Friday, January 15, 2010

Back After a "Sick" Break

After a couple of weeks of battling two separate bugs, I'm back in the saddle.

I'm sorry about not posting anything the last couple of weeks, but this has been the worst sick season I've had in many years.  Enough on that.

I've been keeping up with a number of agent blogs and similar industry blogs recently, trying to discover that ONE secret for a query letter that will make agents say, "Send me the manuscript."

As part of that search, I encountered this gem at the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS EDITOR"S BLOG: Successful Queries: Agent Jeff Kleinman and 'The Art of Racing in the Rain.'

It's always worthwhile, I think, to see a specific example of what worked for an agent (I should say for the author).  However, a particular line from Jeff Kleinman struck the cynic in me:
"…we agents tend to be like sheep—what one doesn’t like, the rest of us are wary of, too (or, conversely, what one likes, we all like).

Hmm… what a refreshing admission.  Has anyone besides me thought this lately: "I should drop my current genre and write a YA novel, which is what 99.93695487635624% of agents appear to want these days?"


Nah, I guess I'll stick with the psychological thriller.  Surely, somewhere out there, adults are still reading books.

I know, I know… I'm ranting again.  Take a deep breath, Diamond.  There, I'm ready to get back on track.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Query Letter and Synopsis

These are my two newest expletives: Query Letter, Synopsis.

For some time now, I've felt that my novel manuscript, revised/edited/polished about 30 times, is ready for prime time.  Trusted sources who've read it agree.  Just one problem: I haven't been able to get an agent to read it.  Clearly, my query letter and synopsis have not been sufficient to the cause.  I've tried about a dozen different versions.  Never mind.  Back to the drawing board.

I've been researching, reading, studying, researching some more, and I've reached an important conclusion: An author must have more than one (or two or three or ten) version of the query letter (ditto all these points for the separate synopsis).

It has become painfully clear that one agent's query masterpiece is another agent's uninspiring fodder for the form rejection parade—or for the "do not respond (and probably delete)" electronic file (hard copies to the trash bin).

I've now visited more literary agent websites than I care to consider, and read more blogs and articles than I can keep up with.  I've seen examples of "great" query letters that left me scratching my head and saying, "Geez, that's about as exciting as milktoast."  I've also seen writers' frustrated online posts of query letters, for which they couldn’t get a positive response, and thought, "Damn, that sounds like something I'd like to read."

Then, of course, I've read an agency blog indicating that writer's must provide "this or that" in a query letter, only to find another agency blog that said not to include that very information.

In the end, it's simple: this business is extraordinarily, unbelievably, incomprehensibly, maddeningly (enough adverbs?) subjective.  Ask any 10 literary agents for an example of the perfect query letter, and you’re bound to get at least 7 different responses.  Don’t believe me?  Just check out their sites and blogs.  Of course, they'll often end with that caveat: "Well, there's no one way to write a query letter."  Sure.  That's helpful.

In fact, there IS only one way to write a query letter, and that's their way.  Thus, my advice to you is simple: If you can find an example of what that particular agent considers a good query letter, model yours on that example.  Yes, that means that for every agent you query, you will have a different, highly customized query letter.  100 agents = 100 versions of your query letter (or something close).

Perhaps I'm a little slow to this conclusion, and some of you long ago discovered this truth.  Perhaps I'm way off, and the query letters I've been using (at least as of late) have been perfectly fine.  After all, form rejections (assuming I get a response at all) tell me nothing.  Was my query letter insufficient?  Was the synopsis unsatisfactory or uninspiring?  Was my lack of publishing credentials the issue?  Were my few sample pages the problem?  Were ALL of those perfectly acceptable, just not a good fit for that particular agent?  How can I know?

Yeah… exactly.

It's a mad, mad, mad world of publishing out there.  To crack that nut, you must be prepared to weed through the morass and play the numbers game (those of you in sales know of what I speak).  You must treat every single agent as though she's the only agent in the world.  You must take away from your writing time and get about the business end of the game, through hours and hours and hours and hours of research, followed by hours and hours of refining your query letter and synopsis.

You must create a unique, customized query letter and synopsis for every agent you query.  Some of the changes may be subtle; nonetheless, as the Nike folks say, "Just do it."  One word might make all the difference.

What's that, you don't like it?  It shouldn't be this difficult?  Tough.  Just do it.

Or go back to your job and forget about this crazy notion of being an author.

Before you decide, keep in mind Shakespeare's most eloquent urging (from Julius Caesar):
"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, and all the voyage of their lives is bound in shallows and miseries."

Fear not the flood; just start swimming—really, really, really hard.  Don't bind yourself in misery.

'Til next time, and as always, remember:
To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

Friday, January 1, 2010

More on Dialogue in Your Story

In the above linked article, author A.J. Barnett provides a kind of beginner's overview of how and why to effectively utilize dialogue in your story.  It's a nice addition to my recent articles on the use of action leads and inserts in lieu of awkward dialogue tags.
If dialogue is a sticking point for you, read the article.
As to his claim that "Up to 50% of your novel could be dialogue," I would highlight the words "up to."  Some genres require more dialogue than others, just as some genres require more setting (historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy, for example).  If you're unsure of whether you use enough dialogue in your piece, seek feedback from trusted sources, not the least of which is your editor.  (What, you thought I wouldn't throw that in?)
Enjoy, and as always, remember this:
To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.


The Book of Dialogue - Lewis Turco