Thursday, March 5, 2009

The First #Queryfail Day

I had a wonderful surprise waiting on Twitter yesterday, but let me give a little background first.

An age or so ago, I decided to stop dreaming about becoming an author and to start working toward it. This meant an end to major fantasies--like accepting an Oscar from my novel turned screenplay that the studio couldn't imagine anyone writing but me--and and end to minor fantasies--like finding an agent for a manuscript that might never be ready to send out.

I focused on finishing the story most important to me. Then, with a few missteps like putting it aside to focus calls for submission, I went into revision mode. This was working just fine until The Amazon Breakthrough contest came around again. The first year, I couldn't even think of submitting anything. But now I had working manuscript, half revised. Surely, I could get the other half ready in time if the judges showed any interest.

At worst, I thought, the manuscript would be tied up in the judging process when I really wanted to send it out the old fashion way to agents. At best, it would make it through several stages and I'd have something to put in the credentials section of my query letters since school anthologies (with titles I don't even remember, no less) don't count. Who am I kidding? At best, my book is even better than I believe and I'd win the publishing contract.

First, I'd have to write that pitch, though. I sat in front of a blank screen, turning words over in my mind, until two experienced query writers from the writing group came to my rescue. They talked me through the process, corrected the worst of my silliness, and helped me breathe through a minor panic attack. Am I all set to go? Not at all. But they laid the foundation that might keep my work from being featured in some future #Queryfail Day.

Agents and editors on Twitter took the time to write about the queries they were rejecting (with a few that were accepted) and to explain why. Yes, it seems mean. How much would it suck to discover your work has been rejected while others got a giggle over it, even though they don't know who you are? But knowing why you got a "thanks, but no thanks" will keep you from making the same mistakes while educating the rest of us along the way.

Here are some examples from the three whose Tweets I follow:

1. Three paragraphs, no plot, no hook, and lots of "me, me, me, look how wonderful I am!" {Remember, the point is to sell the book.}

2. "What if everything you knew to be true, turned out not to be true? What if it were, in fact, false?" Wow, a first sentence #queryfail. {That could have been me. I started out writing my pitch like a movie ad, too.}

3. "Easily the boldest novel so far written in this fresh century of ours." Sure it is! And I'm dating Angelina Jolie... {I stand corrected. The point is to sell the story.}

4. Amputee porn. No, really. Just stop. {::shudder::}

5. Please consider my erotic novel 4 publication.I have attached the synopsis & complete manuscript as per you submission guidlines. {Really? You txt-tlked your hopeful editor to be? And explained the attachments--what?--in case she forgot her guidelines?}

6. I understand that my synopsis needs some work but I am not so great at marketing myself.

7. "A joyous and memorable journey that is both humorous and enjoyable."

8. "My book is differentiated from Twilight because the vampires have wings, and are half-breed angels."

9. fantasy romance query about a nun?...

10. A photo of author in full BDSM dress in body of query email. Yes, I got that.

It wasn't all failed queries and snarky education. The contributors also gave examples of what they accepted, but the 140 characters allowed on Twitter is too short to be of much use to us struggling neebies. For advice on how to do it the right way, check out agent Nathan Bransford's Query Letter Mad Lib, Anatomy of a Good Query Letter, and Anatomy of a Good Query Letter 2. Also see Jessica Faust's Personal Tastes and Holiday Critiques #1 (you can find subsequent Holiday Critiques by scrolling down to the "newer" link).

1 comment:

Julie said...

Wow, I'm really glad I've never done any of those...

Good luck!!!!