Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rounding towards third

Well hello!

First of all, I have to give a massive shout out to Diana and her new book sale announcement:
Young Adult
Author of SECRET SOCIETY GIRL Diana Peterfreund's RAMPANT, about killer unicorns that can only be defeated by virgin descendants of Alexander the Great, and the teenage huntress whose birthright is seriously messing up her social life, to Kristin Daly at Harper Children's, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency (NA).
Film: Matt Snyder at CAA.
I was extremely lucky to be able to read the proposal and it is awesome - totally totally awesome! The characters are fun and complex, the set up is so unique and wow - what a world! I have been dying for this book to sell (a) so that I could talk about it and (b) so that she would hurry up and write it so I could read it. Congrats Diana!

Of course, it's also neat to see how she wrote the hook for her PW announcement. I can totally see that she's been practicing this one!

Thanks to such wonderful inspiration as seeing a friend sell a book* I've been diligently working on my WIP. For some reason this week I've been getting home from work at a reasonable hour and I bypassed fresh sheets and a comfy fluffed bed to write, write, write (no, I didn't give up sleep... just post work naps - terrible habit, those). Finally, I'd like to announce that I'm through rewriting the dread middle. Yes, with about 12k new words, some new scenes, characterization - just basically rewriting everything, I'm through the part that I felt sucked the most and needed the most work. I know, not quite the huge announcement I was hoping, but a big deal all the same. Seriously, I have only about 30k left to revise at this point and it should go quickly (furiously knocking on wood).

So naturally, my mind turns to what's next. So far, my plan is to send this bad boy out to a few beta readers and while that's going on I need to study the market. Make my agent query list. Write the query, draft the synopsis (just remembered about that bad boy a minute ago). I used to be the type of girl who never worried about a query letter. I never worried about getting past the gate-keeper.

Now I'm terrified. I'm worried that I won't be able to capture the tone of WIP correctly. That I won't be able to really express what it's about. That there are too many reasons for an agent to auto-reject because the premise is a little weird. Part of me hopes that my beta readers can help me boil down the essence of WIP and part of me laughs that I now join the ranks of all the other people out there who dread the query. Seriously, if I do it right, I think the query can rock. If I do it wrong, I'll get more dings than ....well... something that dings a lot, I guess...

Suddenly I find myself re-reading Miss Snark's crapometer. Evil Editor. The Fangs, Fur & Fey contest. I re-read posts like Diana's on writing a good PW announcement. I scour the internet for posts like this by Jennifer Lynn Barnes about what can grab or drag a hook. I've been jotting notes on post-its like "why does the reader care?!" and putting the post-its on my computer (at work, which must cause my co-workers to wonder...).

I think what it comes down to is that I'm not sure I really know the essence of my story. And it probably helps to know the core in order to write the hook. I don't know whether to emphasize the world, the protags relationships, the journey. And I'm afraid of getting it wrong, of not properly representing my book, and of losing the chance. Of not being judged on the writing, because I couldn't get the agent interested enough to get that far.

I used to pride myself on how well I could handle this part of the business. But then it's things like the debate on one agency's blog over whether thanking the agent for their time in a query letter is considered grovelling that start to worry me. I tend to think that the writing trumps: make the query professional, get the story out there, show the voice and you're good. Now I have to worry about which agents like to be thanked? Seriously, in the legal world I sign all my letters with "with best wishes, I remain, yours truly," when I really want to say "up yours!" It's just the way we write things. And we thank people for their time - even when it's their job. Sorry for the mini-rant there - you can tell what side of the debate I fall in :)

I know, I know - it's too early to worry. I'm psyching** myself out, I need to finish revisions, listen to my beta readers, let them help with query letters and synopsis,*** etc. Most of all, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. But not too far...

For the past few months, I've made a concerted effort to keep my head out of the sales arena. To not doodle hook ideas, research agents, etc. To only care about the writing and the book. I'm starting to surface from that world and it's scary. What helps is knowing I'm not the only one out there. That I have great friends who can help me, talk me through it and offer advice.

I just needed to express a little of my fear before pressing on. And now you'll understand why the next few weeks' posts might just be about hooks and writing query letters :)

So, how do y'all go about this stage in the writing? Do you make lists of agents, scour the blogs to find out how they like their hooks and tailor them (find out which agents like to be thanked ;). Do you write one hook and go with it? How do you work on crafting your hook? Boiling the story down. Got and good links to other good advice?
* she started rewriting Rampant at the same time I started writing WIP so (a) it's extra special to see it sold and (b) extra inspiring for me to get my rear in gear.

** random: I only know how to spell psyched because we spelled it out in a cheer in high school. Seriously, when I have to spell that word, I'm mentally cheering.

*** I hate that I find myself in that awful morass of wondering how long to make the synopsis. Whether to write it in first person or third. Whether to double or single. All that crap that isn't really about the writing itself.


K J Gillenwater said...

The synopsis, to me, is not a huge deal. The agent usually just wants to see that you have the book mapped out in a logical way. I try to do that as straightforward as possible. Try reducing each chapter to just a couple of sentences.

Jim meet Jane the coffeeshop. His car explodes outside in the street, killing his pet cat.

Just the facts.

As for a query, I tend to go with grabbing them from the opening sentence. With a question or a shocking statement. I try to make it read as much like the back cover copy on a book as I can. Skip the intro, "Hi, I'm so-and-so, and I've written this really fabulous book. You are my dream agent, please represent me!" Save the intro stuff for later.

You want your query to grab them from the very first sentence. Agents read a zillion of these things a day. I'm almost positive most of them would skip the intro blah-blah-blah stuff to get to the query. Then, if they like the query, they probably would read the blah-blah-blah to find out more about you.

Just my two cents as another unpublished author...

K J Gillenwater said...

My, what did I do? I meant:

"Jim meetS Jane AT the coffeshop."

Think I need more caffeine....

Jp said...

What really strikes me, to follow up on our conversation off-camera, is when you say "all that stuff that isn't really writing," you really hit the nail on the head. The query, the synopsis... it seems so funny to me to judge a novel on things like this, which aren't parts of the actual writing at all!

It takes a totally different skill set to write something short than to write something long. I'm sure that most of the writers out there who are just genuinely not going to make it write poor query letters, and that a lot of the folks who are going to make it will (or that the strength of their premise will eventually overcome the query), but I bet you there's a lot of folks out there who write good strong novels who can't write a query to save their life. And I'm not exactly sure why agents should write them off based on that. As a short story writer, I'm used to having a story tossed out based on the first page, heck even the first paragraph. But at least that's part of the actual product I'm trying to sell.

lacey kaye said...

Whoa!!!! Great thoughts here.

I do whatever I feel like at the time. Maybe one day it will work out for me... :-)

Kris Eton said...

I have to disagree, JP. Good writers should be able to write good queries. It is a skill that must be learned. Just like writing a good story or book. Just because you are used to writing chapters and chapters of material does not mean you can't learn how to write a good query.

It took me some time...what really helped was looking at back cover blurbs. Find books similar to yours and then try to recreate what they've done on that book. It is a little bit marketing, a little bit writing.

I'm sure I could still use some help making my queries even better, but I think mine aren't half-bad. The last book I queried, I had a 50% success rate. HALF of the agents I queried wanted to see more. I think that's pretty good.

An agent judges you on the query, because a good query separates a professional writer from an amateur, IMHO.

Carrie Ryan said...

Grrr... just lost the response I typed! Thanks for all the thoughts, y'all! Kristin, I think you're right that a lot of agents prob skip straight to the story hook to see if it interests them and then skim the rest. I think I just need to start working on the query and editing; start getting stuff on paper. I think my difficulty with this one is that it's set in a different world and I'm not sure how much to get into that. The world is totally uber important, so I can't just gloss over it...

I agree with both Kris and JP - I think writers need to be able to write a good query letter but that the query letter can never truly represent the writing. One of my fears with this project is that the writing is literary, but the subject matter is not historically literary, by a long-shot. How do I get that across without just sounding strange?

I do disagree that it is the query that separates the professional writer from the amateur. WHile I think the ability to write a good query letter is part of the mix, I think the distinction between the two is much deeper and complex.

Thanks for all the thoughts and help!!

Anonymous said...

Kris, I don't disagree with you, with the exception of your last sentence. I didn't mean to imply that good writers can't or shouldn't learn to write good queries-- it's an absolute essential of the business. Insofar as that goes, everyone who ever hopes to sell a novel should take your advice and sit down with some back cover blurbs, or however else they want to learn (I'm interested in hearing the ways people figure it out, like that one) and learn to write a query.

That said, I don't think the query needs to be, or should be, the criterion upon which a novel is judged. The query really has nothing to do, IMHO, with the substance or writing of the novel. It's like judging a pastry chef on how well he grills a steak. Yeah, a good chef should be versatile enough to make a steak, but if what we're really interested in is pastries, why aren't we just looking at the pastries?

That said, now that I think about it a little more, a query is really you presenting the idea behind your novel to the agent, and 90% of the time, the agent probably can legitimately say "yeah, I have no interest in that premise." And to that end, it does behoove the writer to learn to explain their premise. What I object to is all the shenanigans that go into the crafting-- should it be first person or third? Does it show my unique flare? Again, IMHO, that's what the novel should do. A query shouldn't be tossed out just because the voice isn't right.


Kris Eton said...

JP, I think your food analogy would be more accurate by saying, should a pastry chef be judged on one bite of his raspberry tart, rather then the whole tart? A query is a small snippet of what your novel is about. A teaser.

I guess there may be some difference of opinion here if you are talking literary novel vs. more commercial fiction. I think writing a query for a literary novel would be much more difficult than for a commercial one. And how you get across the literary aspect of a book in just a few sentences? Do you discuss theme over plot in your query?

But, then again, I would read the back covers or inside flaps of literary novels to see how they do it and copy.

Writing is a business before it is an art. That is why it is difficult for some writers to craft a query. You really have to start thinking about SELLING your book to someone...and a lot of writers don't like to think that way.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I agree with Kris's contention that not only should a writer concern himself with crafting good query letters, but that it is also something that interest in a novel CAN be based on. How many times have you based your decision to pick up a book at a store by what its description is on the cover?

No, a short description of the book is not going to fully reflect the quality of the book -- but it IS a sales tool, and will remain so throughout the novel's lifetime.

An agent is going to use it to pitch the book to a publisher. A publisher is going to use it to describe the book to store buyers, and the cover will use it to describe the book to readers. Obviously, the quality of the writing itself matters much more -- the "first page" test and word of mouth of "this book was so good..." is going to bring a lot of readers, booksellers receive advanced copies so that they'll be convinced to stock up when the book comes out, and etc. etc. but there IS a role for a good description.

Also, I disagree with the idea that it's "stuff that's not writing." It's DEFINITELY writing, but although it's a "different kind of writing" it's writing that's not only important to the business end of things, it's important to the craft end. Sometimes, when I'm writing a book, I get into a "can't see the forest for the trees" situation. Writing a query or synopsis usually crystaliizes for me the story question, the main premise, and will help me get my plot, my tone, whatever it is, back on track.

Carrie, call or email me. I thought a lot about descriptions for your book this weekend. Also, have you decided on a title?