Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Novice Series: Evolution of the Query

So you wrote your manuscript? Awesome!
(Seriously, this is awesome. Please take a hard earned moment to celebrate with Mr. DiCaprio)

And now you want an agent?
(Just when you thought the hard part of actually writing the novel was over....)


We all covet the day an elusive agent swoops down and takes our baby manuscript into their arms and loves it just as much as we do. But before that magical day happens, we have to battle with the dreaded query letter.
A query letter, by definition, is a one page letter meant to entice an agent to request your work. It is your manuscripts sales pitch.
Having only 5 months of querying under my belt, I'm still pretty new to the process. For all us novices out there, whether you're contemplating your query journey or in the same boat as me, there's one important fact you need to know:
Your original query and the query that lands your first agent are going to be two entirely different beasts. 
And to prove it to you, I'm going to *shudders* show you my baby manuscripts first query letter and point out the painfully obvious What-Not-To-Do's.

Baby Manuscripts First Query:
New York City is breeding a terrifying secret. In an underground Compound, two babies were born. One boy. One girl. She was to become the Generational's heir; he was branded as a Recondite. Based on an ancient system focused on duty and paying back debts, their fates were inevitably sealed... 
Until Liam decides to rip fate apart with his bare hands. Hell bent on destroying the system that kept his family choking on fear, he sets his sights on the only person that can help him get what he wants: the heir. 
Sahar Ihsan lived 20 excruciating years under the magnifying glass of her community. The rules were simple: protect the community and in turn, the community will protect you. Desperate to break free from their scrutiny, Sahar allows herself one night to shatter all the rules. But everything goes terribly wrong. In a single breath, Sahar's world collides with Liam's at neck splintering speeds when she finds herself drugged and thrown into Liam's plan for revenge against the Generational. 
Sahar is on the fight for her life until she stumbles upon the secret her community has kept hidden from her. Riddled with half answers and incomplete truths, Sahar trusts no one and seeks out her answers in the most unexpected places, starting and ending with the men she was never meant to meet. 
One boy. One girl. Two lives never meant to cross until destiny forces its way in. 
RECONDITE, complete at 93,000 words, is the first of a potential thrilling trilogy about love, family, and the power of choice. 

Wow. That was painful to read. It's embarrassing to think I sent this out to actual agents.

Let's dive in with what went wrong:

1. FORMATTING: If you've never written a query before, stick to the basic 3 paragraph template (hook, conflict, stakes). It's MUCH cleaner and easier to read. (Extra pro-tip: keep it concise, 250-300 words max!)

2. TENSES: A query letter is written in third person present tense. The beginning of this letter was in past tense, which is no good. Start the query where the story starts. Otherwise, it's coming off as dumping backstory.

3. FOCUS: Pick ONE main character and hone in on their central conflict, their motivation and their stakes. If your novel is written in multiple POV's (like mine), it's natural to want to showcase everyone. DON'T DO THIS. Like this query, it's easy for one main character to steal the spotlight. For example, Sahar takes center stage. While I set up the beginning with Liam, I forgot to tie him and his stakes into the final paragraph, making it confusing for an agent to grasp what's going on.

4. CLICHES AND VAGUENESS: Just, don't. Specificity is the special sauce to all query letters. You have to give away information. Showcase what makes your main character special and different. Give the agent a story they haven't read before. And please, avoid avoid avoid using terms like "fight for their life",  "everything goes terribly wrong", "neck splintering speeds", and the best one yet, "rips fate apart with his bare hands." Yeah. Don't. You're welcome.

5. GENRE/AUDIENCE: A query needs to mention who the intended audience is and what genre. This can either go in the opening of the query or at the very end, along with the title (always CAPITALIZE the title) and a brief personalization to the agent/any writing experience you have. If you don't mention the genre, an agent has no idea what to do with your book. This letter is missing that part completely.... Don't be a forgetful dummy like me. One last note on this, DON'T tell an agent the themes of your book like I did. They should gain that from reading your query, therefore if you're doing a good job, you don't need to spell it out for them.

Phew. That was brutal. My current query is VASTLY different from this hot mess. If you've made mistakes like me, don't worry! The beautiful thing about querying is you can always revise, revise, revise! Keep polishing those letters until they do your baby manuscript justice!

Notice any mistakes that I missed? Comment below and let me know!

Here's to hoping our baby manuscripts find their forever agents!


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