Querying, The Impossible Contract (Book 2), Writing

Hey What About Your Query, Kai?

A picture of a cat, not a query letter.

As some of you already know, I’ve joined this year’s Pitch Wars mentor crew. For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, this means that one (not-so-)lucky writer will get the chance to have their manuscript beaten (literally and figuratively) into shape by me. But to get to that point they – you, possibly – will have to first write a query.

If there’s one thing all authors/writers/agents/human beings can unilaterally agree on, it’s that queries were devised to torture storytellers. You spent what feels like a million words (by that 24th revision it’s probably been more) carefully building a story and now someone wants you to do it again in – *gasp* – 250-300 words. Mon dieu!

Thankfully that’s not really what a query’s meant to do. All it’s gotta do is entice. And to do that, you just gotta distill your plot down to a few lines, pick out some awesome details, snag the voice, do the Macarena, assemble the Avengers –

Wait. No.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I’m sure an example is worth just as many. So, here – have one successful query letter that just happens to be mine. It’s been a few years (*cough3cough*) and if I could I’d change a few things, but I’m going to resist and let you see the exact query that led to pages being requested that led to a full that led to a call that led to an offer and so on.

[Side note: This query was for The Impossible Contract, which is now Book Two (and if you want to know that story, go here). I don’t think there’re any spoilers for The Perfect Assassin (aka Book One) in here, but you have been warned if you care about those things.]

Dear Agent –

THE IMPOSSIBLE CONTRACT is a fast-paced adventure fantasy complete at 128,000 words. I’m sending this query to you in particular because I noticed you expressed an interest in LGBTQ stories in any genre and this novel includes a lesbian romance.

In the desert city of Ghadid, assassination is a family business. To learn the trade, Thana trained with her older cousins for years, but she’s still nervous when it’s her turn to take a contract. But it’s not just the responsibility: it turns out that her mark is the Empress’ own marabi, a highly skilled and powerful priest. Any qualms Thana might have had about killing a holy man, though, are soon put to rest when she learns the mark is involved in the blasphemous practice of binding souls.

The contract should have been straightforward: steal into the mark’s room, circumvent his magical protections, and slit his throat. Except that someone else wants the marabi dead. Before Thana can deliver the killing blow, a half dozen men break into the room and attack them both. Even outnumbered, the men should have been no match for fast and lethal Thana, but they have a key advantage against her knives and garrote: they’re already dead and someone – another blasphemer – has bound their souls. Thana barely escapes with her own life, let alone the mark’s.

The mark is determined to discover what these men are and who sent them. Thana is determined to follow the mark and finish her contract, even if that means leaving home to cross the desert. If she fails, not only will her family be shamed, but Thana’s life will be up for contract. But along her journey, Thana learns of the ancient evil behind the dead men and bound souls and realizes that the price of her success may be the destruction of all she holds dear.

Aside from writing, I also practice photography and weightlifting while living in the Sonoran Desert. I have the writer’s prerequisite small but significant cat collection and caffeine addiction, as well as a number of chickens, a degree in Classics, and way too many (never too many) knee socks.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Here’s a few things to note:

First off, you’ll notice I front-loaded the query with the title and wordcount and a little personalized intro for that specific agent. Typically, you’ll want to go straight into the query proper, but if you have a reason you’re sending this to a specific agent, it can help to put that up front.

In this case, my query doesn’t have room for the romance in it, but since I knew the agent was specifically looking for queer fic, I pointed that out as part of the personalization.

Second… this is a little long for a query. Related, that wordcount is about 30k too long. I got dinged a lot for that, by the way (multiple agents specifically cited the wordcount in their rejections), and part of signing with my agent meant cutting as much as I could – and then cutting more once I signed with Tor. So take it from me, you really want to stay within the acceptable word count ranges for your genre (this has a good rule of thumb btw).

On the positive side, it still worked. So.

Third, I know a lot of writers worry about not having any pub credits to their name to rattle off in the bio section. You’ll notice I, too, had no prior publications nor anything really of note, so instead I used that space to add a little more of my own personality.

But wait, there’s more! Don’t just take my word for it – you can read a breakdown by another agent over at the Weekly Workshop as to why, exactly, my query worked for her.

I’d also recommend taking a deep dive into the Query Shark archives as well as reading all the queries the other mentors have put up in the last few days.

So there you have it. Just be short and honest and bleed a little on your keyboard and you’ll do just fine.

Querying, Writing Tips

#Pitmad Coming Up on June 4th!

Although I have been around the internet since modems made that awful dialing noise while they connected – or rather, tried to connect – and I have been on Facebook and Livejournal and now WordPress since forever, I have had a hard time with Twitter. It’s such a fleeting, ephemeral platform, where there is no past and everything must be condensed into a 140 character soundbite.

Not for want of trying, of course. But my relationship with Twitter has been like a reverse Brokeback Mountain – I can’t stop quitting you. Now that I have a Smart Phone, though, it’s become a tad bit easier. It still seems like the shallowest of the social media forms, but maybe that’s to be embraced instead of rejected.

Plus, there are a ton of writer resources on Twitter that just can’t be found elsewhere. Agents posting their wishlists (#MSWL). Genre-related chats. Industry-related topics (#publishing). Writerly camaraderie and community (#amwriting).

But the resources I am currently the most excited about are the contests. Specifically, the pitch contests. More specifically, #PitMad.

If you are like me and have had your head under a rock for the past few years, then you should know that #PitMad is a quarterly pitch contest on Twitter wherein writers tweet their appropriately-tagged novel pitches into the ether and real live agents read and sort and favorite them. It’s one way to get ahead of the slush pile and/or seize the attention of agents not currently open to unsolicited queries.

The next #PitMad event is just next week: June 4, 2015. That is more than enough time to come up with two-three different pitches, each perfect in their own way and yet also able to build on each other.

So if you’re a writer with a completed and ready-to-query manuscript – come join me in this pitch event! You can follow me on Twitter @KA_Doore.

Querying, Writing

Stasis

I.E.: the brief reprieve that comes between large projects.

It’s an interesting time when you’ve just finished one big project, but you can’t quite start the next one. Part of this is because I’ve come to learn that when I need to query, I can’t be focused on another story. I’ve tried that before and I always end up working on that new and shiny story instead of putting my energy into querying.

Querying takes a surprising amount of time. You’d think you could just write up your generic query letter, maybe a full on synopsis, and send that out to any agent you find interesting – and that’s what I did when I first started querying, way back in the day. But I’ve learned that that method is: a) a waste of your time, and b) a waste of their time. As someone who has seen the sheer volume of queries that arrive in an agent’s mailbox on a daily basis, the last thing I want to do is waste their time with fantasy when all they rep is sci-fi.

You have to research the agents, look at their clients, their web presence, and everything else to see if they’re a good fit. Sometimes this is easy, especially when they’re explicit about what they want on their bios. Sometimes, it’s not so easy, and you can lose an hour (or two [or three]) simply trying to figure out if an agent is a good fit. Then there’s crafting the query itself – yes, you can use a catch-all query letter and hope for the best, or you can tailor them to the specific agent. And again – having seen what fills up an agent’s mailbox, sometimes just taking that extra time to not only follow the submission requirements, but also make it obvious you’ve actually looked at that agent and know who they are, can make a reeeaally big difference.

That’s all to say: querying takes a lot of time. It takes focus and research and effort. The same exact things a new novel would demand. With a fulltime job, I simply cannot do both simultaneously. I’m not complaining – I can pay my bills! – but it does leave me in a liminal state, teetering between projects.

I want to move forward, start research on the next one, but I also want to give this one the time and energy it deserves. I feel like I’m just on the edge, so very ready to take the next step. Nobody likes querying, nobody likes waiting, but it’s still necessary.

In the meantime, during all those moments where I would usually squeeze in some writing, I’d better get back to reading. I am woefully behind.

Querying, Trunked Projects, Work In Progress

WIP Updates

I finished the edits on GW last night and duly celebrated with a glass of wine. God, I love wine. GW was the story that was out to betas over the summer, and I received their feedback in August. It’s a(n urban?) fantasy with faeries and gingerbread and a bus driving MC who is the epitome of a reluctant heroine. It’s a story I’ve been trying to write right since college.

I completely rehauled the plot in the spring after some really good advice from a friend, but I was too close to the story still when I sent it out to betas to really gauge whether I’d succeeded. So I spent a lot of time while waiting for feedback figuratively biting my nails. I also busied myself with another WIP. Always a good idea, by the way.

The first feedback I got wasn’t so good. But it was true. And it took me some time to figure out how to make it work. Then I got more feedback and I realized this was going to work. And it wouldn’t require a major overhaul! Which is fantastic, because that wasn’t going to happen. If it’d needed major reworking, I would have simply shoved GW into a dark corner and forgotten about it.

I spent the majority of September working on those edits inspired by my betas’ feedback, both big and small. And I finished the last edit yesterday with some small satisfaction. This story works. It’s not perfect – it will never be perfect – and fuck if I know whether or not it’s marketable, but it works.

Writing is such a long, arduous, lonely process. There aren’t many clean breaks between processes, and certainly little to no clear stopping points. So I’ll take what I can get. This story is Done, with a capital D.

Now, the hard part. Writing a synopsis. Writing a query. Researching agents. Plugging away with queries day after day. I hate this part because it takes away from the time I could be writing, from the time I could be creating, but it’s a necessary evil. Nothing you love is ever going to be sparkles and unicorns 100% of the time. Besides, only a successful query and agentation will allow me to have more time for writing in the future.

October will be my official Querying Month. Then when that’s done and over, I can finally start rewriting the epic lesbian desert story from this summer. That should get me through the end of this year.

TL;DR: Edits done! October = querying. November/December = rewrite new WIP. January = ???, February = Profit!