The Saga of Greene Newbie -- pt. 4

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My kingdom for a query...

Greene Newbie, who can already feel the color peeling off him, is at that point where he's finished a novel and thinking of letting it rot at the bottom of a drawer where no one will ever see it.

"Why?" you ask...

He's hit the mother of all roadblocks: THE QUERY LETTER!!!!!

This deceptively intricate torture device is what separates to wannabes from the writers, and usually the published from the not. It's not for the faint of heart, those with high blood pressure or the verbose to the point of spawning their own language.

It is your introduction to prospective agents, their first idea of your writing style and voice, and the core plot of your book reduced down to 300 words or less. Greene's first attempt was over ten pages.

Friendly Writerman shook his head and fed the pages into the shredder. And when Greene found out he had less than one full page to work with, he tried to feed Friendly into the shredder. His plot was far too complex and his characters were far too vivid to be confined to such a small space.

He got the brilliant idea to just send the first few chapters with his contact information. If everyone else was agonizing over those stupid (and impossible!) letters, he'd give the agents a break and let them skip that step to get right to he writing.

"Once the agents read it, they'll love it," he protested.

"But, they'll never read it," Friendly said. "Not without a query letter. And not without a query letter that fit certain expectations."

So, Greene sat down and tried again. This time he got it down to 9 1/2 pages. Friendly read them, as good and long suffering friends will do, and this time he didn't toss them out. Greene was thrilled. He hoped this meant he was ready to go with his query letter, but Friendly told him to set the packet aside - he had a great summary if someone requested that, but he still didn't have a query.

Greene pouted. He refused to believe he could do his story justice in a short letter. So, Friendly gave him a little nudge.

To write a query answer these questions:

* Who is your main character?
* What is his goal?
* What stands in the way of his goal?
* What happens if he doesn't meet his goal?

And remember a few guidelines:

* Minimize the number of character names.
* Minimize the number of plot threads.
* Query writing is "main lining" -- Just follow your main character through the main points of the main plot.
* Voice is key: funny queries for funny books, tight queries for suspense. (And know "in your dreams" doesn't mean you nailed it for a fantasy...)

Greene Newbie wrote out answers to all of Friendly questions and sat down to try again.
Have you ever wondered...

Friendly took the page and shredded it. Then he added another guideline:

* Avoid rhetorical questions, especially as the opening. If you ask me if I've ever wondered _____, I'll answer the question with something you don't like, but makes me laugh. The joke will be inappropriate and make me not want to read a book about it.
In a world where...

This isn't a movie, Greene... into the shredder it goes.

Hero and Heroine, total opposites, are thrown together...

... and together, they fight crime! If it sounds like it came from an Internet plot generator, into the shredder it goes.

The struggle went on for an hour before Greene whittled his novel down to its core elements and strung them into a form that didn't end up as confetti. It required two pots of coffee, one trip to the office supply store for more paper, and breaking out the cigarettes no one was supposed to know he still smoked, but he did it.

The grand query total, with salutation and close came out to 326 words.

Greene dashed over to his email account, retyped the letter, pasted in his five sample pages and (after a near miss in which Friendly saved him from the pitfall of blanket copying all of them at once) sent them off.

"I can hardly wait for tomorrow to see what they say," Greene said.

Friendly kind of laughed, and shook his head again. He got his hat and coat and left Greene Newbie staring at his inbox waiting for instant gratification.

(to be continued...)

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