Send, send, send your query
Into the slush stream
Querily, querily, querily, querily…
Is publication just a dream?
All month as I’ve thought about our theme of “Submission Sense,” this little song has been stuck in my head. (I have a preschooler – don’t judge.)
As writers and illustrators, we know that agent and editor slush piles are overwhelmingly large. We’re each a little boat rowing in the stream of queries, hoping to stand out. The truth is, most queries and their respective manuscripts set sail a little sooner than they should. But how do you know if you’re ready? It’s a hard question, but if we can learn to ask it of our work, we can help to cut down on our own rejection, the slush pile itself, and everyone’s wait time.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you write your query letter:
-Can I identify my character’s major conflict and major arc of change? Of course I can…..wait….I thought I could, but now I can’t form a complete sentence. Gah! How many times have I sat down to write a summary and gotten up feeling like a wrung-out washcloth? Why’s it so darn hard? There are many reasons, but one is that our characters, especially in novels, face many conflicts. They change slowly, maybe even in ways that we as their authors haven’t even recognized yet. Or maybe….eeeek!….they don’t quite have a complete arc of growth. Maybe they have too many problems, and not one that dominates their goals and actions. Maybe they don’t really…actually…change. Realizing this is okay. It’s step one toward strengthening the most important part of the submission process: your work!! If it’s giving you fits trying to mash it into a query letter, go back and see if there’s some honing left to do. Don’t panic. Don’t cry. However, a glass of wine doesn’t hurt….
-Did I hit the major plot points? Knowing your plot points can be a major help in writing the query (and the whole book, for that matter). You have an inciting incident. The first major turn of events. The midpoint. The last major turn of events that races you into the final quarter of your book. If you’re not sure you have a good handle on this, then you might want to do a little structural review. While some writers just instinctively do this without thinking about it, others (like me) need someone to point it out to them. Remember, there’s no shame in learning!
-Can I talk about my book without fainting? You know you’ve been there, too. You sheepishly manage to utter the words, “Um, so, I’m like… writing a book.” Hooray for you, Brave Soul! But then the question comes: So what’s it about? And then, your mouth dries up. Your brain melts, right along with your confidence. Hopefully you remembered your antiperspirant. The solution? Keep working on your little one-liner until you have it down. Practice it in the shower, or while driving, or while trying to fall asleep. Say it to your goldfish. Have your line prepared, so you can say, “My book is about X who faces problem Y on her quest to Z.” If you can talk to fish, dogs, and regular people about your book without expiring, you’re well on your way to talking about it to industry professionals.
–Have I solved all major plot and character problems? Of course, your gut reaction is YES! But don’t jump the gun. Ask several other trusted readers to read your finished product. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that there are a few flying loose ends you just. Didn’t. See. Try not to get angry at your readers, yourself, or the universe if you realize you’ve got a problem. Take your time. Think it through. Ask for help. Then run the solution by your readers to make sure it really, actually works. Cutting corners in an effort to get your work out there faster won’t speed the process. The good news is, the more problems you solve, the more confident you will become in your problem-solving ability, and the easier you will be able to breathe.
Most importantly, don’t despair if your query-writing leads you to more revisions. Instead, rejoice (or at least try to smile), because your manuscript is getting stronger. You’re learning your craft, and learning to master your own masterpiece. You’re getting closer to that ultimate YES!!!
Leave a comment below about your querying triumphs, woes, or questions, and you’ll be entered into a…..
**QUERY CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY**
One lucky commenter will win a query critique by yours truly – EPA SCBWI blogmaster and agented writer Lindsay Bandy! Comment by August 31, 2016, and your name will go into my virtual hat. Winner will be announced September 1.
Oh, and for more query tips, please join me at the Lancaster Library on September 10 for BREAK INTO PUBLISHING! My very own agent, Heather Flaherty of the Bent Agency, will be giving you the ins and outs of agenting, plus providing instant feedback on some first pages AND queries! You’ll also get to meet and learn from Eastern PA authors Jennie K. Brown, Sandy Asher, and Mark Magro. You still have time – so go ahead and register!