I rewrote my query letter last week, and it was not easy. No matter what I did, I ended up with a rambling monstrosity that jumped from topic to topic. There was just too much that was important and too many characters I needed to introduce. I knew that I needed to cut out a lot of stuff, but I couldn’t decide what. What characters should stay? What concepts should I mention? How could I explain the core conflict of my story without getting lost in the details?

I eventually tried one of those “summarize your story in a sentence” exercises that’re usually used for brainstorming or pitch-writing. Here’s the one I tried:

Karen Woodward: The Starburst Method of Writing.

It’s not amaaaaazing, but it was definitely useful. The Starburst Method encourages you to summarize your story in a sentence or two. I didn’t use the one-sentence version in my query, but I did use the longer, three-or-four sentence summary that you end up with near the end of the exercise. I broke up those sentences, edited them, and used them as the lynchpin sentences in my query. Then it was just a matter of filling in the gaps.

I’m very happy with it! The new query is much stronger than the first. I guess it just goes to show that sometimes you need to pull back–way, way back–and look at your story from another point of view.

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Oh, this is timely!

Writer Unboxed » What to Write in the “Bio” Section Of Your Query Letter.

I have no formally published works, no awards, and nothing remarkable to boast about. So it’s good that the answer here is to not write a bio paragraph at all. Unfortunately, one of the agents I’m looking at requires a bio anyway. And look at this!

What if you have nothing about yourself to discuss, but the agent specifically requests a “bio sheet” or “bio paragraph” or something like that? If that’s the case, then this would be the one time to simply fill white space and talk about lesser things of importance. It’s a tough situation; just write whatever you can.

Sounds like a plan!

I am putting together my first agent query for Sigils of the Forgotten! Hurray! Now it’s time to obsess over email formatting!

Thank goodness for this blog:

The Swivet [Colleen Lindsay]: Reader Question: "How do I format emailed pages in a query?"

And this one!

Literary Rambles: How Do I Format My E-Query?

When I was querying agents in 2008, it seemed like everyone just wanted query letters and nothing else. But this time, my top four agents are all asking for queries plus the first few pages of the manuscript. And now I’m getting all flustered about how to format them.

Just to get my thoughts in order, here’s how I understand it.

(more…)

Oops. I need to pay more attention to my Tumblr feed. I edited last Tuesday’s post a few times and ended up posting it 3 times to Tumblr. Whoopsie-doodles.

Anyway! Cliches! Behold!

Writer Unboxed » What NOT to Do When Beginning Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents.

I remember reading this kind of advice when I was writing my first novels. It was a revelation to realize that every character shouldn’t have two paragraphs of purple prose-filled description. Good times (or not).

I… I still love prologues, though. So very much. I know they’re generally bad ways to open a story. But I have an addiction, OK?

Photo of the cover of the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents.

The 2013 Guide to Literary Agents! Pity I have the 2012 version. Hotlinked from WritersDigest.com.

I missed my weekly Tuesday post. But it’s OK! Because I was ridiculously productive yesterday. I finally finished editing the rest of Sigils of the Forgotten. It is done. Done-done. It’s 77,000 words of young adult faux-Victorian fantasy, proofread and copyedited and more-or-less ready to go. I might want to come back and edit it more later (because goodness knows, I could edit forever.) But after working on it for so long, I’m really ready to focus on other things.

So I’ve started putting together a list of agents to pitch! So I’ve moved on to my first major task: Crawling through the Guide to Literary Agents.

I only have the 2012 Guide, which irritates me, because it was an awesome, thoughtful Christmas present, but I had nothing that I was ready to pitch last year. So now it’s 2013 and I’m working from a slightly out-of-date publication.

But it’s still a resource! A lovely one. So here’s what I’m doing. Just as a warning, it’s stupid-easy:

  • Searching through the “Young Adult” topic index and finding agents in those fields
  • Identifying those who are looking for for both YA and fantasy
  • Quickly going through the “Fantasy” index, in case I missed anyone in the above search
  • Prioritizing those who seem to be most interested in those fields (even though this data is old)
  • Prioritizing those who seem to be looking for new clients (even though this data is, again, old.)

This will give me a really rough, really preliminary list of folks who are looking for novels in my field and aren’t completely full-up on clients. Once I have a preliminary list, I’ll start crawling through websites and researching what they are currently looking for and which agents specifically deal with YA fantasy.

It’s not all that complicated. It’s mostly just research. The hard part has yet to come.

A friend of mine sent me this link months ago:

Think Fast! 10 Minutes to the Perfect Elevator Pitch — Self Publishing Team.

I’ve seen dozens of these elevator pitch exercises. I also haven’t done one in ages. This one starts from the premise of someone who self published and wants to get someone to go to your website, but who cares? The concept of a short pitch is universal.

All this makes me realize that I haven’t talked much about the actual content of my story. There’s nothing profound about that, really. I just focus on the mechanics of writing because, well, that’s how I keep myself honest every week. But since I’ve shared nothing about Sigils of the Forgotten except what’s on my About page, you’re now all unbiased editors. Here you go!

In this young adult fantasy with Victorian overtones, a teenager coping with the loss of her sister is possessed by a body-hopping spirit known as an Unending, whose murderous rampage has made her an enemy of the state. While trying to evade capture she learns more about the Unending of Justice within her, and discovers why she would spend five hundred years murdering innocents to atone for a woman she couldn’t protect.

Oh, I love these things!

Writer Unboxed » Query Letter FAQs (Part II): 10 More Questions Answered.

I particularly like this one:

4. How many query rejections would necessitate a major overhaul of the query?

Submit no more than 10 queries to start. If only 0-1 respond with requests for more, then you’ve got a problem. Go back to the drawing board and overhaul the query before the next wave of 6-10 submissions.

That’s fascinating. I’ve only gone through the agent submissions process… once? In 2008? And I sent out a little more than a dozen and got nothing but form letters. (And yes, that is the most half-hearted attempt at getting an agent ever. And the fact that it’s taken me 5 years to get back to this point is horrifying.) But, yes. I would not be at all surprised to know that my query letter sucked.

Well, you know. On top of other things. The story wasn’t particularly strong, either. And it was short. But this is the sort of thing you realize when looking back 5 years in time.