Saturday, 30 April 2011

Writing query letters

Having written a lot of query letters for short stories and poetry, I am now faced with having to write one for our course. An agent from the distant fantasy land of actual publishing is visiting Winchester, and will discuss our efforts to get an agent's attention. It turns out, I'm terrible at it! Having spend 2 whole days working on this, the best I can come up with something which is concise, factually accurate and completely dull. I wouldn't want to read my book, and I actually like the characters. I ended up highly entertained by QueryShark, a blog written by an agent who dissects query letters for fun. Hilarious, although it was a reminder that mine was even worse than some of the offerings on show. 

One exercise I've been playing with is having a go at writing query letters for my previous novels, and realising the reason I gave up on them was that they were too convoluted and confused to summarise. I'm going to have a go at the children's book later, see if I can come up with something there. As my tutor said, months ago, what's your book about? I think this has got to help.

However, as I've said before, reducing my rambling manuscript to a few concise, appealing lines, is actually helping me rewrite said MS. One of my lecturers recommends putting a sentence summary of your book, what it's actually about, on a post-it where you can see it as you write. How small a post-it, she doesn't say, something about A3 would do it... Seriously, I am starting to clarify for myself what the book is about and that's really helpful. Now I just need to divorce myself from the idea that the original 87 000 words must have something worth keeping in them, and get one with a proper rewrite. 

The reason I embarked on this writing course lark in the first place was to work on pace. Finally, I'm starting to make sense of my writing style, realising that the balance between action and reaction is way off. Readers need a reason to keep reading, their time is precious, if they get bored or confused they won't bother to keep reading. In the first draft I have an action scene, then four static, reaction scenes where people sit down and talk about the action in scene one. Then four action scenes, one after the other, too much to take in at once. Silly me. I was too worried about swapping POV (point of view) but have accepted that this book needs different POV which will collide into Jack's at the end. I just need to establish Jack as the main character whenever possible. Now the three assignments looming up can take centre stage...   

Meanwhile, I'm packing up to go back to Winchester and a different pace of life.

Dodger working his way through a pile of paperwork


  1. I must admit I laughed when I read this blog! Very helpful! I think I need an agent and have no idea where to start - there are books out there, but choosing from a book is a bit daunting, plus most of them are too busy to look at little old me........anyway, will keep plugging on. Just started writing another book but really do need an agent! By the way you could have a look at my poetry blog - not put any poetry on for a while but loads on there. Vida

  2. Thank you, Vida! I had a look at your blog and loved Fall in Logan Lake! I can't imagine living somewhere where the weather is so different (and for me, Devon IS Heaven).
    I went on courses to give myself the confidence to put my work out there, after all, it's the writing they are judging, not me personally! One thing I've learned on the MA is to spend some time working on the query letter and synopsis side - often people spend years writing a book but an afternoon writing the rest. And research the person you are ending it to. Where's the harm? A letter costs a stamp, give it a go, and be ready to follow up with some pages.

  3. Reb, great idea re the post it note. Thanks for posting it! See you Tues?

  4. Hi Downith, definitely! You didn't happen to take any notes last week, by any chance?

  5. Yes but very scatty. Happy to make you a copy, but I think her speech is going to be printed in the anthology?

  6. Great to see you again on Tuesday. Every time I read your blogs I am amazed at what you manage to fit into your life. I need lessons! Re the post it note - my kitchen walls are covered in scraps of

    I took one of them off the other day and then swiftly reattached it when I saw that since they have been there so long, the paint beneath is lighter than the rest of the kitchen! Oh dear.

  7. Hi Boz, the HUGE whiteboard on my wall does cover some rather horrible cracks! Just trying to get my notes down to a query chapter - sorry, letter.