Month: February 2018
The first sentence may be king, but write it last.
While study the craft of writing, I often heard the first sentence is king. The advice about the first sentence relayed that an intriguing first sentence captures the reader. Tutors and texts along a similar vein stated, depending on the length of the work, an author needed to hook the reader by the end of the first paragraph or page.
As a result, I agonized over the beginning of the story to the point of giving myself writer’s block. I wanted to get the perfect beginning before confirming where the story went.
Listening to Writing Excuses Season 10 changed my approach to the beginning. The hosts said write the first sentence last. The beginning of the story often changes as the plot changes. The simple statement sounded obvious after hearing it.
I struggle with other aspects of writing and nailing the beginning is still important. Since I understand that the beginning changes as the story changes, I no longer agonize over it until after completing a couple of passes of the story.
Do not start the query letter with “Agent” or “Dear Agent”. Use their name.
The goal of a query letter is to get the agent interested. You don’t need to tell them the whole story. The letter should be one page and generally four paragraphs.
Paragraph 1 Contents
- The title
- The genre
- For query letters, you need to commit to a genre.
- How long the novel is
- There currently is not a market for 50,000 word novels in the adult science fiction and fantasy genre.
- If you have met the agent before and they expressed interest in your book
- Note: the meeting and expression of interest should be recent
- If someone specifically recommended you to submit to the agent the query letter is for.
Comments from submitted query letters
- You do not need to include that it is a novel. All query letters are for novels.
- Several of the queries left out word count.
- 70,000 words is the desired minimum length for the science fiction and fantasy genre.
- One of the queries sounded like it could be fantasy or thriller. Try submitting to both to see which gets more traction.
Paragraph 2 Contents
- Introduce your hero, what they want, and why they can’t get it.
- Give a hint about the world
- Sometimes this can’t be summed up in one paragraph with the extensive world building in fantasy and science fiction. Some lee way may be given here, but try to keep information concise and clear.
- This summary should be more like back jacket copy. Give the tone of the book, but don’t be over the top.
- Be clear.
- The need for clarity was reiterated several times throughout the workshop.
- The agent needs to understand the book you are trying to sell.
- Some agents don’t like sassy tone that is often used as a back jacket hook.
- Sass can get in the way of clarity.
Comments from submitted query letters
- Several of the queries went into too much detail about book.
- Don’t tell the whole story.
- This shouldn’t have backstory.
- Telling about the heroes hanging out doesn’t add value
- Don’t go into too much detail about the protagonist
- Introduce them, but provide detail about what they do, not just who they are.
- Never say that a character is stereotypical
- You need to illustrate what differentiates your character (and story) from the norm.
- Comps (Comparisons to other novels)
- Figure out what you are getting from your comps
- They need to be recent works and relevant to your work
- Comps are not required
- Figure out if your novel is YA or adult with a young protagonist. Once you have decided, make sure your choice is clear in the query letter.
- Stating if you have used an editor is fine.
- The name itself isn’t of import. There are too many editors for name recognition.
- Don’t explain the meaning of the story
- If you’ve kept the query clear, agents should be able to figure that out from what you have written about the story.
- Indicate how the protagonist protags.
Paragraph 3 Contents
- Brief biography
- Summary of credits
- If no credits, what you’ve been doing to improve your craft
- viable paradise
- Interesting facts about yourself
- Anything unusual in your background
- Anything unusual in your background that relates to your book content
- You don’t need to mention prior agent experience.
- Mention if you are a member of SWFA.
- SWFA is more focused on good short stories. Membership is helpful, but not a deal maker.
- Do not mention that you have been writing since you were young
- A lot of people fall into that category
Comments from submitted query letters
- If you self-published, did you sell a lot?
- If you have a website or twitter, include it in the bio.
- Don’t reference Sam’s Dot as experience
Paragraph 4 Contents
- Detail what you are sending in what format
- As requested, I have sent you this… in this format …
- Use readable fonts in the email
How can you find agents?
- Query Tracker an agent repository website
- Agents often have twitter accounts with their MSWL
- Manuscript wishlist
- Query a small batch at a time.
- If you query no more than ten at a time, you can potentially diagnose your query letter.
- Publishers marketplaceHas a $20/month subscription fee
- Potentially use tactically when you have something ready to sell instead of keeping subscription full-time
- science fiction/fantasy only
Pitching versus querying
- Don’t memorize the whole thing.
- Don’t run through it at break neck speed.
- Think about it as a chat.
- Pitching at conference may not result in a pickup, but you can get feedback about potential improvements to make for your novel.
- Conferences with agent pitches
- Minnesota writers workshop
- The Loft
- They trend more to more Young Adult agents currently
What we learned about Jennie’s preferences and practices
- She tries to be pretty quick if she knows the answer is going to be no.
- She will request the first three chapters if the query letter intrigued her.
- If interested after the first three chapters, she’ll request the full novel.
- She doesn’t personally like pirates because of all the time on the boat.
- Self-professed as not a good YA editor.
- She doesn’t like synopsis as part of a query letter
Odds and Ends from Q&A
- If you are writing fiction, the book has to be finished when you query it.
- The fact that agents don’t request whole manuscripts may be a holdover from the days of paper manuscripts. However, the query letter system is still beneficial to the author.
- The benefit is that you will find out more quickly if the interest is not there.
- Query letters have a quicker turn around than novels because they take less time to read.
- Hard science fiction is in short supply.
- Roman or Tolkien influences don’t stand out as different currently
- Military science fiction is in demand, if there is soul to it, especially if you have a military background.
- Paranormal romance isn’t purchased by publishers as much as it used to be because there is so much of it.
- Illustrate how your story is different from the norm.
- Whether or not to send a synopsis varies by agent preference.
- Write down how you are going to market the book before it gets published because you will forget.
- It’s uncommon for authors to make a career from short stories.
- It’s okay to query different novels to agents that have rejected previous novels.
- Sometimes one novel isn’t a match, but another one might be.
- Jennie picked up the forth novel one author queried to her.
- Cons are potential places to meet agents. A lot go to World Fantasy, WorldCon, Convergence, and the nebulas
- The premise from Kings of the Wild if mercenary bands were rock bands seems entertaining
- Agents expect simultaneous submissions.
- Romance has a HEA pledge – Must end happily ever after