I’m trying to write a query letter. The key word in that is “trying.” I haven’t quite succeeded yet.
You see, to get an agent and sell your story, you have to have a drop-dead gorgeous query—something so unusual and brilliant that it will catch the eye of the exhausted, underpaid college kid who weeds through the slush pile in any given agency. So it’s kind of a big deal.
A stressful deal. A insanely, crazy, sickeningly big deal. (Yes, that’s a lot of adjectives, but it’s a LOT of stress.)
I’d like to share my unsuccessful attempts with you. I find them humorous now that I look back, or maybe that’s just my lack of sleep and the overwhelming feeling of literary doom.
My first attempt turned out like a normal and pathetic query, the kind you see on QueryShark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/) marked up with slash marks and riddled with humorous comments.
I sent it to my good author friend, and she hacked it apart like the lump of worthless meat it was. She’s a good friend, and I love her for her murderous act of kindness.
Excerpt: “Stupid, sexist Midwesterners. Toilets have nothing to do with attracting men.”
Mandy Warner has a few issues with her love life. Actually, it’s the people in her small town of River Bend that have issues with her love life. Mandy doesn’t even want one.
See? Cute but suckish.
My second attempt ended up wittier, funnier, and smoother. All of which only means it sucked slightly less. So back to me it came, bloody and belittled.
Excerpt: Four years after her husband’s death, Mandy wants nothing more than get on with her life, but the town of River Bend, and the church committee that controls it, have other ideas. Smoother, but not there yet.
A query has to be special. So special the stars and moon themselves alight in it. I now hate the moon and stars.
Attempts 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 all ended up the same way. I added new lines, took new approaches and tried my best to condense 92,000 words into 300 of epic greatness. The results were funnier, wittier, and not nearly good enough.
Excerpts: #3 River Bend, Iowa is an isolated and inbred farming community where social status is measured by cow size and leadership is based on cooking skill. When Mandy Warner announces she’s ready to move on with her life four years after her husband’s death, the sleepy town enters a matchmaking frenzy. Nope, not quite.
#4 In a town where social status is determined by cow size and leadership is based on cooking skill, love and romance are treated with the same enthusiasm as a football game. So, when Mandy Warner decides it’s time to rebuild her life after the death of her husband, the entire town gets into the matchmaking game. The problem is Mandy wants a job, not a man. Getting there… or not.
#5 The problem is Mandy wants a job, not a man. Besides, the men she’s offered aren’t exactly her type, and she finds light saber wielding postal workers, poetic pig farmers, and germ phobic morticians creepy and unattractive. Okay, this part I’m keeping.
Then, I tried something new. I wrote 8 and 9 out by hand, hoping the feel of pencil on paper would work the magic that computer keys lacked. I slaved over each word, writing carefully, starting and restarting each sentence. I fretted, chewed my fingernails and then the pencils, trying to force brilliance out of graphite. I must have bought the cheaper, non-magic pencils because nothing new or amazing came forth. Besides, cheap pencils taste funny and leave yellow slivers in your teeth.
Then my friend advised me to toss out all my old ideas and try something fresh. So I did. I tossed it all out the door. I went back for the computer after only a few minutes, but the notebook is still out in the snow somewhere.
“Tweet the query,” she said. Drop the essence of your book down to 140 characters and build it back up.
Smooshing 92,000 words into 140 characters hurts. A lot. I chose each letter with care, counting every word and every space. It did hurt, but when I got it right, all 140 characters of it, I realized what I’d been missing. Unfortunately, the epiphany happened at 2 am, I immediately forgot it. The only permanent result from the excruciating mental exercise is an annoying facial twitch and a dent in the wall where I beat my head into it.
Tweet: Mandy Warner fights against her town to not be forced into a love life. Then she meets Mike Giverns and must fight the town to get it back.
The next day, I opened a document and titled it Query#10. Then I played solitaire all night with blank document just siting there, ignored and rejected. It felt kinda good.
When I finally finished, #10 ended up “on the right track,” but “not there yet” so “don’t give up.”
I don’t even know where the heck “there” is. How can I get my query “there” when I don’t know where “there” is?
I have Query#12 open and I can’t face it. I refuse. Instead, I’m writing this blog post while I systematically kill any and all plot bunnies that come my way. I’d love to write another novel, but I don’t think I can do any more queries. I’m just not that strong.