Tuesday, March 1, 2011

evolution of a query, part I

i can't speak for all authors, but for me, revisions are not "fun."
(wait, the title of this post is about queries. yeah, i'll get to that. stay with me.)

first drafting is fun. pure creation and freedom with no pressure for perfection.
revising is work. confined within a mold already created and with a LOT of pressure to perfect.

but as much as first-drafting gives me pleasure, it's revising that gives me pride.
revisions are hard work that pays off, because when they're done, you look back and think, "now that is good."
that first draft was fun, but it's an embarassment at this point. the revisions - the hard work - are what made that stinking pile of crap something to be proud of.

i started thinking about query letters and how they go through a similar evolution. the first drafts are fun to write, but they often need revising before they're good enough to present to an agent or publisher.

i thought it would be fun to share a couple of my own query letters, from the first stage to the last, to see how "ho-hum" turns into "hey now! that's not half bad."

today, i'm sharing the query for my trunked novel, LOSERS.
this is the first version of the query, which i shared online in a contest on fabulous-former-agent-with-five-million-blog-followers-who-shall-not-be-named's blog:

Today, a bully broke a kid’s nose against a urinal; a rebel wrote her high school hit list; a sci-fi dweeb got caught with porn in class; and a social pariah got humiliated in the girls’ locker room.
Tomorrow, they’ll all be in deep trouble with no one to turn to but each other.

LOSERS is a 50,000 word young adult novel about isolation, friendship and discovering who we are through the people we connect with. Trapper, Andi, Boston and Tuna are four teens with nothing in common, until they witness a police officer committing a crime. Scared for their lives and caught up in the excitement, they hit the road until they can figure out who they can turn to for help. The novel takes place over a 24 hour period, and by the end, they learn exactly who they can count on – each other.

I wrote this novel because, while I never experienced death or drugs or other untold horrors in YA novels these days, I DID experience the daily abuse that can define a teenager at the most vulnerable time in their lives. I wanted to tell a story that every young adult can relate to.

As a journalist, I write facts all day, every day. This is my first work of fiction.
I would love to send a partial or full manuscript of Losers for your consideration.

*cringe*
well, okay, it's not ALL bad. it's very long, it's vague on the storyline, and i got shredded in blog comments about that "i wrote this novel because..." paragraph. big no-no. but as far as rookie mistakes go, it wasn't the worst one i could make.

i ended up winning a query critique from fabu-agent, so i did a second draft to tighten things up, get more specific, and of course - i deleted that cringe-worthy paragraph.

this is the version i sent him:

Today, a bully broke a kid’s nose against a urinal; a rebel wrote her high school hit list; a sci-fi dweeb got caught with porn in class; and a social pariah got humiliated in the girls’ locker room.
Tomorrow, they’ll all be in deep trouble with no one to turn to but each other.

LOSERS is a 50,000 word young adult novel about isolation, friendship and discovering who we are through the people we connect with. Trapper, Andi, Boston and Tuna are four teens with nothing in common, until they witness a police officer committing a murder. Scared for their lives, they hit the road until they can figure out who to turn to for help.

A corrupt cop may be the catalyst that brings these teens together, but as they make their escape, they discover what they’re really running from are the inner demons that so many teens have to battle in high school. Some Losers just have more demons than others.

The novel takes place over a 24 hour period, and by the end, our Losers discover they may not be able to fight the law, but there are a few fights they can win.

As a journalist, I write facts all day, every day. This is my first work of fiction.
I would love to send a partial or full manuscript of Losers for your consideration.
honestly, it's still a little long, but at least all the words are now spent on the story and not wasted talking about things that don't matter to a potential agent.

and guess what? instead of a critique, i got a partial request! it was my first-ever agent request, and the manuscript wasn't even finished at that point.
i never did query that book, or i suspect the letter would have gone through even more changes.
but the experience did teach me revisions get results.

tomorrow, i'll share the evolution of the query that landed an agent!

5 comments:

Sajidah said...

You know, your post almost got me THIS close to liking revisions again. :)
(I'm in the midst of revision-angst.)

p.s. You're the recipient of an award on my blog.

Wilson James said...

Being open to comments and critiques is one of the most difficult things for an author (and for anyone)! That you have been able to accept suggestions and make the revision puts you well ahead of most other authors.

BTW, having read your query letter, I'm eager to read your work.

Wil

erinjade said...

thanks, Wil!
and thanks, Sajidah. i'm glad you let me know about the award, because i saw that post, but i didn't see i was on your list! :D i will be sure to pass it on this week.

E.J. Wesley said...

Oh, revisions. How do I loathe thee? I equate it to trying to learn how to swim while holding two 45 lbs dumbbells, which is kind of freaking impossible and exhausting to even think about. However, I do agree that revisions make the story.

I love that query! It made me think of a modern roving Breakfast Club (which we totally need, btw).

EJW

erinjade said...

thanks EJ! i always thought of that book as Breakfast Club on wheels. i still like the concept, but that's about the only thing from the story worth saving at this point. ;)