|What life? We got a fucking puppy.|
So, I intended to do a monthly Friday Feedback on the first Friday of each month because that would've been nice and alliterative, but then we got this puppy and then my whole life turned into one big NOTHING BUT PUPPY.
FYI, if you think this is a good thing, think again.
I'm not exactly a dog person, as you may have read HERE.
Alas, my younger son is, and my older son has ditched us for college. So, there you have it. A pup was in the cards.
Do I want him? NO.
Do I love him? Sort of, kind of.
Okay, yes. Fine. Yes. (But he's driving me crazy!)
Am I happy for my kid?
At any rate, since most of you who may be reading at this point are probably Teachers Write! campers, many who spent the summer working on manuscripts, and because, in a moment of weakness** I offered to review a query for any Teachers Write camper who visited Friday Feedback more than twice, I've been, in fact, reviewing queries, most of which have been startling good for a first stab.
But some of you. . . well a few of you. . . ahem.
So, I thought I'd take five seconds (okay, maybe minutes***) to remind you what a query -- at least in fiction -- is and should be, and to the contrary, ISN'T and (dear god) shouldn't be.
What it is: THREE paragraphs. You heard me, THREE. If you need a fourth, so be it. If I see five, well, that's out of the question. The first: telling the particular agent why you're writing to them and what your manuscript is. The second: A compelling two or three sentence synopsis of your story - main characters, what the conflict is, what the gist of the resolution is. I know, I know: how am I supposed to do that in three sentences? That's part of the test. Part of letting an agent know you can encapsulate your story concisely, precisely and well. Just wait - oh, wait - until you have to help write jacket copy. And the third? That the manuscript is complete at ___ words, and one or two sentences about you THAT ARE PERTINENT. They don't really care if you blog, or tweet, or facebook -- EVERYONE does that now, though an editor may care ONCE you are agented and your manuscript is sold. They only care about some real and legit publication. I know that sounds harsh, but it's true.
Remember KISS? Keep It Simple Stupid? If KISS isn't in your brain from the moment you start writing your query to the time you finish, you're in trouble, I'm telling you now.
So, your query could look something like this (and I'm doing this off the top of my head in three minutes to make some points, so please don't hold me to polished -- understand concepts):
I am writing to you about my manuscript THE PULL OF GRAVITY, because I read on Chuck Sambuchino's blog that you are particularly interested in contemporary YA fiction that tackles tough issues with a sense of humor.
THE PULL OF GRAVITY is narrated by 15-year-old Nick Gardner, an ordinary kid whose whose best friend, the Scoot, is dying of a freak disease. When Nick meets Jaycee Amato, a quirky new girl with Siberian Husky eyes and an odd affinity for Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, they set off on a secret whirlwind road trip to keep a promise to their dying friend. But when plans fall apart, will the pull of gravity be enough to keep everything together?
The Pull of Gravity is a poignant yet funny look at loss, family struggles, friendship and first love, complete at 52,000 words. When I'm not writing, I'm a divorce lawyer/mediator, which is why my stories often touch on the struggles of a family to stay together in a world that is often challenging. Pursuant to your information on Chuck Sambuchino's guide, I am pasting the first three pages below. I'd love the opportunity to share the entire manuscript.
Notice (if you've read my book) what my query leaves out: It leaves out setting (not important to my story in a huge way), it leaves out Jeremy (important to the story but not germane to the query!). It leaves out Rochester, Albany, The Doofus, that they play shuffleboard (one of my personally favorite scenes in the book), the fight with the spoon (yep, another favorite, but it doesn't go in a query, man!), the bus trip, the news station, the hotel, the fever, and so on, and so on, and so on. It even leaves out Nick's big, fat Dad and his quest to walk 200 miles to NYC! (way, WAY important to the story. And, maybe I'd try a second version leaving him in, but my point is, if you boil my story down to its essence in one paragraph, you've got Nick, the Scoot and Jaycee).
WHY am I leaving so many rich, important parts of my story out? Because agents DON'T HAVE TIME. They get hundreds of these a week. They need to know scrolling your query in ONE MINUTE what your book is about. They don't want to read seven paragraphs and then go, huh. So what is the book ABOUT?
What you shouldn't do then? DON'T:
- be chatty and familiar (oy! -- they'll be happy to be chatty and familiar with you when they take on your representation);
- tell them why these characters are your babies and how long you've worked on the book and how the world needs this story (let them be the judge of that, sorry);
- tell them minor details. Come on, writers, you can figure this out!
- tell them all the things you've published that are anything but major stuff in mainstream media -- yes, Huffington Post can count, but every other minor online site, not so much;
- tell them your friends, family or BETA readers loved your book.
Am I being harsh? Maybe. But make no mistake: even though we are writers and writing is creative, it is a business, too. This is your first opportunity to show that you get it. That you understand where to be creative and rambling, and HOW to be objective, compelling and concise.
For other information on how to write a good query, check out:
Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents
Publishers Marketplace (Robert Lee Brewer)
So, now you know. Good luck! And my offer still willingly stands.
Oh, and, YES! It's Friday Feedback! So, if you want to post an excerpt between now and Sunday morning, please do! You know THE RULES!!! (and if you don't, please click on that link and read them before you post!). See you in the comments.
** I am honestly completely happy to review your queries. It may be the lawyer in me, but it's rather an easy, enjoyable exercise for me to show you how to hone. But try first to Keep it Simple, okay?
*** okay, maybe an $)*&%$(*&%!! hour