Saturday, January 19, 2008

Queries It Is!

And Democracy rules again.;)

Although some authors do choose to submit directly to publishers, the best way, in my opinion, to get published by one of the larger publishers (and this should answer Tristi's question) is to get an agent. The reasons why are myriad and not really the point of todays post--that and listing those reasons tends to lead to fan-girly gushing about how much I love and adore my fabulous agent and, really, no one wants to see that.;) Today the focus is on how to get an agent and in general the answer is: the query.

Oh yes, the scary one page letter by which your 300 page baby will be judged. A lot of new authors really have a hard time with this concept. They say, "But you have to read my whole book to really appreciate it and understand it." I don't think anyone's book is quite that complicated. Personally, I believe the key to writing a good query letter is YOU being able to really understand your book.

If you are trying to get published, you have to look at your book as a product. You are trying to sell a product to a manufacturer. Yes, it's your baby, yes, you love and adore it, but you have to be able to look at it from a marketing perspective if you want to sell it.

The key to a good query is being able to correctly answer the question, what makes my book unique. My apologies for people who are super curious about Autumn Wings but because I am in contract negotiations right now, I don't feel comfortable discussing it plot-wise at the moment. So I am going to focus this post on my other YA project that I hope to pitch to my editor after my faeries series. (Yanno, in like, five years.;))

The biggest mistake that I feel writers make when sitting down to write a query is that they say, "Okay, now what is my book about?" The problem with that is that you end up with a pitch paragraph that reads like this:

"Jeff is a new student at an upper-class private school. On his first day he meets a girl who he discovers is a ghost that only he can see. But in order for Kimberlee to move on, she needs the help that only Jeff can give. Together they must right Kimberlee's wrongs, and make peace with her number one enemy; the girl Jeff is falling for."

Can anyone else say snooze? How many books in the world could this describe? Really. Except for the names, and maybe a gender switch, this pitch could describe about fifty books . . . and that's just the ones published in the last five years or so.

So step two is to think, "What about my story line makes it special?" So then maybe we get something like this:

"Jeff moves to a prissy new private school and on the first day he meets a girl he soon discovers is dead, but he's the only one who can see her. The problem is, in life she was not only mean and sadistic, she was also a kleptomaniac and has an enormous stash of stolen goods that need to be returned. Jeff reluctantly agrees to help, but when the enmity between Kimberlee and Jeff's new girlfriend manages to extend posthumously, Jeff's not so sure he made the right choice."

Better. We have some unique elements now. But it's not very catchy, is it? What are we missing? How about some voice? For this, you have to look at what kind of book you have. This particular book has a sarcastic, witty voice that moves quickly and has subtle humor. I'd like that to show in my query. So maybe now we end up with this. (Some of you may recognize this pitch.)

"Moving to a new high school sucks. Especially a rich-kid private school. With uniforms. But nothing is worse than finding out the first girl you meet is dead. And a klepto.

Jeff walks into his new school and finds Kimberlee (with two 'E's and don't you forget it!) in the hall. Well, on the hall floor. Chewing gum. What else is a clueless ghost stuck in limbo supposed to do? No one can see or hear Kimberlee except Jeff and, threatened with Kimberlee turning his life into total chaos, he agrees to help her complete her "unfinished business," which is to return a few things. What could it hurt? But an entire cave full of kyped merchandise is not what Jeff signed up for. After several run-ins with Kimberlee's so-called friends and being escorted home by the sheriff, Jeff is overjoyed when the cave is empty and Kimberlee can be on her ghostly way. So why isn't she gone?"

There we go, much better. Now wait a second, we lost the new girlfriend part! That was interesting! Yeah, I think so too. But the other hard part about writing a query is choosing the MOST important and interesting parts. The basis of the plot is the issues between Jeff and Kimberlee, so for my short pitch, that's what I needed to focus on. Remember, longer pitches are not better, they're simply longer.

Now, at this point we have a working pitch, but I like to put on my marketing hat and add another touch or two. Now we have a plot, what makes the book special and unique, and a sample of the voice. How about adding what makes your book particularly sell-able? Just a detail or two that an agent could use to pitch to an editor and you have your final query letter.

"Dear Agent,

Moving to a new high school sucks. Especially a rich-kid private school. With uniforms. But nothing is worse than finding out the first girl you meet is dead. And a klepto.

Jeff walks into his new school and finds Kimberlee (with two 'E's and don't you forget it!) in the hall. Well, on the hall floor. Chewing gum. What else is a clueless ghost stuck in limbo supposed to do? No one can see or hear Kimberlee except Jeff and, threatened with Kimberlee turning his life into total chaos, he agrees to help her complete her "unfinished business," which is to return a few things. What could it hurt? But an entire cave full of kyped merchandise is not what Jeff signed up for. After several run-ins with Kimberlee's so-called friends and being escorted home by the sheriff, Jeff is overjoyed when the cave is empty and Kimberlee can be on her ghostly way. So why isn't she gone?

Clash meets sass in this modern retelling of Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel for the young adult audience. The completed 80,000 word manuscript is available for your review. Thanks, etc.

Aprilynne Pike

Don't see how The Scarlet Pimpernel fits in? Curious about it? Good; that's the point.:) Don't tell too much, don't tell too little. It's a fine line. It should make the agent curious, but not frustrated. Takes practice, trust me.

Next week I'll do this same thing with my romance novel, and later I'll do it with an already published book. If you have any suggestions for which book we should do, please say so in your comment.:)

Ciao!

12 comments:

Kiersten said...

That was really helpful. I think in my efforts to sound professional I failed to make my query as interesting or entertaining as my book is. I got all my advice before from someone who is used to pitching adult books; I wasn't taking into account that the agents I am looking for represent an entirely different market. Thanks so much!

Elizabeth...mommy...etc said...

Good post. :-) I suggest doing a classic like Little Women or Pride & Prejudice for your "published book" example. :-) It's funny, learing to write a query & a synopsis are 2 things that I think sometimes can be more difficult than writing the manuscript itself. :-) But I just LOVE the process...even though I don't have an agent yet. I will. :-) Keep up the blog. :-) *elizabeth

Elizabeth...mommy...etc said...

BTW...I have a link to your blog from my blog, I think it's helpful for all of us writing moms. :-) *elizabeth

Holly Kennedy said...

Great post!
Nailing a good query letter
may seem easy, but that sure
isn't the case, is it? I wrote and rewrote mine at least a dozen times before I got my agent.

cyn said...

great post, aprilynn! thanks!

vera said...

Thank you! Look forward to reading some more.

Mary said...

The query is its own fine art.

Thank you for this helpful post!

David L. McAfee said...

I agree.

Great post.

Now...what's a doula?

:)

Demon Hunter said...

Great post, Aprilynne! :*)

wrenbird said...

Hi Aprilynn,
Can I just say that I am SO excited to find your blog! I read a very helpful comment that you made about trilogies on Kristin Nelson's blog. I clicked on the link to your blog and lo and behold, I find the very thing I have been searching for! I just spent the last two hours reading over your entire blog. It's fabulous. :)
I am a stay at home mom myself, a BYU grad, living in Columbus Ohio and writing . . . well, completing my first novel. It's a YA Fantasy trilogy, and I am very excited about the project. I have been hungry to meet fellow writers/moms with which to share advice and support, and learn what I need to know about the industry. Reading over your blog, I have already found great stuff.
So, keep up the blog. I'll be reading. And, as a matter of fact, you've inspired me to start my own writing blog. :)
-Renee

Darlene said...

Found this at just the right time. Thanks!

Jessica said...

You may never see this because it is now July of 2009, but I wanted to tell you how much I hope that the project you wrote about in this entry gets published. I bought Wings a few weeks ago and fell in love with it and have been reading your blog from the beginning. I REALLY REALLY hope that this book gets published because The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my all-time favorite stories! And since you like singing and musicals, I hope you are familiar with the musical version of that story. Douglas Sills has the most amazingly exquisite tenor voice I have ever heard!