Query writing, such a simple thing … mwahahaha

The term “dreaded query letter” is almost cliché. Obviously, there must be reasons why most writers, who are capable of writing a three hundred page novel, find writing this one page a daunting task. I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you why I tremble at the thought.

I’ve read numerous articles, blog posts, and book chapters on how to write a query. Often the same thought was expressed: If you’re having trouble writing your query letter, it’s because you don’t know what your book is about. Aaaand … every doubt I had while writing the book stands up and salutes that statement.

How can I argue with that logic? Can I tell you how to play cricket, where to find the best meal in Antwerp, how the diatonic scale differs from the chromatic? Of course, not. I don’t know any of those things. Therefore, if I can’t write a scintillating description of my book, it must be because I haven’t a clue what it’s about.

I sit paralyzed at the keyboard and that evil editor starts yapping. If you, the one who wrote the book, don’t know what it’s about, how could any reader follow it? Why would they even bother? It’s obviously nothing but a blob on paper. And evidently a putrid one. How could you possibly sell an agent on this mess?

But wait! Here’s an article that says, “You’re not actually selling the book.” Whew! That was close. Uh … wait a minute. Then, what am I supposed to do in the query letter? “All you’re doing is seducing the agent.” Oh, gotcha.” Uh … wait a minute.

How do I entice an agent in a query for my quiet character-driven story? “Focus on drama and stakes.” Hmmm. No dark alley chases, no murders, no trial of the century, no corporate takeover, no evil emperors, no battles, no magic, no vampires, no demons, no angels, not even a thing to go bump in the night. I have no mystery, no heart-stopping action, no cliffhanger to intrigue an agent.

I must “seduce the agent” by conveying the inner struggles of my characters, with their fears, and doubts, and longings in language too beautiful to behold. I must present the subtle drama and stakes of my story in a way that will astound the agent into making a frantic request for the full manuscript.

Easy as pie. Piece of cake. Not.

Please pass the Tums.

[tweetmeme source=”cassidylewis” only_single=false]

Mistakes I’ve made as a writer … so far

Today, I’m going to swallow my pride and make an admission. I’m not perfect. I know. Hard to believe, right? But it’s true; I’ve made mistakes in my writing life. Some were minor, some not. Here’s a few biggies.

My first mistake was joining a critique group. Not really. The group was fine; it was the critique I didn’t know how to take. My previous work wasn’t written with an eye toward publication. Two years ago, that changed, and I decided I needed feedback. Inexperienced, I assumed every member of the group knew more about writing than I did. I took every bit of advice to heart and edited accordingly. Eventually, I learned to evaluate the feedback and use only what I felt made my work stronger.

My second mistake was in thinking my book was finished—again and again. Almost exactly one year ago, I thought I had finished at 69,000 words. Then, beta readers said, “Think again.” They were right. So, I edited and revised, finishing again at 82,000 words. I was embarrassed to think I’d quit 13,000 words too soon, but it was done for real this time. Right? “Not quite,” said one final beta reader. Dang. But she was right too. Back to work. Finally, at 84,000 words, I was truly finished. Or not. Something still didn’t feel right to me. I’m now working on another chapter, which will add at least 4,000 words more.

You can probably guess where my “finishing” too soon mistake lead. I also queried agents way too soon—and with a query letter I wasn’t crazy about. So, I guess that’s two mistakes in one! I think the only thing I got right at that point was my 2-page synopsis.

At least some good has come from these mistakes; I’m learning to trust my instincts more. If a suggested change doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t follow it. No matter how much I want to be done with a story or novel, unless I feel deep down that it’s finished, it’s not. And if I’m not confident a piece is my best, it’s not ready for submission.

Your turn: I’m sure you avoided these mistakes, but do you have one of your own to share?

[tweetmeme source=”cassidylewis” only_single=false]