Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time to Get See-Ree-Us

So yesterday, I asked for questions. And I am reassured that most of you apply to me for your supernatural ninja information needs. But, lo and behold, some of you want to know WRITEY THINGS! I'm an expert at writey things, if by "expert," you mean person who does it on a regular basis and pretends to know what she's doing. Because really? I think that's true of a large number of people in this business.

Except YOU, of course. YOU are in the know, unlike the rest of us nubs.

Anyway, let me take a stab at these serious questions. Did you catch that plural? Yeah. There are TWO.

Kristi wants to know: "Alas, I feel all my questions about ninja superheroes have been answered to my satisfaction. I do have a writing-related question though. I know, I'm so boring. In the next month or two (assuming I ever finish revisions), I plan to start the query process. Aside from consuming large amounts of chocolate and wine, which I fully intend to do, any advice for those in that stage of the game?"

Darling Kristi, you're not boring. You are AWESOMESAUCE. I know there are a lot of non-nubs who have weighed in on query advice, and you're probably better served listening to them, but here are my "words of wisdom." I put that in quotes because the wisdom part is debatable.

Carrie's Tips on Entering Queryland
  1. Your best weapon in Queryland is your book, although I don't recommend trying to bludgeon a prospective agent with it. (It's not received well. Trust me.) Your book should take up more space in your letter than your background. Yes, agents want to know you're not a blazing psycho, but ultimately you're selling your BOOK. Once you're to the phone call/email offer/carrier pigeon conversation stage, you can astound them with your happy personality.
  2. Show, don't tell. It's true of queries too. Anyone can call their book a "edge of your seat page turner." Instead, integrate one of those tension-laden, seat-edged moments into the query. Show us a cliff hanger and we'll get the picture.
  3. The rhetorical question is risky. Yes, you could start off by asking, "Have you ever wondered what would happen if supernatural ninjas took over the world?" But then, the agent could say, "Nope." End of query. Instead of asking if they're interested in your subject, make them interested!
  4. Don't stretch to position your book. Yes, if there's a great book out there that is a natural comparison, feel free to use it. My query compared my book to one of Super Agent Kate's other clients, so it worked well for me. But don't stretch for a comparison (in which case the agent may think you're delusional), claim you've written a best seller (in which case the agent will KNOW you're delusional), or label your book as a "mystery-fantasy-romance-paranormal-biography" (in which case the agent will be forced to put down your query and go look for some aspirin). You're the writer. Write. Let the agent and editor figure out how to position you.
  5. Voice is good, as it relates to your book. My books are silly, so the paragraphs describing my book were as snarfalicious as I could make them. (I followed Rule 2! Go me!) But the introductory and closing paragraphs were professional. Writing comedy does not excuse starting your query with "Yo, homey." (Nor does writing romance excuse "My darling." I could do this all day.) You may be lucky enough to have a more personal relationship with your agent once you sign, but keep it appropriate until then.
  6. Be prepared to query widely. You may be one of the lucky few who don't need to deal with loads of rejection (in which case, most of us preemptively hate you). If not, I suggest you read these words of wisdom from Neil Gaiman. "Reject THIS" indeed!
  7. In the same vein, query carefully. There's nothing worse than realizing that you spelled the agent's name wrong/spelled YOUR name wrong/sent your excited email announcing your first full request back to the agent instead of your friends/requeried someone three times by mistake. A system is a helpful thing. I had a master query that I customized for each agent, a query database, and a rule never to enter the email address until everything was done and proofed. It saved me a lot of accidental emailage.
  8. Enlist a support system. Yes, it's good to have family and friends, but it's even more important to have other WRITERS. A journey through Queryland is a lesson in insanity, during which you obsessively check email every five seconds, and your heart races Every. Single. Time. The only people who will really understand this are people who have gone through it. THEY are the people you should cry to/complain to/celebrate with/et cetera. Do not do this with agents! You're still pretending to be sane at this point. They'll discover your true neurotic tendencies later.

So there you go. What essential query tips do you think I've missed?

This ended up a little long, so I think I'll save the other writey question for tomorrow! OoOoOoh!

20 comments:

Kristi said...

Carrie - thanks so much for answering my non-ninja related question and I love the Neil Gaiman link! I'm going to use your idea of not entering the email address until I'm sure the query is perfect -- sheer brilliance my dear! :)

storyqueen said...

Wha??? No "My Darling???"

Durn it!

Shelley

P.S. (This is a great post!!!)

Mariah Irvin said...

Your writey advice is always excellent. Though I'm with storyqueen on this one... "My Darling" isn't allowed? Disappointment.

Carolyn V. said...

Great advice (especially the Yo Homey! Darn, I was going to use that). The query process still frightens me. Eeek!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

How I love this post. How I love Neil Gaiman. *sigh* Most excellent advice, which has shored me up for the query wars.

Samantha Bennett said...

Great post! Yes, I have definitely relied on other writers during the query/submission process. And chocolate. Chocolate is key--even if it's a bag of chocolate chips you found at the back of the cabinet during a rather vicious craving. :)

Rebecca Knight said...

What an awesome post! I'm over here from Kiersten White's blog, and I love you already :).

Cate Gardner said...

I fear bludgeoning may be my only option, but I'll follow the other advice first. :D

lotusgirl said...

Fantastic list and great advice. I'm in the query trenches as we speak. I'm going to have to make this a regular stop on my bloggy rounds. Whatever took me so long? Carrie Harris, you're fun. I've been missing out.

Candyland said...

Snarfalicious post!

exploringeliza said...

Well, I'm not quite to queryland yet (that's coming later this year) but these are some great things to keep in mind and bookmark for that fabled time.

I'd never read that entry by Gaiman, though, which was really cool. I guess we all, as writers, need to just grow a pair and get out there!

Also, I'm thinking "Hey there, Honeypie" is sufficiently professional enough for a Southern Lit book. And maybe I'll sign off with a classic- "Y'all come back now, ya hear?" Oh yes, I can see the offers rolling in now...

Kelly said...

Excellent advice, Mrs. Harris.

Valerie said...

Bookmarking this for future reference!

Masonian said...

Querying makes me tremble. Ugh.
At the moment an agent has my full MSS and is asking about a few rewrites, but nothing set in stone. I cross my fingers that all goes well and I can avoid going BACK to the query slog. ugh.
Whenever it is that I must query again (for this MSS or for a new one) I shall take your words to heart.

Suzanne Casamento said...

Those are some very serious and good "writey" suggestions regarding the query process. Impressive! Nice work!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great advice! My husband is super supportive, but he isn't a writer (unless you count financial reports). It's my writer friends' shoulder I cry on. I'm suprised, though, my keyboard hasn't short circuited yet! :D (they're all online)

Alissa said...

The only thing I would add to this is to be organized. Just a simple spreadsheet or word document will work with a list of agents you've queried with notes or color coding to show who has said no thanks, who you've sent a partial to, that sort of thing.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Awesome advice. Esp the warning that we will check our email every few minutes. I'm looking forward to that because it will mean my book is done.

Christi Goddard said...

So, putting mystery-fantasy-romance-paranormal-biography is wrong? Dangit! No wonder my rejection list is so long...

kanishk said...

I'm going to use your idea of not entering the email address until I'm sure the query is perfect -- sheer brilliance my dear!

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