Monday, January 30, 2012

365 Days of the Query: Issues and Solutions

So a few more queries have been sent out. Per the advice of a critiquing buddy, I'm not going to post specific stats, as I originally intended. For those who want them, feel free to email me off list (cloudhime (at) gmail (dot) com).

Here are some issues that have come to my attention in the past few weeks, and possible solutions to them:

Issue 1: The sound of silence
I haven't been querying that long, but can already see how easy it is to get mired in the hollow silence that results after you send your query into the back and beyond of cyberspace. From what I've read from agent blogs, they receive hundreds of submissions a day, and thousands a month. So don't sweat it. If your novel is ready, keep querying. Start writing or revising the next book you plan on submitting. As we all learned from Meet the Robinsons, "Keep moving forward."
Solution: Work on other things, and remember to have fun and enjoy what you do.

Issue 2: Bonehead mistakes that make you feel like an ass hat
One of the last queries I sent was like forgetting your sweater when you go out. So you go back inside, put on the sweater, and walk outside and realize you forgot your sunglasses. And you go back in and out, and realize you forgot your wallet. Moral of the story: double and triple check the agent's specs before you hit the send button. Did you include the 1-2 page synopsis they wanted? The hyperlink to the article you wrote? You don't want something missing when it's too late to fix it. While it's okay to send corrections on minor things (see Janice Hardy's post here (scroll down to Don't Sweat the Small Stuff)), sometimes you have to let go and say, "At least I learned this sooner rather than later."
Solution: Mistakes are inevitable. Learn from them, and try not to dwell on them.  

Issue 3: Terminology and formatting confusion
One agent is looking for a short synopsis within a query, another is requesting a 1-2 page synopsis in addition to the query. Another wants a pitch. So how to tell a synopsis from a pitch, and a short synopsis from a long one?

A pitch is a few short lines that summarize the crux of the novel, and is meant to grab the attention of your reader (or potential agent or editor)
A short synopsis is the who, what, where, when and why that's supposed to go in the query. 1-2 paragraphs, 150 words maximum.
A regular synopsis is written in third-person present tense, and is the sum of all important parts of your novel (including twists, turns, and plot reveals). This is probably one of the hardest things to write--a recent quote I saw said, "Writing a novel: like pouring champagne. Writing a blog: like pouring syrup. Writing a synopsis: like wading in liquid concrete."

Another common emailing pitfall is formatting mistakes, like this one. Be sure to copy/paste your content into Notepad before pasting it into an email, or your work may run the risk of being less than readable. (Mac users: Do you run into same sorts of formatting issues? Please feel free to comment.)
Solution: Do your research, and use computer tools to your advantage. If you make mistakes, see the solution to Issue 2.

Issue 4: Not thinking everything through
Sometimes I get caught up in the excitement of it all, which sometimes breeds mistakes if I don't stop and say, "Wait a minute." I'm sure I'll tame this with time, but it's always good to be as professional as possible, both within the query and during in-person networking experiences. Note: It's entirely possible I'm self-sabotaging here, and that I'm able to deliberate just fine. Great post from Kameron Hurley elaborates on the dangers of selling yourself short.
Solution: Be as professional as possible, and respect the time of your fellow writers (and agents, and editors)...but be sure not to sell yourself short

Issue 5: Overworrying
Don't let the sound of silence from Issue 1 compound the insecurities you have. Believe in yourself.
Solution: Stop what-iffing, and get back to writing (and querying).

Above all, make sure you have a good support group of people to lean on when things get rough. When my husband and I attended a comedy show this past weekend, he texted "Karen is a great writer" to the advertising board. While this may or may not be true, it certainly made my day.

Addendum: Readers, make sure you see Anjelica Jackson's comment--a great example of a good pitch. Feel free to comment and leave your own examples.


Angelica R. Jackson said...

So here's an example of a short pitch that I used at in-person pitch sessions and in my query:

"In 1851, Olivia Herald sets a ship afire while escaping its murderous crew—dooming the Empyreal and all hands aboard it. Now their ghosts want retribution for Olivia's role in the sinking, and so do the authorities. With the prospect of a death sentence hanging over her, Olivia must reclaim her forsaken abilities to speak with the dead for a final reckoning with the vengeful spirits. If she fails, she could lose her soul and the way back to the man she loves."

Then I revised my book, and it didn't quite fit any longer :(, but this one got me a lot of requests. I think it worked because it's more than a "this happens, then this happens" synopsis: it has hook-y language, a sense that the character's actions had consequences she couldn't anticipate, and the ghostly details as well as the "real-world" stakes.

Keep at it--I promise, at some point this will all click in your brain!

The Writer Librarian said...

This is a great example, Anjelica, especially for in-person pitch sessions. It's good to know that a pitch can be more than a few sentences, and I can definitely see where this plot got some draws. Readers, be sure to look to this example as a good format to setting up an effective pitch, and thanks to Anjelica for posting!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Thanks! It is more than a few sentences, but if you speak it aloud it goes quickly. This pitch evolved through my entries for Pitchfests on Pitch University; I was going to link to them but it looks like some are no longer available. Here are links to one before-and-after:


And I recommend reading through the lessons on the sidebar--there's some great info

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Also wanted to mention that Operation Awesome is having another of their monthly Mystery Agent pitch contests tomorrow. You'll need a logline of 1-2 sentences, or Twitter length. Each Mystery Agent has different wants, so you usually won't know until the contest opens (and they close it at 50 entries).

Here's an example of a logline from the same book as above:
"Olivia Herald accidentally sets a ship afire while escaping the same fate as her murdered friends; her attackers went down with their doomed ship, and now the spectral crew wants retribution, forcing Olivia into a final reckoning with her haunted past."

And the Twitter pitch:
"Charlotte Doyle meets Blossom Culp: Olivia accidentally sets a ship afire, dooming all hands aboard--now the ghostly crew wants revenge."