Research, resources, and more reading. Wow am I finding a lot on the internet. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but already I’m finding some themes. First, other authors are almost universally ready to share their hard-earned knowledge. Why are they so nice? They don’t have to tell poor newbies like me desperately googling everything about writing all of their secrets. But they do it anyway.
From hilarious (Delilah S. Dawson, seriously, you can find some great advice from her at /http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/08/13/25-steps-to-being-a-traditionally-published-author-lazy-bastard-edition/ and be warned, it’s got lots of NSFW language) to the serious resource (The ultimate bible for aspiring authors that I hear about over and over, On Writing by Stephen King, available at Amazon.com for 13.77$ right now and on my wishlist for when I get some disposable income for more books). And yes, I know that I have a Stephen King quote as the tagline on my website, that was deliberate. All hail the King.
I’m probably stereotyping while gazing through my rose-colored shades here, but I say from my research online that authors are a generous, sharing group who want to see other authors succeed. I’m sure there are exceptions. Don’t throw the exceptions at me to piss on my parade. Basking in a supportive, helpful group is all I need at the moment.
In particular, I’m enjoying reading the Query Shark blog. Janet Reid is a rockstar. A really mean, ego-deflating, crabby kind of rockstar, and I love it. Reading the big bites she takes out of queries, I am learning a lot. Like that I wrote my own query with some big mistakes. It seemed right from what I was finding at the time, but looking over many different examples I’m finding ways to improve my query and also keep it true to my story. Which is really the point.
Problem A: I open my query with “based on your agent profile and blah blah I think this would be a good fit for your list.” I wanted to personalize it and make it clear I did my research. After reading lots and lots of examples on the blog it’s clear Janet is right about this. Open with the story and the stakes, leave the flattery for the end.
Problem B: My stakes don’t grab the reader with enough urgency. The conflict is there and clear, but it doesn’t sound enticing enough to make an agent really want to care what happens to my characters. That needs to get spruced up.
Back to the editing! Once my query letter is shining like a mysterious jewel I will go ahead and try to submit it to the Query Shark. It’s a bit like washing your hands with chum and then sticking them over the side of your boat, in that I anticipate a similar level of pain and the urge to yank my fingers back very quickly. At the end of it, though, I will hopefully have a query letter that makes agents really want to read my manuscript. Now that I know what I didn’t know before.