Monday, February 22, 2010

Personal Query Arsenal

Today I present my personal query arsenal. (And I'm not talking about Arsenal FC. Why would I? I am not a fan.)

Last week I tiptoed up to the reality of submitting a query for a novel. That means I thought seriously about it. I've queried before, for an old, first novel, and was roundly rejected on account of the novel resembling a pile of stinky diapers. I learned a lot, and will never make those mistakes again.

Now, admittedly, last week I wasn't really up to much at all except getting myself physically on track. I had some complications that nothing on the tinterwebs could explain, but luckily a quickly arranged doctor's visit did give me answers and I'm much, much better now, and feeling the best I've felt since, well, all that happened. So that would be a note to self: don't think about querying until you are free physically and mentally to put energy into it.

But as I snuck up to the whole query process and looked at my query letter, I realized that in order to query a project, you need a few things, and I'm not talking about the actual letter.

I really think querying requires thick skin, optimism, and confidence. If you're not confident in your writing or your project, I think this will come through in your query in a variety of ways. Maybe your query is professional and hits all the elements, but something is're holding back a bit, maybe. Or maybe you didn't make it stand out enough. Having confidence is a real challenge because many unpublished writers, moi included, would like validation in our writing by agent/editor approval and acceptance. Essentially, we want to be told we don't suck.

If you're lucky, you'll have had people tell you you're brilliant and your writing is top notch and you brought them to tears with your prose. But if you're like me, you'll have people read your book and give critiques, but never give you the ego-stroking you crave. The worst thing someone ever said to me (about my current novel) is "You might have to self-publish." Oooooh that burned. You can feel the burn, can't you? That is bad, bad, bad. Luckily, I have a healthy sense of denial and I chose not to hear the implications in that.

The Right Amount of Marketing
You are selling your novel, and in particular, you are trying to entice the agent to read more based on your pitch. This is so, so hard to do, and it is why people make whole careers out of copywriting and marketing communication. I should know. I am a marketing communications person, and I have a hard time writing enticing copy. It's just not easy to find the best wording, the most succinct sentences, all to appeal tothe specific person reading it.

But I believe that you have to have it, otherwise a perfectly good query will NOT stand out and will appear much duller than intended. Remember, most plots have been done. You HAVE to show them why yours is different and good.

Personal Fortitude
Rejection is like a smack in your face, every time. It doesn't matter if your skin is like a komodo dragon's--it stings every time. You must learn to brace for the smack, turn your face away, and then look forward again. That is so, so hard.

What else do you need? For those of you who have been wearily and doggedly querying, what do you do besides drink a fifth or more of Laphroaig to cope?


KLM said...

Oh, man, does this ever resonate for me right now. I'm the mayor of Queryville at the moment. And while I agree you should be in tip-top mental shape to embark on the bruising process of querying, the main way to go at it is with a sense of humor and an appreciation for the perverse ("Rejection? Why I just LOVE it!") Also, what helps is a shrugging acceptance that rejection is part of the package deal. It's the painful price we pay for doing the greatest job in the world.

So concludes my pep talk. Now go out there and get yourself some rejection, Sierra! It's not fair I should be keeping it all to myself.

Travener said...

Lacrimose self-pity seems to be my current way of coping.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

In addition to your great list, Sierra, I'd add:

PATIENCE. It's going to take you a while to hear back on some of these, and many agents aren't going to respond at all. (For me, the non-response is far worse than an outright fact, the non-response is the worst part of the whole thing imo.)

ENDURANCE. It's going to be a long process unless you're amazingly lucky (and skilled too, I suppose). Researching agents takes time, writing the query takes time, sending each agent just what they want takes time, everything about the process takes time and it's frustrating because for those of us with day jobs that is precious time that would otherwise be spent writing (or hanging out with family, hiking, bowling, getting shitfaced, or whatever). Reconcile yourself to it being a commitment you're going to make for a while, not just a couple of weeks of blitzing the agent world.

SENSE OF PROPORTION. Your novel doesn't necessarily suck if you're not receiving partial requests *because agents haven't seen it*. They've only seen the query. Focus your effort where it's needed. Don't make unreasonable inferences.

ADAPTABILITY. Feedback is scarce but the flip side of the above is that when and if you get it, treat it as the valuable commodity it is.

And I second KLM's suggestion of SENSE OF HUMOR.

Such is my wisdom from 4.5 months of basically fruitless querying thus far. fwiw.

Sierra Godfrey said...

I really, really like your list, Lt. C. Those are great. And Kristen, your pep talk was great. I like the idea of going at it perversley.

Travener - man, I know. If it's any consolation, I feel your pain along with you everytime you report.

Julie Dao said...

Oooh querying - this is an area of writing I haven't entered yet and won't be for some time, but it seems extremely intimidating. This is a great checklist and I'll be sure to keep it on hand when the time comes.

Meghan Ward said...

Who told you that you might have to self-publish!?? I feel pretty confident with my query letter since it got me several full requests; it's my book I'm not so confident with :)

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