Sunday, February 6, 2011

Life, editing, and the dreaded Query Letter

I've been remiss in keeping up with this blog writing thing, not that I was managing it all that often to begin with. At best I managed a post a month. I've no idea how people do this on a daily basis and still have a life. More than once a day and they are just blogging fools. Unless of course it's what you do for a living and you somehow make money off of it, or just love it that much, then more power to ya.

I lost my job and you'd think with all that extra time on my hands, I'd have been able to update. But no. Stress has a funny way of killing creativity. There's still stress. I'm still unemployed. Maybe I'm used to the extreme level of it now. I just keep on keeping on, somehow, managing my way down the highway, one foot in front of the other. I remain undefeated. Broke, but hey, the power is still on. So here I am, blabbing away, and I'm blabbing about something I can't do without - and that is writing.

The book is finished. I've edited and tightened as much as I think I can based on beta reader input. It is polished. It is done. Been in the oven and came out smelling like egg, cheese and sausage casserole. Now, it's time to send it out the door. Feed the masses if you will.

There is a fair amount of fear in this process of letting go and moving on to a different project. The grip I've had on this baby has been iron hard, forged of steel, unrelenting. Having someone else read it and like it, even while suggesting improvements broke the grip a little, eased the hard edges. Now after a couple beta readers, some needed confidence in my ability to tell a story, I'm okay with some people not liking it and happy when others do.

That's a milestone actually in the life of a writer - recognizing the strength of your own words. No one else can write like you, in your voice, with your style and cadence. There is a danger of listening to too many outside voices and changing words to suite what they think over what you think. It's one thing if you've got several different people saying this one element does not work. It's another if it's one out of five. The uncertain writer will alter, edit and refit a story based on those multiple suggestions and after all that work wonder why it isn't any better.

In the editing process it's important to keep in mind your own goals. You can't change every other word because someone is skimming. If they don't understand what you are saying, take a look at the work, but if the writing is clear, well then, they just don't understand. And that is okay. Someone else will.

So the editing is done. Any writer might want to hang onto that last step since what's next is so way worse than writing a whole book.

The query letter.

A query letter is the sales pitch to the agent, the new first readers of the industry, meant to get them to read your manuscript over the hundreds of other manuscripts out there. This dastardly letter has to work or you end up in the reject pile.

Some say the query letter is the hardest, most exacting and demanding process in this long road to being published. Pretty accurate. Just when I think I have it, someone comes along and says, well no you don't, there's no voice here, I don't give a crap about your character because this query is only a list of things that happen that tell me nothing about him. What does he do? What does he care about? Ugh!

It's a real pain distilling 83,000 words down to 250. And because the writer is far too close to the work, it's especially difficult to tell if those 250 words tell what needs to be told. The writer knows the story backward and forward. There's a lot going on from Chapter 1 to Chapter 27. Instilling character and detail and a two sentence summary in only 250 words is like trying to sift a single nugget of gold out of a mile-wide riverbed.

The best advice I've gotten so far, the key to writing a good query is to be in the head of your main character with every word. Would he say that? Would the character describe the story that way? Of course, this is easier said than done, but it's good advice. I've gotten a couple good sentences out of that advice so I'm taking it. It cleared up for me where other advice didn't what 'voice' means. Another good bit to think about as you write the next best seller, is writing that query letter. Take notes. Jot down ideas along the way as your craft the story. It might not be a bad idea to write a query letter at the very beginning and go back to it to make sure you're staying on track.

The other best piece of advice I got is to be careful of taking every piece of advice. There's lots of it out there. I don't have a perfectly written query, not by a long shot, but I've seen very good ones completely torn apart by nitpicking. The goal is to get the agent interested enough to read the pages you've sent along. Have faith in your ability to tell your story. Take the advice you can work with. Leave the rest. Query on!

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