One ... single ... agent. She rejected my work simply because she no longer handles fiction. The others I haven't heard from? I don't have the ghost of an idea what is going on.

In the meantime, I will press on. I am writing a sequel to my first book, and there will be a third book in the series. I keep hitting on ideas for later books I will write. I believe in myself, and I believe in my work. One of these days, the right agent will reply. You don't know how eagerly I wait for that day.