Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sending Our Babies Off (Querying)

Well, folks, it's official. I have query fever. (I blame Gina.) Last night I sat down to try my hand at writing a query letter for my (so close I can taste it) completed novel.

Querying is the terrifying, soul-ripping art of telling an intensely critical stranger enough about your 80,000 word novel in just 250 words to make them want to buy it.

I'll just let that sink in for a sec.

This novel is my fourth baby (the only one made out of words.) I have three human ones (made of skin and bones and souls.)

If you asked me to tell you about my first (human) baby, here's a tiny sampling of what I might tell you:
When  he was born, I could have written a love letter to his tiny wrinkled feet, I was so obsessed with them.
 I wrote a blog post that was mostly concerned with the scent of his baby breath.
I remember that time he gave himself a black eye with a plastic spoon, and how his first word was "ball."
When he was two, he loved to tromp around the kitchen in only his diaper and dress shoes.
His right eye closes a little bit more than his left when he smiles.
 When he says the word "elephant" it sounds like "oh-fant."
His favorite color is blue, unless you're talking about superheroes, in which case it's red, for Iron Man.
Yesterday, he braved the honey bees to pick me a bouquet of clover flowers from our backyard.

But here's what his preschool registration forms want to know about him:
His name is Asher.
He is four years old.
He does not have any allergies.

So, if you ask me to tell you about my novel,
I might go on and on and on about my main character's struggles and insecurities, what bugs her about her mom, what makes her heart race.
I would tell you about how she misses her dad, and how he's the only one who could have helped her make sense of the conflict.
 I would tell you how running makes her feel powerful, and how her boring life secretly always made her feel safe, and how actually being powerful now makes her scared.
I would tell you how thrilled I am for her that she is falling in love so hard and so deep.
 I would talk about how the most difficult choices in her life are going to also turn out to be the most rewarding.
 I would tell you how much I love her, and the other characters, and how proud I am of them, because I know that what they did took a lot of guts and bravery.

But agents and publishers? Here's what they want me to tell them:
 Who is the main character?
 What's the main conflict?
How many words are in it?

Ugh. Consider my heart torn out plopped down on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper. 

And that's a query letter.


  1. Yes it is. Yes, it is. Well said. But I can't accept blame for your query fever - I have query PHOBIA, remember? LOL

  2. Query letters are SO hard. I work for months on mine and EVERYONE who is in my inbox gets an email on what they thing. I'm crazy about them.

    I read how to write one, success stories, and then, when I'm feeling confident I read those at Query Shark and tell myself I'm better than them. It's a terrible cycle!

    I've written six novels, queried one and learned A TON. I learned I wasn't ready and the one thing they tell you not to do I did a lot. Now that I'm about to query again I feel much more confident.

    Well, sort of. Now I'm working on the synopsis that's often requested. Grr... that's an even bigger nightmare.

  3. @Gina - it's the good kind of blame. I don't get excited or self-confident too often, and this is a HUGE self-confidence step.

    @Jen - Query Shark terrifies me. TERRIFIES. ME. I'm not sure whether I should start querying soon and learn from my mistakes with three or four agents, or whether to put my baby in a drawer until December (if only we could do that with real babies) and rethink it then. I just don't want to keep making excuses for why I'm "not ready" when that really means "I'm too chicken."

    Oh, and SYNOPSIS? Excuse me while I go throw up. Eeeeek!

  4. I just rewrote my query after massive rewrites to my wip. Now I have to rewrite my synopsis. Groan!!!!