Thursday, September 11, 2008

And now I shall continue to bore you with my query woes...

Okay. I hate to harp on the query thing, but unfortunately, I seem to be somewhat fixated at the moment. This post originally started as a response to comments on the last post, but yeah, it started to get really big, so I used a magical stone of teleportation to bring it to the 'create-post' screen. (Inquire not into my mystic ways, for there are some magicks too dangerous to share over the internet.)

First of all, I need to thank you people profusely for all your help. Honestly, I'm amazed by the volume of feedback my last post generated. There were many keen observations observed, and fresh perspectives perspected, and I am hugely grateful. I've said it before and I'll say it again - you people are the best people I know.

So okay -- I don't know guys. I understand the arguments for stripping the paragraphs about the Nephilim, but I can't bring myself to start my query with the word 'when'. Dang near 40% of all query letters start with the word 'when'. My biggest problem with most of the queries I read is all the sad conformity. Same rhythym, same obligatory listing of events, same obligatory 'but who is that masked man?' questions. It's like there's really only one query letter in existence and writers are just plugging their character's names into it. I don't know how agents can stand to read them.

Here is my query/synopsis for Elfhame. Even now, I look at it and see things I'd like to change, but this little baby snagged me five requests for partials and two requests for fulls. That makes me think that somewhere in here, I've done something right.

Because of the faeries, she’ll have to lie and steal. She’ll have to disguise herself and hide. She’ll have to bluff, and run, and at times, she’ll even have to fight. She is a thirteen-year-old slave, and she’ll do anything to get free.

Xierna knows that her mother’s name is Carowyn, she knows that their home is at the bottom of a green valley, and she knows that a monstrous changeling currently resides there, sleeping in her bed, eating her meals, and living her life under the sun with her mother. Since the day they’d been switched as infants, Xierna has known only hardship and labor, underground, in the twilight realms of Elfhame.

To mankind, Elfhame is nothing but a folk-tale – a story to amuse their children before they’re tucked into bed – but to Xierna, it is the only world she has ever known. Home to an array of mythic races, Elfhame is divided into thirteen wondrous brughs, connected only by a series of enchanted portals: chambers of doors called ‘sitheins’. Xierna knows the ancient path through them. She’s acquired the proper pass-warde. And this time she’ll let nothing stand between her and her freedom.

(this picture has nothing to do with anything - just wanted to share)

For me, conformity is anathema. I'm freaking Cindy Lauper (or maybe Punky Brewster), you know? That's kind of why I posted two versions of my potential query; I'm in danger of doing something 'over-the-top' goofy, and I need people to talk me out of it. Then again, I won't force myself to sound like everybody else, either. I don't know. I want to trust my own gut, but it still warrants more thought, I guess. Good thing I have a few more weeks until my sixth draft is done and I need to start querying.

(Speaking of which, Absolute Write folks -- isn't there a forum where people post their queries for critique? I've looked a couple times but can't find it.)

One last thing, even though I'm a former pastor, the biblical stuff in my book is not inherently 'Christian'. It's sort of along the lines 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' because it takes something from the Bible, and exploits it for the sake of entertainment. It could also be compared to 'The DaVinci Code' because it borrows one of its central concepts from non-canonized, apocryphal scriptures (the Book of Enoch). And I think we all remember the sh#tstorm that caused. Any suggestions as to how I can safely make this distinction in my query letter? Assuming I decide to leave the Bible stuff in?

(This will most likely not be a very commentable post for most of you. Sorry. If you'd like to let me know you were here, but have nothing really to contribute, might I suggest insincere flattery? Your own original limerick? Or perhaps you could congratulate me on one week smoke-free?)


Jewel Allen said...

*one week* yehey!

Ray, I have a question.

Can you please write my query letter for me?

WOW, that I can write and THINK out a query letter half as good as you!! :-)

Go for it. Keep the bible reference in. I don't think it comes across as Christian.

Since I cannot honestly see how I can make your "first-person" sing any more than it does, I thought I'd be helpful by pointing out typo edits:

*you’re probably won’t believe it anyway

*So here’s what’s going on…Some

One opinion in the bucket for you.

Ray Veen said...

Gosh, Pink, I sure hope that wasn't "insincere flattery", because you really made me feel good.

Thanks for both your compliments, and your helpful suggestions.

Vikki said...

Woohoo, BPV! One week smoke-free!!! No turning back now!

I didn't think the bible references made it sound "Christian" either. To me, it sounded like a hip, edgey tale that brought in elements of the bible, but in a very "easy to digest" way.

...and, holy crap, your query for Elfhame is freakin' awesome!!!

Anonymous said...



VeeFlower said...

I thank the God I believe in that you are not smoking! The query for Elfhame is phenomenal, it got me excited and anxious to read the story again. Wow. You have come so far in such a short time! It really is all about the query letter, and you have it down to an art form. And about the biblical references, that wasn't exactly a criticism, that was "just sayin'...", something to keep in mind when you do include the references. Follow your instincts. Your gut says go out on a limb. The worst that can happen is they say no. But I think you are right, I think they do get tired of reading same-o same-0. Sincerely. I am your Mom and I approve this message.

bunnyjo georg said...

I have *no doubt* that you've gotten such a good response from your Elfhame queries because of the fact that it is a non-conforming, atypical query letter. Here's what your Elfhame query has that your #1 and #2 queries don't have: voice and pitch. Your Elfhame query reads like a really great marketing promo for an action movie. I can just hear the deep-voice guy reading it over tension-building music like they have on TV. Elfhame query does not tell, it shows - isn't that rule 1 for a writer?

Your query letter is a microcosm of who you are as a writer, so you can not hand over your writing gift to some plug-n-play query letter format. The problem is, you think that if you do a traditional query letter, it has to sound a certain way. When you take yourself out of pre-fab query-letter writing mode, what comes out is truly gifted. Trust and believe in that.

The best writing I do is to sit down and go with a really great lead, "McCain may be up in the polls, but Obama is far from throwing in the towel." and then I just WRITE. The lead is like a thesis statement; it gives voice to what you want to say and the direction you want to go. If I get writing and stall, I go back to ground zero and re-write my lead until it all clicks into place.

Here's a great lead for your #3 query letter:

The unknown something residing in the bassinette is what fills Noah Fiersom with terror, but what he should really be worrying about is the backpack full of ants.

Now, go with that and see where it takes you.

Oh, and congrats on 1 week!!!!! You think you could uh, get the ole hubby to chum in with you?

colbymarshall said...

The forum is the Share Your Work forum in AW...go there, then there's a Query Letter thread...

Ray Veen said...

Vivi - Freakin' awesome? Really? Gosh, now I'm blushing. Thank-you for your perceptive and intelligent feedback.

Fritz - The rustic rebel. Between him and Ben, and today's date, I'm suddenly feeling a little sad.

Veeflower - And now I'm cheered up again. "I am your Mom and I approve this message." You... You are a nut.

Bunny - Glad you feel that way. Actually I was thinking of emailing you with my new, version 3 hybrid query letter. I'm starting to feel good about it, but I need to cut about 43.5 words without changing anything. Anything. You could do that, right?

Colby - Ah. Thank you very much. I hoped somebody would address that.

Serena Woods said...

Hey, BPV! This sounds interesting. :) I didn't know you were a former pastor.... hmmmmm....

We should trade stories.

Elizabeth said...

ALERT: Unhelpful comment below.

Your query is very very nice. I want to take it out for dinner and rub my foot up it's pant leg.

You are welcome to help me write mine anytime.
I dislike writing query letters. I think the whole idea stinks. After spending A LOT of time writing a book I now have to craft a letter to entice some agent? I'm just not a good schmoozer.
Maybe you can help me with that.

Ray Veen said...

Hey Serena - How's the writing going? I'm up for trading stories, though mine was nothing traumatic, scandelous, or even particularly very interesting.

Elizabeth (and anybody else) - I'm totally up for helping anybody, anytime with things like query letters. I eat this writing stuff up like bubble gum. And even though I always bring enough for the whole class, I don't get many opportunities to share it. Know what I mean?


Still no word on the limerick contest. I'm starting to brace myself for the possibility that I didn't win. AND IF NOT... I shall obscure myself indefinately within the folds of giant cloud of cigarette smoke. You hear that, limerick contest judges? You will be singularly responsible for my death (delayed though it may be).

shortensweet said...

I'm so proud I have the first autograph..awesome letter, I was like..WHOA that's my bro that wrote this. Pretty impressive.

I still can't believe that you let me beat you at quitting smoking. It's been almost 8 years for this kid and I'm still smoke free. NA NA

Ray Veen said...

Hey Shorty - been a long time since I've had the pleasure of one your cruel and taunting blog comments. Get this: I just got home from work, and found a brand new Guinness hoodie on the counter. Cindy bought it for me to wear to the Irish Music Festival. Ain't she cool?

Anonymous said...

Two things:

Congrats on going smokeless! One week and you ain't dead yet! It's all downhill from here. (yeah, okay, so I have no idea if that's true or not. I just wanted to sound encouraging.)

And - thanks for the referral for the book on plotting. I fully intend to go looking for it!

bunnyjo georg said...

Editor-at-large, at your service! Email it to me at work....I no longer even peek at my spam-laden hotmail inbox bursting with 381 ways to spend my hard-earned money on worthless, unneeded products that - never mind, just email me at:

Mary O. Paddock said...

Hi Ray,

I'm trying to complete two posts in one here. After your help with mine, I wish I could offer you more than the following. You're ahead of me in this game.

If the jury is still out on the question of which format works better, then the professional tone of #1 is probably your best bet. Though I'd probably cut the second para and rework a segue between the first and the introduction of the main character in then next. My concern has nothing to do with "Biblical stuff" making or breaking it. It's that it is less important than talking about the character and the main plot and the 2nd para lends nothing but background.

Just my .02 worth. :)

By the way, I can see why the query for Elflame garnered you so much attention. In fact, I'm taking notes.

Ray Veen said...

Wenston - Thanks for your well-wishes. I got a big kick out of your 'I don't know if it's true or not, I just wanted to sound encouraging'.

Kind of reminds of when I was trying to lose weight (60 lbs). I got some of the most earnest weight-loss tips you can imagine from well-intentioned heavy people. God bless 'em.

For what it's worth, I succeeded in that, and I've kept it off for almost two years.

Bunny - Can't wait to see your suggestions. You've always been more brutal about cutting things down (wink-wink).

Mary - Oooh, a segue... seriously, that didn't occur to me. Have to take a look at that. Are you still querying for Troubled Waters?

shortensweet said...

I have pics of you last night..ha ha ha!!!

Ray Veen said...

*sighs and reaches for wallet*

How much is this going to cost me?