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Laura Pauling | Category Archive | Query letters
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If I can…

If I can single-handedly kill a humongous hornet in my house every spring…then I can handle rejection.

If I can enter the basement where the mice and squirrels scurry about…then I can handle rejection.

If I can apologize to my children when I lose my patience…then I can handle rejection.

If I can teach all my children to read…then I can kill my darlings.

If I can make tomato soup with a bunch of first graders even though I had no clue how to use the fancy onion chopper…then I can kill my darlings.

If I can pack up and spend a day at the ocean with toddlers (even though my parents helped)…then I can kill my darlings.

If I can clean out my bedroom closet and give a quarter of my clothes and shoes to goodwill…then I can send more queries out.

If I can take the high road when dealing with friends…then I can send more queries out.

If I can still watch American Idol, even though Adam Lambert is not on the show this year…then I can send out more queries.

If I can spend a whole year writing and revising a manuscript… then I can be brave enough to send out queries, accept rejection, kill my darlings, and then send out more queries.

And if I can do it…so can you!

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Fear of the First Chapter – ridiculous but real.

I’m moving on and totally forgetting about the fact that I have queries and my first chapter out in cyberspace. 

I have to.

It’s just plain old unhealthy to obsess about a letter…and what it means. The staggering weight of my future career all tied up in a few measly 250 words.

So, I’m focusing on my next project. I’m excited. I’m spreading my writing wings, ready to apply all I’ve learned to my next story. Because this could be the one. Except for the one already out there, but I’m not thinking about that one.

I’m spending extra time planning, plotting, creating, masterminding evil deeds and villains. Except…

I have a little fear of starting the first draft of the first chapter because I’ve been so used to revising and rewriting a more polished manuscript that I’m not used to reading over first draft suckage.

So, I did a curious thing last night. I was tired from being out all day. My creative juices were running low. I wanted to sleep, but it was too early for bed. I’d already checked my email 100 times. Really, I wasn’t thinking about it – you know, the letter.

So, I decided to rewrite a first chapter of an old story in the pov of my new exciting project. I wanted to practice. I needed to practice a multiple third person distant pov because I’ve never done it. So, it would be okay for it to be suckage because I’m just practicing.

Today. I decided to conquer the world, or at least my first chapter. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s a start. I love this new pov I’m trying,  like its a new pair of skinny jeans. (So hard to find, but once you do, you want to wear them every day.) So go out and conquer your fears today!

Does anyone else feel that first chapter hesitation at the start of a project?

Comments { 19 }

The Great Query Letter Contradiction

I looked for a shortcut. I wanted a black and white formula that would guide me to writing the perfect query letter that no one could resist. Guess what?

I never found it. (If I do, I’ll let you know.)

And that’s because the truth finally seeped through my thick skull. The query letter is a reflection of writing skill. I didn’t believe that at first. I thought, oh, if only someone would read the first chapter, they wouldn’t care about the query letter. Again, I was wrong. Because skill with word choice, humor, sentence structure, and grammar do shine through in a letter.

So first, I tried the short and sweet approach. If I made my pitch paragraph 3-4 sentences – I’d be in partial-or-full-requesting heaven. Not exactly.

Then I read winning queries and my feathers got a little ruffled. The experts lied! Some queries had 3 or 4 paragraphs to explain their summary. These writers broke the rules! Time to protest! Unfair!

And that’s when I realized that a query letter is no different than any other writing rule. I’d have to learn the rules before I could break them.

Can I write the perfect query letter? No. But I’ve learned not to be so strict with rules. A query letter needs details, strong verbs, word choice that reflects the tone and voice of your story – and of course, the basics: hook, goals, conflicts, and stakes. Yeah, I know. Sounds hard. 

Scour the blogs for information. Read winning queries. And write multiple versions of your query and have your critique group read it. Let it sit. Then try again. Write the best one you can. And then throw into the pot things like market trends, timing, and agent subjectiveness.

What’s one tip you have learned about writing query letters?

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How I really feel about the query letter.

(This is for writers who have already learned the basic components of a query letter but have yet to sign with an agent. There are many wonderful blogs out there that cover the basics.)

If you didn’t notice, my interview yesterday was based on the movie, Interview with a Vampire. I even watched the first few opening lines in the trailer to get in the mood.

I chose this movie, well, because honestly, the query letter is often  viewed as the evil vampire (even though vampires aren’t quite so evil since Edward). Writers rant about the query letter. Hate them. Love them. Have all their hopes and dreams in them.  And sometimes writers are like Christian Slater, who in the movie, interviewed the vampire. He was naive. Innocent. Shocked.

And, as writers, we often come into writing our first query naive. Innocent. Shocked. Shocked at how hard it is to write a snappy query (unless you are one of those natural query letter people out there, which I’m sure there are some).

Think of all we are trying to accomplish in one 250 word letter:

A teaser of our novel, written so it doesn’t sound cliche, boring, or vague.

A snippet of our writing style, even though two of the paragraphs are all about wordcount, genre, and our bio (if we’re lucky enough to have one).

A taste of our writing voice and a quick peek into our main character so hopefully an agent or editor will connect with them.

Prove that we have mastered basic grammar and speling scills.

Make a connection with the agent without lying, sounding fake, or sounding like a total suck-up.

(I’m sure the list could go on and on and on and on and on.)

It sounds near impossible. But it isn’t. I tried to find the magic formula. I scoured the web. I read agent blogs. I read successful query letters. And after I’d learned the basics, the letters helped the most.

I saw details that were unique and interesting, instead of vague. I saw voice! Nothing was confusing. And they didn’t try to tell their story in 3 sentences. They took a couple paragraphs. Strong verbs, good grammar, fun main character traits…

When I’m ready to query in a couple months (hopefully) I’m coming at the query from a different angle. I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone and write the kind of letter that I would want to receive, that would interest me. It’s all part of my resolution for this new year. I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone, out of the box, when it comes to my writing. Out of the safety zone, which is uually blah, boring, and boring.

But of course, even the best written query can’t hide a weak plot or story premise. So write a gotta-read story, and then step out of the box when you write your query. (Of course being professional at all times.)

My biggest piece of advice?

Don’t have too many people critique it. Don’t workshop your letter to death so any personality or style is stamped out of it. And go with your gut. And hopefully, it will reflect your writing, your voice, your style.

How do you feel about the query? Any advice?

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Interview with a Query

“Why don’t you say we get started?” I asked, sipping my cinnamon coffee. Digital recorder on the table.

“So, you want me to tell you the story of my life?” Query had his back to me. Then he turned. “I’ll tell you my story. I’ll tell you all of it.”

I pretended to stir cream in my coffee that wasn’t there. He sounded serious. Too serious.

“I’m paper and ink but not a real letter. I haven’t been the letter I want to be in years. Ever since Miss Snarky pants.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. He sounded troubled. Maybe I should slip him the number of my therapist.

“Back in the old days, writers had fun with me. Chocolates or homemade pumpkin muffins sent with me, or special clip art on the sides of my page. Now, it’s boring 12 point NTR font on nice white paper.”

“It’s called being  professional.” Didn’t he want us writers to succeed? I had my doubts.

“I know. I follow Nathan, Kristen, and Daphne. And I’ll never forget Miss Snark.” He paused, curling his sides as if upset. “But that’s not the worst of it.”

I glanced up in surprise.

“I used to take solace in the words. Words that spotlighted the writer instead of the story. Words that compared the story to that Potter boy or that sparkly vampire guy. Rhetorical questions made me leap for joy. Vague three sentence summaries gave me chills. I loved them all.”

My coffee had grown cold, but I didn’t care. “So, what happened?”

He turned his back to me again. “Query letters have become better. Professional. Detailed. Expressive.” His last words were a whisper. “Well written.”

We were almost done, but I wanted to leave him with words of encouragement. “You can still take pleasure in misspelled names, bulk emails, and typos.”

He shrugged but said nothing.

I had to cheer him up. “Don’t worry. To many writers, you are still shrouded in mystery and a source of great angst.”

He snorted. “You’ve been reading YA novels, haven’t you?”

I straightened my back. “Yeah. And proud of it.”

“Thanks,” Query said. “I feel better. We should meet for coffee sometime. On me.” Then he turned his back to me. The interview was over.

I slipped out of the room to go home and write a query. One that would send Query into the depths of despair. Maybe I’d leave in a typo, just for him. And maybe, I’d bake some pumpkin muffins.

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