Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It Is (Occasionally) OK to Ignore Internet Advice

I wrote a query letter the other day.

It wasn’t a query letter for a completed, polished manuscript. I don’t have a completed, polished manuscript. Neither had I researched potential agents or personalized the letter beyond giving my name. In other words, I ignored every bit of advice out there on the Internet about how, when, and why to write a query letter.

And that was OK.

Why? Because I did not intend to actually send the letter. Please, please, please don’t ignore all the great advice out there on the Interwebs unless you have a good reason. In my case, the good reason was that writing a query letter actually helped me to better understand my WIP. It became a writing exercise: I had to breathe life into the bones of the plot and make them dance. In about 300 words or less.

It was extremely helpful. Sometimes, people ask me what The Book is about. I used to have no idea where to start. “Well…it’s about this family…they’re kind of like a fantasy Mafia…Nope, no dragons, sorry. Shit, I’m no good at explaining things.” But if I say, "it's about a girl who becomes a spy," that refines things.

Inciting Incident, there we go. There might be umpteen million more characters and subplots, but the fact remains that if this girl didn’t become a spy, the book wouldn’t happen. Why? Because the story arises from all the collateral damage caused by her actions. And there we have it -- the Main Conflict. Girl wants to protect people she loves, but not enough to stop being a spy. So what exactly would drive her to betray everyone she cares about? Hmm. You’ll just have to read it. (Ha fucking ha. I'd have to write it first.)

When, like me, you notice that you are lost in your story -- not in a warm-fuzzy-feeling way, but in a shit-I-don’t-know-where-I-am-or-where-the-hell-I’m-going way -- writing a “query letter” might actually help. Don’t send it, for God’s sake. At least not until your book’s finished (and maybe not even then). And don’t obsess or spend too much time on it. However, if you treat it as an exercise, it might give you direction as to where your story is and where it’s going.

5 comments:

  1. " don't know what the hell I was thinking" is a pretty long label. Also, I don't think I really know what a query letter is.

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  2. I'm not an author, so I don't fell that way when writing a book. I do feel that way about life much of the time.

    Keep tweeting this blog post. ;)

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  3. Anonymous: Yep, it's a long label that I probably use too often. Oh well. A query letter is a letter someone with a finished book sends out to an agent, to interest them in representing their book to a publishing company. Basically, it should talk about the book in an interesting way.

    Brian: Oh, I will. ;) Until tomorrow, when I come up with something new...And yes, it would be great if it was possible to apply an exercise like this to life. I'll get on that...

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  4. I write "query letters" for books that I haven't even started yet all the time. It helps me to get the central plot down so I don't start meandering in the middle of the story. Otherwise I have to do a ton of revisions to make sure I'm not just wandering aimlessly.

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  5. Maybe I should try that. I usually outline first, which is very different from writing a query letter.

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