Query Letter Madness

Standard

While I’m in the midst of reading the commented version of my edited manuscript (more on that later – what an eye opener!), I’m busy putting the finishing touches on my new and improved query letter.

The inspiration to write a new query letter was the result of going through the process of hiring an editor. I figured my manuscript was getting a make-over, so it made sense for my query letter to go through a similar transformation. After all, my previous manuscript and query letter were rejected six times. I know that is a very small number of rejections, but deep down I knew I could do better on both fronts.

At the same time, the fact that I got any sort of response from six agents told me I had something worth pursuing. Even though they rejected my work, they took the time to give me a written response (most agents don’t bother with queries they aren’t interested in representing). One agent even went as far as to encourage me to keep searching for the right agent for my work. It was that response that made me realize I am not chasing a lost cause.

Despite getting those responses, I understood I had to take things a step further. That’s when it dawned on me: If I could get multiple responses with a fourth draft manuscript that was never touched by an editor, imagine what could happen with an edited manuscript and a better query letter.

After reading so much about query letter formats, do’s and don’t’s, and countless articles on the subject, my head was stuffed with information. Too much information. Every time I sat down to write a new query draft, I went into panic mode from worrying too much about writing the so-called perfect query letter. The result was a stiff, hesitant query letter. Who wants to read that??

I decided the best way to escape the panic was to sit down with the same ease I had when writing my novel. I didn’t care about whether I was doing it right or if everything fit into some prescribed format. The story mattered to me and nothing else. So, that’s the attitude I decided to take on when writing my query letter. I let go of all that stuff that was making me nervous and just started writing.

The letter I now have is decidedly different from any other draft. The stiffness is gone and the personality my writing style is much more vivid.  A strong voice is key in selling any novel, so it makes sense for my query letter to match my novel on that level. In addition, I think I’ve laid the story out with more clarity. In the past, beta readers have told me the summary didn’t tell the complete story. Now that I’ve identified the holes, I think I’ve got the leaks plugged!

The only problem I’m struggling with is length. A standard query letter is usually around 250 words, but my current query is 325, (and will potentially go up to 340 when I add personalized details for each prospective agent). I’m tempted to go in and start slashing words, but I’m also trying to remember that I purposely let go of the rules. Perhaps, its time to go with my gut and see what happens.

- – -

c.b.w. 2014

Almost At The End

Standard

It’s funny how the end can be just as nerve wracking as the beginning. I’m down to the last 35 pages of my edited manuscript and I’m starting to feel those knots in my stomach, again. I can’t believe I’m actually nervous about reading the end.

All I can think of is the three months it took me to write those last chapters. I’m talking hair-ripping out, gut wrenching, way too much coffee drinking evenings of trying to construct the perfect ending to my novel. This is the part of the story where I told the biggest “lies.” Already rewritten mythology delves even deeper into new canon and two major plot twists are supposed smack the reader right between the eyes. So many moving parts had to come together to make it all work. All I can wonder is whether I actually pulled it off with any sort of finesse.

Then, there’s the inevitable self-doubt questions. What if it isn’t good enough? What if there are too many holes in the story? What if it’s unfixable? Writers seemingly torture themselves with these questions endlessly, no matter how much they’ve accomplished!

Aside from typical writer neuroses, being this close to the end has me returning to the biggest question of all – Where are those missing 7,000 words and 23 pages? As I get so close to the end, I’m starting wonder if that’s where some major edits took place.  Those 7,000 words are either the result of a cumulative total of small changes throughout the story or they have disappeared because the ending got a major overhaul.

I keep hoping for the cumulative total option, but I’m also highly aware that the ending might have had a particularly bloody meeting with a red pen. Either way, procrastination and bowing down to nerves won’t bring me any closer to finding out the answer to my burning question.

Even though the knots are yanking at my stomach, my brain is busy reminding me that change has done my novel a world of good. If there are missing scenes at the end or a major chop job, I have to stay open to the idea that it might all be for the best.

As I gear up to read those last few chapters, the nervousness is balanced out quite nicely by excitement. Finishing this phase of the process brings me one step closer to my dream of seeing this story in print.

- – -

p.s. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know I cheated and skipped ahead to the last page (before the epilogue) to see if my last line was still there. I figured I better own it here as well! And for the record, I’m beyond giddy that my last line remains in place. :-)

- – -

c.b.w. 2014

Oh, The Inconsistencies!

Standard

We’ve all read a book where the details don’t quite jive. A character’s car was blue in Chapter 1, but in Chapter 15 it somehow becomes red. Or a conversation is taking place in the kitchen on one page, but then jumps to the living room on the next with no reference to movement. As a reader, you wonder why the writer couldn’t remember to keep that car blue or stick with a scene setting, but keeping track of all that stuff is incredibly difficult.

Just recently I was talking to another writer who equated fiction writing to basically telling one big lie. When we lie, we have to remember every detail or the lie loses credibility. Fiction works the same way – to make it believable everything has to be perfectly aligned. When writing an 80,000 word novel, this is tricky business as writers are essentially telling a big lie over an extended period of time. It’s easy to forget a minute detail that was created and written three months ago.

The revision process helps in aligning details, but it’s inevitable that a few details will fall through the cracks. This is where an editor comes in handy! Especially, a sharp-eyed editor with an ultra sensitive radar. Lucky for me, nothing gets by my editor.

Even though I’ve read my novel draft a hundred times, a few inconsistencies still slipped into the fourth draft. How on earth does that happen? Easy. As a writer, I get so caught up in creating a scene, I’ll forget what I did in a previous section. Sometimes, I just can’t let go of that scenic tunnel vision!

After reading two thirds of my edited manuscript, my editor has pointed out the following issues I need to resolve:

  • a random dog that shows up in the beginning of the novel, but is never seen again
  • inconsistent use of noise canceling headphones, i.e. my character owns them in one scene, but not in another
  • emotional gap from one chapter to another, i.e. a character feels one way about another character in one chapter, but the emotion doesn’t carry through to the next chapter.

The last third of my novel includes the most “rewritten” mythology, which means the propensity for inconsistency is going increase tenfold. Instead of simply telling one big lie, I am telling two. Somewhere along the way, I’m sure there is a hole in the fabric I have woven. Thankfully, I have faith my editor will find it before a reader does.

- – -

c.b.w. 2014

Clearing The First Hurdle

Standard

When I sent my manuscript to my editor, I made a mental list of things I’d be willing to fight for if they disappeared or were changed beyond recognition. The list is actually very short, seeing as I walked into the process determined to stay open-minded to change.

In reading chapters five through ten, I knew one of my list items was on the horizon. And it wasn’t just any list item, it was one of my favorite parts of the entire story. As soon as I saw the heading for Chapter 10, I took a deep breath and hoped my original vision was largely intact.

Chapter 10 is a turning point in the story as this is where Ian’s secret is forced out of him. He can’t hide anymore and Amanda learns the truth behind his presence in her life. This moment between them is both emotional and magical.

What makes this particular part of the story so important to me is somewhat sentimental. It’s the first conversation I ever “heard” between my main characters, Amanda and Ian. There voices chimed into my imagination with such shocking clarity, I felt more like a transcriptionist than a writer.

The question, however, was whether my editor would see it the way I do. Her changes through chapters five through nine were relatively subtle (and extremely well done) and that gave me a little boost of confidence as I jumped into Chapter 10. That being said, I still made sure I wore my thick skin before reading even a single line. Thick skin is an important wardrobe accessory for any writer reading through edits!

After the first big breath at the start of the chapter, I don’t think I exhaled until the page before Chapter 11. Then, it took every bit of control I had not to jump up out of my chair and do a happy dance. The dialogue was relatively untouched and my original vision remained totally intact. The changes she made were quiet, yet powerful in that she made what I wrote flow with a little more elegance.

Now, I can relax a bit as one huge item on my list made it through my editor’s radar. Another big list item is coming in Chapter 12 and I’m still wondering what happened to my missing 23 pages and 7,000 words! But, for now, I’ll just bask in the fact that one hurdle has been cleared.

- – -

c.b.w. 2014

Digging Into Change

Standard

It’s been a week since my editor returned my manuscript. In that time I’ve downloaded the fully edited version to my Kindle Fire and read the first five chapters. So far the process has been pretty painless, but I’m sure that’s because I let it sit unopened for two days while I prepped myself to let go of things and approach change with an open mind.

Before opening the file, I remember thinking, I hope she didn’t change the first line.  Silly, silly me. When the first page loaded, the first line was not only different, but gone!  I braced myself for the inevitable heartbreak that was sure to rip through my chest, but it never happened. For a moment, I sat there in total shock. Why? I loved the new first line. A lot.

This was a huge surprise to me because I always loved the original first line, which meant I never touched it through four drafts of revisions. That sentimental attachment was a problem, but I never saw it until someone else pointed it out! I had to say goodbye to my line, but I know my novel is better without it.

Over the next few chapters, the changes are more subtle, but still just as powerful. Small changes in word choice and grammar are helping to smooth out the way my words flow. Deletions here and there are creating a tighter sentences and paragraphs.  In some cases, I’m reading and I know things are missing, but it I don’t seem to miss them. That tells me they didn’t need to be there in the first place.

While the first chunk of this process has been easy to tackle, I know there are some big changes to come. The modified draft is 23 pages and about 7,000 words shorter than my original manuscript, which means something drastic has happened somewhere!

It’s easy to panic with those kind of numbers floating around, but all I have to remember is how much I love my new first line. It’s something I never thought I would accept, but here I am smiling. Will this happen with every major change? Probably not. There are things I’m willing to fight for if they are missing, but I’m also open to the possibility of trying a different path.

The next five chapters are on the agenda for the coming week. Hopefully, the read will be just as enlightening as the first five.

- – -

c.b.w. 2014