Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Query Process--Part I

I sat down with intention to gripe about the query process, because, quite honestly, this is my least favorite thing about writing. But, I deleted all that and instead hope to put a positive spin on things.

You see, when I started writing, this is what I thought would happen:
1-I'd write a killer novel, first time through, amazing myself and everyone I know.
2-I'd print off a few copies, send them out to agents and publishers, expecting a rejection or two before finding the one who falls madly in love with my writing and begs to take me on as a client.
3-Walk into Barnes & Noble and stare lovingly at my now-bound book, envisioning the many upcoming book signings where hundreds--nay, thousands--of people would stand in line waiting for a copy with my name emblazoned in permanent marker on the inside cover.

Oh, come now, if you're a writer you know darn well that is what you thought would happen to you!! Admit it.

But, this is what happens in the real world:

1-You write a novel. It doesn't completely stink. You are very proud of yourself--and should be!
2-You let someone else read it. They find gobs of typos, clunky sentences, misused phrases, cliches, and holes in your plot.
3-You are devastated. You convince yourself your test reader is an idiot. Then you realize that you are, in fact, the idiot for thinking you can actually be the next JK Rowling. You pout. You stand over the computer with your trembling finger hovering above the "delete" button.
4-You realize this is your baby, so you hit "save" instead of "delete," grab your hard copy version, sit on the couch, hug it lovingly and apologize for your murderous thoughts, then grab the red pen.
5-You hopefully get your butt into a critique group, or at least (like me) have a large group of very literary friends, preferably some who write themselves. You begin a long string of revise, test read, revise, test read, revise....
6-Eventually, you have a really good, well-edited, tight and fluid final draft.
7-THEN, you somehow condense months or years worth of sweat and tears, heart and soul, into a paragraph or two that will grab the attention of an agent or editor.

You will probably need help with that last one, and despite a brilliantly written query you will most likely receive more rejections than you can keep track of.

Oh, yes, the positive spin you were waiting for:

This process gets easier and easier as you go along. The rejections stop hurting because you realize, as my one friend put it, each rejection is one step closer to acceptance. I have it on good authority that Bryan Davis received 200 rejections before landing his publishing deal. He's now sold MILLIONS of copies of his books. There are literally thousands of successful writers who have been rejected dozens or hundreds of times.

Get help writing your query:
--There are dozens of books and who knows how many websites that give advice and show examples of queries. (I'll work on compiling a list of those resources and include it in my next post.)
--Find a writer who has written a successful query and ask him to help you. This doesn't necessarily mean a published writer. In my last post I wrote about the teaching expertise in writers who have yet to be published. I have a writer friend who is not yet published, but he is a great teacher of the craft of writing and has written query letters that over and over entice agents to ask for sample work. I asked him for help, and after I sent my revised letter an agent actually wrote back and reqested pages!
--Writers conferences always feature classes on query writing, and many local writers groups provide workshops that include this topic.
--Have one of your test readers list what they consider the highlights of your book. It's hard sometimes to be objective about your own work. I've found that writing pitches for other people's work is easier than writing one for my own because I'm not so invested in theirs and can be objective about what should be focused on. Our work is so personal to us, and we often make the mistake of trying to fit everything in. But a query is a teaser--something to just get someone interesting in finding out all that other great stuff in your book.

Well, this has actually made me feel better :). Even though I found writing my query more difficult than writing my book, I've enjoyed the learning process. And I'll keep you all posted on my successes and failures in this area.

1 comment:

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

I agonized over my query letter for weeks. When I thought is was good (cause who really knows?), I sent it off. The first agent who read it responded by saying "thanks for writing such a strong query."

It still got a couple of rejections but at least I know its not because of it's terrible.