I wrote my very first query letter knowing that it would land me an agent. It was easy. All I had to do was take every single element of my novel, throw them into several paragraphs which had plot points that didn’t seem to connect, include a line “about me” that mentioned my reality T.V. show obsession, spell check it, read it again, and voila; the query angels would sing.
I was so impressed with myself that I didn’t wait to send the query. I had to send it right then, because all the literary agents of the world needed to know about my brilliant novel right that second. So I hit the send button and that first draft went hurtling into the query stratosphere, a place where queries go but often never return. After that I sat back waiting for my inbox to be flooded with not just a request to see more, but also, an offer of representation.
I waited. And waited. And I kid you not, within the hour I got my first response. My heart rate sped up and I opened the email, eager to hear how impressed they were with my fabulous pitch, and then I actually read the message:
Nope. Not for us.
I think I actually rubbed my eyes to make sure they were working properly. I was flabbergasted— especially when other rejections flooded my inbox for the next few days and weeks. “Conspiracy! I shouted. “Always trying to keep a good woman down!” I just could not understand. How could they reject me when my mother says I’m so rad?
But looking back, I have to admit; that query was and still is cringe worthy. So much so that I would deny writing it, even If I were under oath, or facing a firing squad. Once I realized my query wasn’t working I was determined to make it better. I read articles, went to Nathan Bransford’s website and read his post on queries. I tried over and over to rewrite my query with little success when it hit me; I wasn’t the one with the problem. It was the agents! How could they expect me to take my novel, which was such a masterpiece that words could hardly begin to describe it, take only the “important” and “hooky” elements, and sprinkle those elements into paragraphs that would make them want to read the novel?
I shook my fist at the sky. I’m a novelist. Not a magician!
It took me a very long time to “get” what a query is supposed to do; generate enough interest in a project so that an agent requests to see more. There’s no need to include every plot point, or mention every character, or tell them how much your mother loved the story (even if she did). The person reading the query just needs to understand what the story is about, who the main players are, and where the story is going to go. And of course, it should be written in such a way that the person gets excited about the story.
At the risk of embarrassing myself, I will post that first draft query that I was referring to above (but if anyone asks you, tell them Snooki wrote it). It’s for a novel that was called The Beginning of Things that is sitting in the far corner of a drawer in a room that is locked.
Imagine: you’re inside a stranger’s apartment and find something that potentially links him to a murder. You go to the police immediately and stay as far away from the would be killer as possible, right?
Thirty three year old Octavia Button has just left a sprawling, five bedroom estate and has opted for life in a one bedroom shack that comes equipped with a leaky refrigerator and cranky landlord. But life there is better than life with a man who cheats–even if that man is filthy rich and makes it no secret that he wants her back. Facing eviction and financial ruin, Octavia is thrilled when she’s offered a position that comes with a free place to stay; Estate Manager for a luxury apartment complex.
Things seem to be looking up until she gets a visit from her erratic best friend, who asks for a favor that could put Octavia’s job in jeopardy: she has an ex-boyfriend who lives in the complex who will not give her back some of her things, and she needs Octavia to sneak her inside of his apartment to get the belongings back. Octavia agrees, and while nosing around his nightstand, she finds a bracelet that bares the initials of a woman she later discovers has been murdered.
If she goes to the police and finds out that her discovery is purely coincidental, she risks losing her job. If she doesn’t, and her tenant is really the killer, she risks losing her life.
Don’t laugh so loud. I can hear you.
Here is a much shorter version:
The Beginning of Things is a novel about a woman whose life takes a downward spiral after visiting a psychic to decode the meaning of a death dream. After learning from the psychic that death dreams signal “the beginning of things,” Octavia receives a job offer that brings three dangerous people into her life: her erratic best friend, a sexy new neighbor, and a handsome podiatrist. One has a mysterious night job, one is an arsonist, and one has strangled a beautiful woman to death. As Octavia unravels the truth about each one, it becomes startlingly clear to her that the beginning of things could very well mean her end.
This query got me a request for a partial and a full! (I will write another post on “when you think a request for a full or partial will lead to representation but it doesn’t so you kick your novel out of the house.”)
The truth is that you probably will write some bad queries before you write some good ones. The same is true of novels. But you can’t give up, because eventually, you will write that query that will lead to the request, and then that request will lead to an offer, which will lead to all of those book tours and New York Times bestselling lists that all of us writers dream of.
And the query angels will sing.