Query Hell

I’m good at writing marketing copy. While it is not my Life’s Work, it’s fun work and it happens to be my day job.

As the publications coordinator at the theater, I write the play synopses that you see on our website and ads and postcards and brochures. Hopefully, these synopses will make you want to come see the plays. I enjoy the challenge of distilling a play into a paragraph that is both informative and intriguing. There’s an art to it, and it’s hard as hell. That is why I’m the best person for the job, instead of, say, the person who wrote the play.

I’m not better at this because I’m more brilliant than the playwright. No, I’m better than she is at summarizing her play because I didn’t write the play. An author is the last person who can write a thrilling, informative, intriguing synopsis of his or her own work. She is too close to her own writing and tends to think every character, theme, and storyline is important enough to cram into the synopsis. An author thinks of her work as Art, not a product, so she’s not the best judge of how to sell it.

Since I am a professional blurb-writer for other writers, I was confident I would be above all the pitfalls described above when the time came to write a blurb for my own work.

Well, I’m not. I’m actually pretty terrible at it. I’m too close to the BP. I think every theme–every word!–is imbued with equal weight and I can’t decide which of my beloved characters deserve to have their names in caps. My mind fills in all the holes that would be downright confusing for the objective reader. It turns out that my blurb-writing expertise is limited to my cubicle.

How did I come to this realization, you ask?

For anyone who doesn’t know, when trying to turn your fiction manuscript into a real novel, complete with cover art and ISBN, you must first have a publisher. To acquire a publisher, you must first acquire an agent. When seeking an agent, you must have a query letter, which is essentially a cover letter for your book.

The query letter must do myriad things: summarize your novel in a clear, concise, compelling manner; provide the plot, themes, and setting; establish the major characters and their story arcs in relation to the overarching storyline; echo the tone and style of your novel; and leave the agent wanting more–all in less than a page.

Agents receive thousands of queries a month. The better known agents receive more. As Colleen Lindsay of New York’s FinePrint Literary Management recently tweeted: “This year, between Jan. 20 and Feb. 18, I rec’d 2,734 queries.”

Obviously, yours has got to stand out.

I am not querying agents yet because

a) my book isn’t finished

and

b) my query letter sucks

Yes, I have a query letter, though I am not yet sending it to agents.

I needed a query letter to apply for a scholarship last summer, so I wrote it and won the scholarship and put it away. Now I’m applying for another scholarship on Monday. The book has changed since last summer, and the letter needed to be rewritten.

My friend V turned me on to the website AbsoluteWrite.com, which has a handy forum just for query letters, aptly named “Query Hell.” She received some great feedback (and a possible agent!) from posting her query on this site. So I rewrote my letter and posted it to the forum last week. It was much better than my first letter. It had style. It was witty and intriguing. I was feeling great about it!

Until…

The first response was pretty good:

I’m making comments only because I can’t bear to see a query without any critique at all. This sounds pretty interesting to me–a good query, for the most part.

Ok! So far, so good.

The second response, not so much:

This is really weird. I’d like to know why Junior can’t figure out what sport he’s playing. Does he have brain damage?

And the final response:

Huh? No idea what you’re talking about here. The only theme you present is father/son, and you dump that like a two-week-old turd before you finish this query.

Well that made me stick the query right back in the file folder from whence it came. And I let it ripen–like a two-week-old turd, if you will.

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5 thoughts on “Query Hell

  1. Abby says:

    Dumped like a two-week-old turd? Geesh. I read your query and I like it. Sure, it may need tweaking, but don’t let a few posts on AW cool your steam, L. From what you’ve posted, one person wanted to know more and if she were an agent she’d likely ask for more.

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