Wednesday, March 2, 2011

evolution of a query, part II

yesterday, i posted a "before and after" of my first-ever query letter. (that is, before revisions and after revisions.)
the idea is to use queries as a small-scale example of why revising is so important. this importance is only magnified when applied to a full-length piece of work!

today, i'm going to show you the different stages my query for BUTTER went through before i actually sent it off to agents.

this is draft 1:
Six summers at fat camp, 423 pounds on the scale and one dangerous defining moment.

A boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make Scottsdale High history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the internet – and everyone is going to watch!

My 51,000-word young adult novel “Butter” explores what happens when you get so big people can’t see around you and start looking right through you. It’s about just how far some teenagers will go to get noticed, to feel in control, to be somebody.

Butter is fed up with a dad who won’t talk to him, a girl who won’t look at him and a whole school full of kids who don’t even know his real name. If it weren’t for mom’s waffles and his saxophone, he wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
When the syrup comes off the waffles and the obesity makes it hard to play the sax, Butter decides to stop waking up altogether.

He announces his deadly plan to an army of peers and expects pity, insults or even indifference. Instead, he finds morbid encouragement.
When that encouragement tips the scales into popularity, Butter has a reason to live.
But if he doesn’t go through with his plan, he’ll lose everything.

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 “Butter” for your consideration.
just like yesterday's query, it's a little long. or at least, i thought it was only a "little" long. when i posted the first draft on Absolute Write for feedback, i learned it was a LOT long.
the good folks at AW also let me know they'd rather see a character introduced in the opening line.
so i revised and came back with this second draft:
A boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make Scottsdale High history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone is going to watch.

Butter is fed up with a dad who won’t talk to him, a girl who won’t look at him and a school full of kids who don’t even know his real name. If it weren’t for mom’s waffles and his saxophone, he wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
But mom starts taking the syrup off the waffles and obesity makes it increasingly harder for him to play the sax, so Butter decides to stop waking up altogether.

He announces his deadly plan to an army of peers and expects pity, insults or even indifference. Instead, he finds morbid encouragement.
When that encouragement tips the scales into popularity, Butter has a reason to live.
But if he doesn’t go through with his plan, he’ll lose everything.

My young adult novel BUTTER is 51,000 words about a 423-pound boy, six summers at fat camp and one dangerous defining moment. It explores what happens when Butter gets so big people can’t see around him and start looking right through him.

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 BUTTER for your consideration.

still too long, and you can see i merely moved my first line down, instead of deleting it. i think this is happens a lot with first revisions on novels too. writers can have a hard time letting go of the words they've created. they're not ready for the delete button.

so i was encouraged to "murder my darlings" (delete my favorite bits) and reminded that if the book sells, i can use those favorite lines later for promotion, etc...

so i offered this third draft:
A boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make Scottsdale High history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone will watch.

Butter is fed up with a dad who won’t talk to him, a girl who won’t look at him and a school full of kids who don’t even know his real name. If it weren’t for mom’s waffles and his saxophone, he wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.

He announces his deadly plan to an army of peers and expects pity, insults or even indifference. Instead, he finds morbid encouragement.
When that encouragement tips the scales into popularity, Butter has a reason to live.
But if he doesn’t go through with his plan, he’ll lose everything.

My young adult novel BUTTER is 51,000 words about a 423-pound boy and one dangerous defining moment.

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 BUTTER for your consideration.
you can see it's finally getting shorter!
this time, the squirrels (as the query critters are affectionately called on AW) told me i had too many details that weren't essential to the nut of the story. -get it? nut? squirrels?- anyway... they suggested a few more cuts, and now that i'd exercised my "delete" finger, it wasn't hard to keep chopping.

so i ended up with this final draft:
A boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make Scottsdale High history. He’s going to eat himself to death live on the Internet – and everyone will watch.

He announces his deadly plan to an army of peers and expects pity, insults or even indifference. Instead, he finds morbid encouragement. When that encouragement tips the scales into popularity, Butter has a reason to live. But if he doesn’t go through with his plan, he’ll lose everything.

My young adult novel BUTTER is 51,000 words about a 423-pound boy and one dangerous defining moment.

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 BUTTER for your consideration.

and that is the letter that got four manuscript requests from my first round of agent queries.
for all i know, that request rate would have been zero without revisions.

so whenever i get frustrated with book revisions, i look back on the evolution of my queries to remind myself that revising - while hard work - always pays off.

13 comments:

Jess Tudor said...

I'm so glad you got rid of the exclamation point in the beginning. It was just way too cheerful for the content. :)

Liyana said...

This is an eye opener. The query that you sent out is much cleaner and shows the stakes. Love it!

Elizabeth Briggs said...

Thanks for posting this!

Jess said...

My query letter is on the back-burner while I finish manuscript revisions, but it's always helpful to see how other people revised theirs... and which version earned them requests.

Thank you so much for sharing!

Meriwether Falk said...

Wow! I can't wait to read the book! This blog post was really helpful. Thank you.

Michelle said...

WHOA. The final is an awesome query!! I need to kick my own in the butt, STAT.

Stephanie Blake said...

Thanks for sharing this! I can't wait to read the book!

erinjade said...

oh,cool! i'm glad it was a useful post. i was blushing a bit putting up those earlier versions, but now i'm glad. :)

Jess - good catch on the exclamation point! it's amazing how a single punctuation mark can change the whole meaning or feel of a line.

Bee said...

Thanks for sharing this. There's a marked difference between the first and final query. Great job, I'm so excited about your book.

Bree said...

This has been hugely helpful! I've been having a hard time with my query and this helped me see a few ways I can trim where I've gone too long.

Thank you for sharing!

Bri said...

This is such a helpful post, thank you so much for sharing it! :) And I can't wait to read your book.

Also, I gave you an award for being awesome over at my blog :)

http://briallison.blogspot.com/2011/03/this-is-exciting-title.html

Medeia Sharif said...

I loved seeing the evolution of your query. BUTTER sounds fascinating!

erinjade said...

thanks everyone! glad it was helpful. and thanks, Bri, for the award! you are, likewise, awesome. ;)