How NOT to Query

I am so excited to participate in this blogfest!

It’s organized by the awesome DL Hammons, the mastermind behind the Blitz, and the idea for Deja Vu is to re-post a favorite blog from this past year, or just one you feel didn’t receive the exposure you would have liked.

I’ve always loved blogging, but I really feel as though I hit my blogging stride this year. I’m comfortable in my blog-skin. It was so fun to read through old posts, and I chose this one because I loved working on it so much! It’s filled with everything that sums up my blog-writing style: lightheartedness, fun, and gifs. I wrote it in February, and it’s one of my favorites. Hope you enjoy 🙂

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There are no two ways around it: querying sucks. But there are a few rules that, if you keep in mind, it makes the process that much easier for everyone involved.

Here is a list of things that I would have loved to have known before I began my querying journey:

1) NO QUESTIONS!

“What would you do if you lost everything? Your job, your boyfriend–your favorite purse?”–this forumla does not work.

Trust me, I tried it.

I’m sure every agent/editor is different, and if the idea/writing is good it could be overlooked, but overall, questions read very cheesy in queries.

2) Know your genre and its word count.

Don’t go querying a 20,000 word YA novel (that actually qualifies as a novella) or a 200,000+ word MG book (it’s just too, too much.)


3) Keep it short. 250 word queries are the norm.

This is probably a slightly more flexible rule, and it seems to be a newer thing. In my querying day, if you kept the pitch (including bio) to the equivalent of one printed page you were good. Now it seems shorter is best. But don’t forget to pack voice, plot, conflict/stakes, and romance (if applicable) into that concise 250 words. A lot to keep in mind, and it gets dizzying, I know, but if you feel overwhelmed, just remember: there are other forms of art that require a lot more precision than a query.

now tackling that letter doesn’t seem quite so difficult, does it?? You’re welcome.
4) Vague hooks don’t work.

In your author-y mind, an opening line like, “If Jimmy can’t find the one the thing he really needs to find, the world may never be the same” is intriguing to an agent.

Nope. This isn’t Grease, where vagueness became an awesome song.

Just cut to the chase and tell them the story.
5) Impressive bios mean nothing if you haven’t done a thing relevant to your story.

If you wrote a beautiful novel about a ballerina, but have no real dance training, that’s cool. No need to say “I’m a partner at a huge law firm and this novel is about the dancer I always dreamed I could be. I never took a ballet class in my life, but I can twerk, and I do twerk often.”

That’s great! Good for you. Congrats on all the twerking. We all strive to practice law and dance like Miley Cyrus. But what does it have to do with ballet? Let your story speak for itself, and leave out the unnecessary stuff.

6) You will make mistakes (and you’ll live to talk about them.)

After 20+ queries, your brain gets kind of fried, and no matter how much you proof read, or triple-check agency guidelines, there will be mistakes. You might typo the agent’s name. You might use Mr. when it should be Ms. Or maybe your finger slips and taps the letter adjacent to the ‘D’ when addressing your pitch to Ms. Dartman.

Trust me. You will never be more aware of what cruel, unforgiving, and demonic little entities computer keyboards can be until the moment you begin querying. You’ll cringe over your mistakes for weeks.

Just brush it off and move along. You’ll probably laugh about it one day (or not.)


7) You can’t pitch a series, no matter how bad you want to or how amazing your series is.

Even if you’re bursting to talk about what winds up happening in subsequent books, hold off.

One book at a time. You can say something like, “my novel is a YA thriller with series potential,” but that’s all.


8) Be realistic with comp titles.

There’s a very fine line between confidence and Kanye, and you don’t want to cross it.

It’s fine to compare your book to a known title, but keep your ego in check. Don’t be like, “My book is Harry Potter meets Twilight with Da Vinci Code-esque revelations written in rhymes that would make Dr. Seuss jealous, with illustrations that puts Curious George to shame.”

(although that sounds like it could be a pretty awesome book!)

If you’re unsure whether or not you’re overshooting or sounding a bit arrogant, check out these chilling words that have escaped Kanye West’s mouth at some time or another:

If you can relate in any way to the above words, maybe rethink your querying approach?

Did I miss anything? Got a juicy querying horror story? Tell me!

Early Drafts in TV Writing

As I embark on revisions I go through the usual dread/excitement/don’t-make-me cycle in my head. But the best thing about novel revisions? Our early drafts aren’t put out there for all the world to see.

Think about your favorite TV show. Then think about the first season. Notice a recurring event that eventually got cut? Or maybe a character trait altogether was altered completely.

By now we all know I adore Friends and tend to refer back to it a LOT when I discuss great TV shows, because I think the writing is just THAT GOOD. But even these brilliant writers struggled in the beginning. Here are some “first drafts” that wound up evolving before our eyes.

1. Joey Tribbiani. 

I feel like the writers initially envisioned what it would be like if Tony Micelli (Who’s the Boss)  and Bobby Wheeler from Taxi had a son together.

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As the episodes progressed he ditched the leather and became the sandwiched obsessed, not-so-bright-but-way-smarter-than-anyone-realizes aspiring actor we all know and love.

 

2. Phoebe Buffay.

 

Something tells me if they kept her AS kooky as she was in the pilot, viewers would probably wonder how the gang could tolerate being friends with her. While she definitely remains quirky, we get snippets of backstory throughout the show rather than scenes where she’s actually cleansing auras, or singing on the subway.

Ross, Monica, and Rachel, in my opinion, stay pretty true to character throughout (though they all have immense character development).

3. In Monica’s case though, the writers clearly wanted to make this a thing:

 

 

In a few early eps we have random scenes with Monica venting to co-workers at the restaurant. Granted, in the pilot, it actually did serve the plot, but overall I think the writers intended these moments to be an escape for Monica from her crazy friends, and a chance to bounce her life off of impartial people.

It didn’t work.

4. TV Watching within TV watching.

In the first season the gang loved to sit around, watch a random show (Spanish soap opera, classic sitcoms, etc) and make fun of it. This didn’t last too long past the first season.

Imagine if all the cringeworthy early moments in our MS were out there like this, documented forever? Not that these moments are necessarily bad, but they definitely needed fine tuning and the show turned out better for it.

There are also some slip-ups in editing. Like in the pilot when Joey tells Ross to “grab a spoon” and compares his dating options to ice cream, saying he can have any ice cream he wants with “jimmies! Or nuts!”

Joey is a New Yorker and WE DO NOT SAY JIMMIES. MY GOD, WE SAY SPRINKLES.

So my question is, do you call them sprinkles or jimmies?? There is no right answer (except there totally is, and it’s sprinkles).

An Awesome Contest from my Equally Awesome Agent

So by now you all know I’m repped by the amazing Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency. She’s started up this query critique contest over on her blog, Literary Carrie. I may be biased, but Carrie’s critiques are the best. And if you win the “author treatment” she’ll critique 100 pages of your MS.

As a side note I have to mention my favorite thing about Carrie’s MS critiques. When I’m reading back my edited MS she’ll include things she likes, things she wants changed, etc. Then randomly, at the mention of a makeup product my main character purchases or uses, she’ll write something like “I use this!! It’s the best foundation!” or “I just bought this lipstick” and it makes me crack up laughing. She is the best!

So definitely check it out and good luck!

QUERY CRITIQUE CONTEST

 

The Coolest Thing That Hardly Ever Happens

Just to update everyone on that pumpkin pasta recipe I made on Thanksgiving and was VERY worried about. IT WAS AMAZING. The pumpkin was super mild and the overall effect was a creamy, delicious, warm and cozy dish. There was a terrifying period where it all just looked like soup with linguine floating in it, but then it all came together! I wish I remembered to take a pic but here’s a screen grab from Ingrid’s video:

I’m aware this looks like every pasta you’ve ever eaten, but I promise in person it was prettier; it had a nice blush of orange to it. Also, I had about five times that amount on my plate.

Anyway, with the holidays came some down time. Over Thanksgiving weekend I took some time to indulge in my favorite American pasttime: TV watching. And something pretty crazy happened.

I saw an episode I’ve never seen before of one of my all time favorite shows.

As a TV addict, coming across an unseen episode of a fav show is a magical, serene moment filled with awe, much like how a bird watcher must feel upon spotting a rare beauty.

 

This actually has happened before. If I love a show but don’t own the DVDs I find there are usually one or two unseen/not-often aired eps. In this case it was a Thanksgiving themed episode of The King of Queens.

I spent the entire thirty minutes alternating between shouting “I CAN’T BELIEVE I NEVER SAW THIS ONE. I AM SO EXCITED. I CAN’T BREATHE.” and reminding myself to stay quiet and watch, since, you know, I never saw it before and I’d like to enjoy the episode.

It reminds me of thinking you unwrapped every birthday present but then finding one hidden behind a lamp or something.

When I was little I would experience this with books too. I’d read a whole series, but then randomly discover there were three or four I’d missed. Going to the bookstore and stumbling on a Nancy Drew or a Babysitters Club adventure I’d missed out on always felt like hitting the reading jackpot.

Has this ever happened to you???