I was a query virgin. And for those of you who read ‘I was a queer virgin,’ SLOW DOWN AND PAY ATTENTION.
Query, as in query letter, which is the first thing a writer does once he or she is ready to sell his or her manuscript. A writer may write the book, but he or she is on the absolute bottom of the literary food chain. Or second to the bottom. Usually the writer’s spouse is right under them, cheerfully eating re-heated pizza scraps for dinner while said writer is hung up at the coffee shop trying to figure out how to get Bella off the flatulent donkey and to safety. (plot spoiler … or lunch spoiler, depending on whether or not you have a vivid imagination re: the flatulent donkey.)
Once a writer’s manuscript is finished and buffed to a glossy sheen via spell-check and other Microsoft tools, it is ready to be submitted. But not to a publisher. You have to enter through their filters like everyone else. You submit your work to an agent. But even then you don’t start with your work. You start with an introduction. You have one paragraph. One snappy, shiny, lovely, intriguing paragraph in which you introduce your book. They liken it to making a successful sales pitch on an elevator. You should hook them in the ten seconds before the bell dings.
I am here to tell you that to spend 5 months writing 100,000 words in plot formation does NOT equip you to shrink the whole thing back into one catchy sentence. Personally, I think it would be easier to eat a vat of scrabble tiles and then excrete to a perfectly aligned Rubik’s Cube.
Then, in the query letter, you have one paragraph with which to introduce yourself. ‘Hi, I’m Thea,’ does not cut it. In this case it is like a beauty pageant. You have to appear desirable, chaste, professional, personable, and intriguing while touting world peace and saving everyone’s breasts. For me this is impossible. I can only do one at a time (no pun intended) and certainly not do it all in one, pithy paragraph. At least not gracefully. I sound like I’m speed-dating after a hit of meth.
Then, depending on the agency, you either leave it there, or give them a sample chapter of your manuscript and/or a plot synopsis. I have the sample chapter down – it’s finished, and has been for months – but writing a plot synopsis is a foray into hades. Most agencies tell you to give all of the main conflicts, the secondary conflicts, and introduce your characters, all while telling your story. But at least THAT doesn’t have to fit into a paragraph. You get a page. And if the literary agency is really, really pressed for time, and/or really, really lazy they ask you to do that in an email short enough to preclude scrolling down. And you can’t write it in tiny, tiny letters. You have to use Times New Roman, 12 point font, which is one bifocal less than sky-writing. This is because the agents’ eyes are glued to typed messages all day and they’d prefer not to go blind before retirement.
Then you have anywhere from two weeks to three months before you hear back from them. And this is because these hard working agents are inundated with query letters, synopsis (synopsi? ), and manuscripts. And if they like what they see, they ask you for your full manuscript so they can read your work in its entirety. THEN they decide if they will represent you.
And it hasn’t even made it to a publishing company yet. Or more accurately an Acquisitions Editor at a publishing company. I do not know if one capitalizes Acquisitions Editor, but I figured it won’t hurt since they appear to be minor gods on the literary food chain. They decide whether or not they pitch the book to their board of directors. Yes . . . one more salesperson to try to sell it to.
But forget the publishing companies for a moment. Or until I hear from one. IF I hear from one.
I wrote my first query letter to Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (DGLM) in New York just four days ago.
I chose them to be my first for one reason: They have the most writer-friendly website I’ve seen so far. Most literary agency websites are so refined, so snooty, they make me feel like a Clampett at Oxford. (Weeell Doggie! That sure is a mighty fine agency you got yourself there. Herman Melville, you say! Well if that don’t beat all! Granny, Granny, come look!)
I won’t hear back from DGLM until December, but they don’t insist that you apply to them exclusively. Some do. DGLM doesn’t. They suggest you cast more lines out to other agencies so you can cut your waiting-to-be-published time by months. Which should make Kay in Panera happy. Reader of my first two books, she regularly sits down in my booth and opens the conversation with, “When is your #$%! book going to be out?!”
And for anyone interested, here are the opening paragraphs of WILD CARD (working title). (It will probably be called something like, ‘Romeo, Juliet, and the Stinking Donkey’ once it passes through an editor’s hands . . .)
The whole fiasco began with Liza Weebs’ evil scone of pain.
We would have never gotten involved if we hadn’t consumed it. Tamsin and I should have suspected something was amiss. Big enough to double as a wheel chock, the soda-covered chunk was studded with chewy pellets that looked like currants, yet tasted like bacon. There was no rational explanation for that, yet we kept eating.
At 100 years of age, Liza is the oldest resident in our tiny fishing village of Halfmoon, Cornwall. With rigatoni toenails that tap the floor when she’s sober enough to walk, she has a passion for only three things — the Moonstone pub, baking football-sized scones, and my brother Jude, who is only 27. Even though her silhouette looks like a can of lager propped on two twigs, even though she is so short I can crown her head with my armpit, I am utterly intimidated by her.
She had given me the scone to give to Jude, who in turn gave it back to me in lieu of lunch while Tamsin and I were running last minute errands. We’d finished off half of the dense wedge before tossing the remains to the seagulls. And as easily as that, we poisoned ourselves, inadvertently changing the course of our lives in the process. No telling what we did to the seagulls.
We were going on holiday, Tamsin and I. Two idyllic weeks in the Greek sun, courtesy of Albert and Violet Pengarth, elderly friends of ours. Even though they were in their seventies, they had more energy than a bag of hummingbirds. When they had invited us to accompany them on their trip, visions of savory food — among other things — danced in our heads. Thinking of wild herbs, warm slabs of baklava, and muscular Greek men, Tamsin and I had accepted their invitation with alacrity. Not that I would know what to do with a muscle-bound Greek if I found one.
There were two reasons for my lack of sophistication even though I am 21 years old. The first was that I have yet to go on a proper date. Playing with love is not a sport to me, like arm wrestling or canal jumping. If someone wins my heart, I want them to keep it. The second reason is that I’m the only girl in a herd of six overly protective brothers, five of them older. I have yet to meet the man courageous enough to forge past them and past my father to get to me. Not that they block egress, they just look like they do.
My full name is Isabella Tatiana Wildeve, but I am merely ‘Bella’ to my family and friends. I still lived at home, unlike Tamsin who rented an attic flat in the Bunt sisters’ boardinghouse. So when the invitation was extended I naively pictured myself watching scads of uni-browed fishermen sorting sponges while I reclined in the shade of a fig tree twirling my glass of ouzo.
Nothing could have been further from reality.
What was to be a simple holiday began with a tainted scone and ended with a clot of angry priests, more than one mysterious disappearance, and a couple of inept smugglers running for their lives on an isolated Greek beach. I was one of those inept smugglers. My friend Tamsin Hugo was the other.
It was during this time that I made certain unwelcome and unexpected discoveries. Who knew that furious Greek Orthodox priests could run like steroid-eating Olympians, their long flapping robes notwithstanding? Another discovery, though not so unwelcome as the first, was that I could run faster, especially when spurred on by nearly nude Serbian acrobats screaming like cheerleaders. Apparently, “Pokreni kao srna! Prestupna! Prestupna!” means, “Run like a gazelle! Leap! Leap!” in Serbian. But all that came later. Unfortunately, the relaxing moments that I had anticipated proved to be as rare as rocking horse poo.
End of excerpt . . .
Do you have any of your own waiting-for-news stories you want to share? Yes, you say, but what if it has nothing to do with writing? Fine. At least YOU have a life. Tell me about it.
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