Discovery: Queries Are Like Ex-Boyfriends

You may be reading this post with a raised eyebrow, based on the title.  It’s possible that you’ve drawn the conclusion that something’s wrong with me.  I won’t argue with that; I’ve got a whole blog full of posts to support that idea. 

By the time you finish reading this, I’m fairly certain you will have decided that I’m one of two things:  (1) crazy enough that I should be institutionalized without so much as a weekend pass (and my internet access should be discontinued at once); or (2) quirky and creative – in need of mental help, but stable enough to blog without being a danger to myself or others.

Last night, I came to the realization that querying literary agents is the emotional equivalent to dating.  It’s been a long time since I dated, but if I remember correctly, I hated it. 

When preparing for a date, I stressed about what to wear, whether or not I would say something stupid, and what to do with the blemish surfacing on my chin.  When querying, I worry about getting the name on the query correct, whether or not my email will mysteriously add strange line breaks and spaces, and of course, if I will have typos or write something stupid.  (I don’t care so much about blemishes anymore.)

After the first date, if I liked the guy, I’d be all anxious waiting for him to call me.  If I didn’t like him, a sense of dread came over me whenever the phone rang because I was an idiot and gave him my real phone number.  (Note:  this was before caller ID became commonplace.  Hehehe, told you it’s been awhile :))  When I query, every time I open my email account and see unopened messages, my heart beats faster and I can’t get to my inbox fast enough.  I just have to know if the literary agent liked me.

As a dating relationship progressed, I attempted to keep up, but got bogged down with the failures of past relationships (a.k.a. excess baggage).  For instance, if the guy didn’t call me back after the first date, or didn’t return my calls, then I convinced myself he was a jerk anyway and I was too good for him. The relationship was over – I was free to move on.  After I send out a query, to protect my fragile psyche, I write it off as another rejection (the breakup).  This way, I don’t feel like I just got dumped when the rejection comes back to me; I can see it as more of a mutual parting of ways.  (I know, that’s seriously messed up, but it’s my coping mechanism.  Well, that and chocolate, of course). 

In a good week, I’ll send out a couple queries; it’s all I have the time and emotional strength for.  I recently received a response back that caught me by surprise.  I scanned it for the words “merit,” “subjective,” “unfortunately,” and “luck” – all popular words for the agent skilled in letting aspiring authors down easy.  I didn’t see any of these words, so I looked closer.  It read:  “I’m happy to take a look.  Send it to me.”

“Huh?”  I blinked a few times and read it again.  Yep, that is what it said.  (In the dating world, this would mean my ex just asked me to get back together with him).  So, do I remember the reasons we broke up in the first place (let fear hold me back)?   Or do I follow my heart and reply (and chance another painful rejection)?

Oh yeah, count me in!  I didn’t have to ponder; I hit reply and sent the manuscript.  I did it, even though I know the odds are high that my heart will get broken.  With God’s grace and some luck, maybe I’ll find my literary agent match.  I hope so; I really don’t want to become an old maid of the query pool.  I think it’s worse than dating. 

What are your thoughts on queries?  Feel free to share your best or worst query experience!

I May Have Committed a Query Sin

I don’t know, but I may have committed a major query no-no last night.  (I’m pretty sure it’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last, either.) 

An agent requested a partial in June, but I haven’t heard anything back on it.  Now, I can only assume that it (a) hasn’t been read yet, or (b) was read, but not loved. 

I suspect (b) is the situation.  My manuscript may be set aside to see if something better comes along.  Ouch.  Anyway, since I sent off the partial in June, I’ve revised my first chapter so it starts out with more action, kind of in the middle of a major event.  In the rewritten version, the reader finds the MC confused about how she ended up laying on the mall food court floor – the last she remembered she was in the parking lot.  The reader has to keep going to figure out what’s going on. 

My original draft had a fairly long stasis (depiction of normal for MC) – I learned that term last week in my manuscript writing class…do I sound like a writer now?  No?  Well, I have 16 more weeks to get there!  This version started out with imagery and internal dialog (daydreaming) before the trigger event (witness to murder) occurs.  It took three full pages to get there.

Rather than wait for the impending ‘no thanks,’ I sent another email to the agent and explained that I forwarded the first 50 pages on request in June, but since then, I revised chapter 1.  I attached the revised first 50 so the agent wouldn’t have to send me an email to ask for it.

I have no idea if the follow up email, revision or attachment will irritate the agent or not.  I’ve heard a ‘nudge’ after sixty days on a partial is acceptable, although this can sometimes push the agent to a ‘no.’

So, I confess my possible query sin.  My punishment may be no response from the agent…or it could be a lightning-quick ‘no’…or I could be rewarded with a request for more pages.  No matter what, I cannot promise I won’t do it again.  The payoff far outweighs consequences :)

Have you committed a query faux pas?  If so, please share…I’d love to know how it worked out!

Subjective Nature of Writing

Just for fun, I recently entered a query hook contest hosted by a fellow aspiring author.  I’ve read some of the other entries – they’re pretty good!  I have no illusions of ‘winning’, but that wasn’t really the point anyway.  I was mainly curious about how my first line fared in critique.  My hook garnered two comments:

  1. Doesn’t jump into the story enough, maybe start with action (paraphrased)
  2. “This is so friggin awesome!  It’s perfect and I NEED to read more.”

If this weren’t so frustrating, it would be funny; in a matter of two sentences and less than ten seconds, I went from “Dang, am I ever going to be any good?” up to “Yay!  Maybe my writing is decent!”  My inner emotions moved from despair to elation with alarming swiftness – I almost couldn’t keep up.

Now that my heart rate has slowed to normal, I can appreciate this clear example of what I’ve known all along:  writing is too subjective for an outsider to deem something good or bad.  (Except for the agent, of course; if they don’t think a novel is good, it doesn’t go anywhere).  For my physical health (and my sanity), I need more confidence that my writing has merit.  If I truly believe I can write well, I can sell it with enough conviction that others will believe it too.

For the last week, I’ve been considering taking a Fiction Manuscript Writing class at a community college.  The application is printed, filled out and waiting for me to get the courage to submit it.  This experience has given me the nudge I needed, but I have mixed emotions:  one part of me is excited to learn about the elements and proper construction of a story.  The other part of me is scared I may discover that my aptitude for writing is marginal, at best, and my manuscript will crumble-putting my dream on life support.  Who knows, maybe my manuscript and I are stronger than I give us credit for.  I don’t know.  There’s only one way to find out.

I’ve never found knowledge to be a mistake in the past, but then again, it’s always been a safe distance from my dreams.  The way I see it, learning is the best way to get confidence in myself.  What’s the worst that can happen?  I have to rebuild myself (and my first novel) from the ground up?  It could be a valuable life lesson-and we’ll both be stronger from it.

Pounding On My Keyboard (Query Song)

Last week, I was singing (I use this term loosely) along to Taylor Swift’s song, Teardrops on my Guitar, as it played on the radio.  For some reason, the words for a query rejection song came to me during the chorus.  That’s when I got the idea to write them down and make up a couple of verses too.  Most of the time when I change words to songs, it’s to make it about my kids and something we’re doing at the time because it makes them laugh.  (They think I’m crazy and weird, so I have a reputation to live up to.)  There’s just one problem with this whole process:  I don’t sing very well.  I sing anyway because I like to, but not in front of people.

In honor of the rejections I received today, the words to the query song are included below.  WordPress requires a space upgrade with a yearly fee to add audio, so you’ve been spared the pain of listening to it.  *Whew*

Pounding On My Keyboard

(melody of Teardrops On My Guitar by Taylor Swift)

Query rejections, I try to laugh so I won’t scream

And breakdown, or hit “reply”, or something else embarrassing

Then there’s the chosen few, the represented ones

Oh, do they even know how lucky they really are?

Query rejections, I pour my heart out in email

Say a prayer, then click send and get a bunch of “not for me”s

I always hope for “yes”, but so far get a “no”

And still I try again, another agent even though

     CHORUS

     My rejections cause the pounding on my keyboard

     Still hope remains and keeps me

     Waiting on my email guard

     I see mail in my box, can’t avoid it – I click anyway

Tomorrow’s a new day, a chance to finally shine

When I could get my break, with any hope before I cry

     CHORUS

My resolve shaken up, now I think that I suck

Yet this dream that I chase will see me through…

Query rejections, I try to laugh so I won’t scream

Stage Fright

Imagine this:  Standing in front of a group of people with a microphone, ready to sing whatever karaoke song you’ve got enough alcohol-induced courage to belt out.  The words come up on the screen for the first verse, you open your mouth, and…well, noise comes out all right.  In the shower, you sing great.  In the car, you sound just like Whitney Houston (if the radio is up loud enough).  But now?  You’d be better off with laryngitis.  Your off-pitch voice causes all within earshot to squirm in their chairs, wishing for it to be over.

This happened to me.  On paper.  Normally, I can write anything.  You want an insurance policy form?  Tell me what you intend to cover and exclude and I’ll draft it for you.  You want me to send an e-mail to someone apologizing for our mistake without making us look like idiots?  You got it.  You want a blog post that’s mildly entertaining.  This is a little tougher, but I can give that a shot too.  You want me to write a couple paragraphs about my book? <screech> Uh-oh.

I write the couple paragraphs, but some of it suffers from laryngitis and the rest of it is the poor karaoke singer howling like a sick horse that needs to be shot in the pasture to end its misery.  I want a light, humorous, witty query.  Is that too much to ask?  Apparently, for me, it is.

Note:  I’ve got one line that I actually like…if I can get more to follow, I may be back in business.  Here it is:

“They don’t know who they’re hunting until evidence forces her to dig up memories of big eighties hair, spandex leggings – and a fight that likely planted the seed of revenge.”

What do you think?  Funny or dumb?  Bring on the honesty – I can take it :)