4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

Most agents, especially in America, like query letters. These are somewhat formulaic introductions to your novel’s characters and plot, that give the agent a feel for your writing style and story.

(I’ve heard ones in the UK and other places like cover letters? But I fear what those might entail, and have never studied their holy scripture.)

1 – Adherents should follow certain tenants

Like most types of religious doctrine, there are different sects, but they agree on a lot of the basic tenants.

The Basic Tenants of Querying

  • Include at least 2 short paragraphs about the novel
  • Include a paragraph with the novels stats
  • Include a short author biography
  • Try to keep the query under 250 words or 1 page
  • Avoid rhetorical questions – they’re overdone and not compelling
  • Avoid ‘in character’ queries – they’re confusing and trite
What they don’t agree on? Everything else.

2 – Different Sects Have Different Rules

If you ask 20 agents what a query should look like, you’ll get between 10 and 20 different answers. Some will overlap, and some will contradict everything the other said.

Querying Doctrinal Differences

  • If the stats paragraph goes at the start or the end
  • If you should include a single pitch sentence, or just get to the story
  • If personalization is something desirable or feels like trying too hard to be friends
  • The length of the story section of the query (1, 2, or 3 paragraphs)

3 – Ritual Observance

To offer the best odds for a query to succeed (i.e. result in additional pages requested, the story sells itself), many query practitioners concoct different rituals.

  • Querying at specific times and days of the week, month, or year
  • Tweaking the query based on #mswl or other stated preferences
  • Following and commenting on the agent’s social media in the hope of connecting such that they recognize your name in a fond way when you query (in a RESPECTFUL and NON-STALKERISH way)
  • Selecting agents based on the assumed personality extracted from their profile
  • Number of queries sent at a time
  • Number of outstanding queries at any time
  • Number of query rejections between revamping pages and/or their query

4 – Heretics!

There are heretics who hate the formula and strive to stand out, to be different, to break the mold and catch an agent’s attention.

  • They’ll write from the character’s point of view
  • Send the letter as though they were writing a friend
  • Send a stream of consciousness message
  • Talk about why they wrote the book and themes, (rather than letting the story demonstrate these things itself)
  • Go on for pages
  • Write 3 lines and their salutations
  • Write in verse — iambic pentameter, haiku, or free verse

I’m not saying none of these will ever work with any agent, ever. I’m just saying, most agents like the formula for a reason. And if the agents are bored by the formula, that just means your opening pages count for more.


Do you have any rituals I missed?

Which query sect do you belong to?

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#13 Query Corner: ‘IMAGINARY’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

IMAGINARY is a YA fantasy.

Tylin is a homeschooled teen, applying for early college admission. Glimmer is an imaginary friend, assigned to a teen who’s far too old for him. Glimmer’s job is hard enough. One problem, his agency has bigger plans.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

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This querist sent in their original query and their updated version.

Overall Impression:

First off, what a fun, unique story! I love it.

You’ve REALLY changed the story! From a younger MC, and slightly different goal, to a barely-performing field agent…

The query is well-written but it’s a touch long. Dual point of view is hard, though.

Here are my suggestions. As always, take ’em or use ’em or build off of them. Whatever makes the story ring true for YOU.


Querist’s Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear [Ms./Mr. Agent Last Name],

What if imaginary friends aren’t just fleeting figments of children’s imagination? What if they’re really a race of magical beings with the day job of collecting the magic that is produced when a child uses his or her imagination?

This revelation comes as no small shock to fourteen year-old sophomore, Tylin Kane, when she is unexpectedly “assigned” a cocky, sarcasm-immune imaginary friend: Gimmer. As the only child of a patent attorney and an aerospace engineer, Tylin was looking forward to finally being lost in the crowd of public school, after ten years—and summers—of homeschooling. So, being able to see (and be irritated by) someone whom no one else can see or hear? That doesn’t remotely fit within her parameters for “blending in.”

Gimmer, hailed (by himself) as being the best field agent ever, has his own reservations about being assigned to a teenager. A teenager. Who does that? They’re ancient, with practically no imagination! Not to mention the fact that the ‘child’ he was assigned to can’t even see him, although it would appear that some random, over-correcting know-it-all can. But, with his job—and possibly his existence—on the line, Gimmer will make this assignment work…no matter how much she protests.

But, unbeknownst to them, the governing body of Gimmer’s world is close to completing a spell that would allow them to use their magic to enslave Tylin’s world—the real world. The only missing piece? Gimmer’s unique power. To save Gimmer, and stop the Council, Tylin will have to dig deep into her imagination and work together with some terrifying—and terrifyingly rude—magical strangers. For if she fails, it’s not just Gimmer’s life that is at stake—it’s the entire world.

Gimmer is a fantasy adventure for young teens (12-16). It is complete at 75,000 words and is available at your request. I feel that Gimmer would be a good fit with your agency because {personalize}. As for me, I am a fledgling video game attorney with a film production background.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q13


Queriest’s Reworked Draft:

Dear [Ms./Mr.][Agent Last Name]:

After a decade of homeschooling and a year of correspondence physics classes, sixteen-year-old Mira Kane is ready to slay the entrance exam for the world’s most elite S.T.E.M. university. However, studying overseas isn’t exactly affordable, so she—and her moms—need a glowing recommendation for a scholarship from a couple more likely to be impressed with the Kardashians’ latest debacle than scientific achievement. On the night of a dinner party for the couple, however, Mira is confronted by an insufferable, arrogant, mildly attractive boy whom no one else seems to be able to see. While raving about how he’s her “imaginary friend” or some nonsense, the boy’s antics threaten Mira’s chances of getting the recommendation for the scholarship. [Maybe we can trim the backstory] Mira’s calendar has ninety-nine events this week, but going insane isn’t one.

Gimmer is a field agent—a.k.a. his job is being an imaginary friend to humans to collect their imagination energy. Despite this, Gimmer’s magical essence marks him as the lowest rank in society still considered to be magical. This current assignment will his last before he has to submit his “reel” to the Council for review on a promotion that could forever change his lot in life. And yet, he’s been assigned to a teenager. Something he thought impossible. Or illegal. Getting someone who listens to recordings of math concepts instead of music while studying to “play pretend” will be no easy feat.

Unbeknownst to Gimmer and Mira, the governing body of Gimmer’s city is close to completing a spell that will enslave all of humanity à la The Matrix for its imagination energy. The only missing piece? Gimmer’s unique teleportation ability that could be used to merge the worlds. The Council will do anything to get their hands on Gimmer, and Mira must choose between staying the course of her known, successful future, or risking everything she believes—and possibly her life—to save an imaginary friend she didn’t even create.

IMAGINARY is a dual POV young adult contemporary (and portal) fantasy complete at 87,000 words. It can be described as Monsters, Inc. meets Lindsay Ribar’s The Art of Wishing, with a dash of Rick and Morty. I am a California entertainment and employment attorney with a degree in film production.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

 Sincerely,

[Q13]


My Reworked Draft:

Dear [Agent],

When sixteen-year-old Mira Kane and her moms are invited to a dinner party by the couple Mira needs a glowing recommendation from, to get a scholarship to the school of her dreams, the homeschooler didn’t expect to deal with a boy’s antics. Especially not a boy no one else can see, claiming to be her “imaginary friend.” Mira’s calendar has ninety-nine events this week, but going insane isn’t one. [Only other thing that could be cut, but it gives us personality for Mira!]

Gimmer barely has enough magic to qualify as a field agent—a.k.a. being an imaginary friend to humans to collect their imagination energy. His last assignment before he has to submit his “reel” to the Council for review on a promotion lands him with a teenager. Something he thought impossible. Or illegal. Convincing someone who listens to math concepts instead of music while studying to “play pretend” will be no easy feat.

Unbeknownst to Gimmer, his Council is close to completing a spell that will enslave all of humanity à la The Matrix for its imagination energy. All they need now is Gimmer’s unique teleportation ability to merge the worlds. The Council will do anything to get their hands on Gimmer. Mira must choose between staying the course of her known, successful future, or risk everything she believes—and possibly her life—to save an imaginary friend she didn’t even create.

IMAGINARY is a dual POV young adult contemporary (and portal) fantasy complete at 87,000 words. It can be described as Monsters, Inc. meets Lindsay Ribar’s The Art of Wishing, with a dash of Rick and Morty. I am a California entertainment and employment attorney with a degree in film production.

 Thank you for your time and consideration.

 Sincerely,

Q13


It’s amazing to see how far the story and the query has come since the beginning. Cutting setting and backstory really let the actual story shine through.

Best of luck to Q13!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

When You Ask For Someone To Read Your First Chapter

When You Ask For Someone To Read Your First Chapter

Warning: Rant Coming

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 It seems so innocuous, especially when you’re first starting out. You’ve managed to write something, you’re trying to decide if it’s worth pursuing, and you want to reach out. So, you log onto a writers forum and ask the question.

(It’s okay. Everyone does it.)

You log and you ask someone to read your first chapter.

I have to confess, when I see that plea, I just sigh. I sigh because I know the truth.

When a beginner writer asks someone to read their first chapter, I know what they’re really asking for.

What Beginner Writers Want

Well, they want what EVERY writer wants, really.

  1. – They want to be told their story sounds interesting
  2. – They want to be told they can write
  3. – They want to be told their characters are fascinating
  4. – They want to be told they’re writing something marketable
  5. – They want to be asked for the next chapter
  • BONUS: SOMETIMES, they want even want suggestions to make it better or a collaborator to bounce ideas off.

Most of all, though? They’re looking for validation.

But, unless you are an amazing writer who somehow excels, right out of the box, at this one particular skill that eludes even most professional writers, there’s a problem.

Which is?

The Problem With First Chapters?

  1. Rough Drafts Suck
  2. Stories Change
  3. Opening Chapters Are Usually Trash

Even for plotters, things can shift, the emotional core of the story might change, or you might find a plot-hole you’d missed 20 chapters down the road.

As a reader, without more story to go on, there is no way I can tell you if your first chapter is any good. You don’t even know what your story is going to look like, how can I know if it sets up your story well?

And, there’s a belief in certain writer circles (and editor circles) that the first 20 pages can usually be thrown away.

I’ve found this particular belief to be true for me, and most of the writers I know, no matter their caliber.

Don’t get me wrong, you HAVE to write your first chapter. Even if you intend to cut it, first chapters are very useful.

The Benefits of First Chapters

  1. You have to start somewhere
  2. You’re exploring the setting
  3. You’re learning how to write the characters – you’re learning their voices

But the first chapter is for YOU, not for your readers.


This goes out to a special subset of writers, usually fantasy or romance writers…

If you’re a first time writer, who’s managed to write almost 20 pages and you tell me it’s the first chapter of a planned 7 book series?

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My sigh is going to be extra heavy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to set your sights high.

But for many writers, including me, the energy and motivation for a new story idea will take you about 5,000 words in–right about where you’re at.

You’ve just written 1% of your proposed story.

Plus, there’s another problem–especially if you don’t have an agent.

You should only sell ONE book at a time. And that book?  It needs to stand alone. Yes, overarching storylines are great, but each story needs to have its own natural stopping point.

Prove to me you can write and plot for ONE book and I might take a chance on its sequel.


Do you have this reaction? Have you asked for feedback before?

 

#12 Query Corner: ‘GLASS’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

GLASS is a YA fantasy. This Cinderella retelling begins after the ball. The glass-maker’s niece and a reformed playboy prince plot to end their engagement is paused when a plague starts sweeping the nation.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

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Overall Impression:

I love retellings and this sounds like a fun one.
There are a few things I’d tweak:
  • Start with ‘Dear’, end with ‘Thank you for your time and consideration.’
  • Cut down on some of the backstory
  • Your query is actually a bit short! Not too short, agents don’t mind you getting straight to the point. BUT, you do have space if you want to expand upon that disease and the prince’s past (any children?) if you’d like
  • Does Charles end up with Collin? Does Sabine? If not, he’s only mentioned once in the query and should be either cut or expanded upon.

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Hello _________,  [‘Dear’ is usually expected]

Based on your interest in _________, I would like to introduce my Cinderella re-telling: Glass. It is an 87,000-word young adult fantasy novel. Glass looks at the ending of Cinderella, and turns it into a story not about love at first sight, but the power of politics and friendship. [You don’t need to say what the story is about, the query should explain it]

Glass, begins after the ball. Sabine grew up in the shadow of the castle, but she never dreamed of royalty. She doesn’t even bother herself with the rumors surrounding Prince Charles’ true love. All she wants is to somehow find a loophole in the law that keeps her from inheriting her uncle’s glass shop. [I read this twice, at 1st thinking she did NOT want to inherit the shop] But a pair of hand-made glass shoes and a rumor of true love accidently plunges Sabine into the world of castle politics. Thrown into an engagement that neither of them wants Sabine and the prince, along with Charles’ childhood friend Collin, attempt to prove that Charles is no longer a playboy who needs to be tied down, but a leader who is respected by his people. But, as an unexplained disease threatens the country, loyalties are questioned, and the prince’s less than stellar past comes to light, the attempt to get out of the marriage and the state of the country looks bleak.

I attended [X] University and graduated with a BA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I currently work as a high school English and Creative Writing teacher in [X], [State]. Thank you for taking the time to read this expert from Glass, and I would be delighted to send you the completed manuscript if you request more. [The QueryShark claims this is presumptuous and suggests just saying “thank you for your time and consideration”.]

Q12


The Revised Query:

Dear [Agent Name],

Based on your interest in _________, I would like to introduce my Cinderella re-telling: GLASS. It is an 87,000-word young adult fantasy novel.

GLASS begins after the ball. When Sabine went to the castle to find a way around the law preventing her from inheriting her uncle’s glass shop, she never expected to end up engaged. Forced to play politics to get out of the engagement, Sabine and Prince Charles attempt to prove that Charles is no longer a playboy, but a respectable leader. But, as an unexplained disease ravages the countryside, loyalties are questioned, and the prince’s less-than-stellar past comes to light, the odds of both ending the engagement and the state of the country itself look bleak.

I attended [X] University and graduated with a BA in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I currently work as a high school English and Creative Writing teacher in [x] state.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 Sincerely,

[You!]

email
phone
twitter (if they’re that sort of agent)


With a few tweaks, the plot really shines through! Decide if you need to add a sentence about that best friend and…

Best of luck to Q12!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

A Starter’s Guide For Fiction Writers Trying To “Establish A Social Media Presence” Part 6

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Bonus  | Part 6

Part 6: Videos – YouTube+

Note: I know I’m talking about YouTube, just days after the San Bruno attacks. My heart goes out to those affected by the attacks.

I’ve talked about a LOT of social media forms. You might have wondered what could POSSIBLY be next?

Google+ or LinkedIn (Nah, although, I do cross-post my blog over there, for people who prefer those social media forms, they don’t seem active enough)

Goodreads? No, although, I’m there and in a few book clubs.I mostly use it to keep a presence, and stay accountable for my book-reading goals.

I’m pretty sure you’re all thinking “Um, Morgan, I think you’ve gone seriously overboard on this social media thing…” and you’re COMPLETELY right.

Today, though? Today, I’m going to be talking about VIDEOS. Both at Youtube and in other social media forms.


 

YouTube

YouTube is second only to Netflicks in using up bandwidth on the internet. It’s huge.

What’s more? Videos go viral all the time. New ones, old ones, quirky ones, it’s hard to know what’s going to be popular.

So, how do you get that to work for you as a writer?

I have a YouTube channel [Subscribe Here!] and, as I say in my episodes, it’s “my online blog, in video format.” So, if you’d rather listen to me ramble while doing other things, you totally can.

How To Start A YouTube Channel

A video channel should be approached like a website.

  • Pick a theme and stick with it
  • Pick an update schedule and stick with it
  • Pick a format and stick with it

(noticing a trend here?)

Step One – Check out the other Writer Vloggers

See what else is out there, see what other writers are doing, see if there’s a niche you can fill or a format you prefer for getting the information.

It’s hard to establish quality content if you don’t know what sort of options there are and what formats appeal to you.

Here’s a list of the top 15 from The Write Life.

Step Two – Set-up To Film A Vlog

Necessary equipment:

  • camera
  • microphone
  • a youtube account
  • preferably some WiFi to upload this thing, cause videos are large

Beyond that, all I use is a Logitech HD 1080p USB camera and 2 umbrella lights – all birthday presents from family – pictured above. Oh, and MS Paint.

Equipment to up your game:

  • umbrella lights
  • a webcam that isn’t built into your computer
  • a quiet space
  • video editing software
  • a microphone (maybe with pop filters!)
  • interesting-yet-not-distracting background (clean up trash, dirty clothes)
  • makeup – maybe even some if you’re not femme presenting. Minimalist suggestions are:
    • foundation to even out skin tone and get rid of shine
    • mascara to make the eyes pop
    • a touch of lip color, to define lips

Step Three – Filming

If you’re using a phone, TURN IT SIDEWAYS. No, really. Please.

I made that mistake my first time and now, for eternity, (or until I rerecord it) I’ll have those stupid black bars to my left and right–or worse, that double-image, zoomed in blur beside me.

  • 5-12 minutes is a standard video length. People have short attention spans.
    • If you have more, cut it into 2 parts! (Or more!)
  • Keep to the same format
  • Look the camera in the eye when you can try not to look like you’re reading your blog post. *looks around innocently*

I like to do 2-5 takes and just roll with the last take. I’m planning on experimenting with video editing software after I move at the end of the month.

A lot of the quality vloggers you see will have done several takes and will clip them together. BUT. They’ll change the camera angle between takes, so you get the feel of ‘time passing’ or something. It’s a format that seems to be popular, plus, it allows you the ability to cut out any dead-air time.

Step Four – Post-Processing

The easiest bit of post-processing I do is take a couple trial photos before I start my video.

Trial pictures let me

  • checks the lighting
  • check the umbrellas aren’t in the camera
  • check I don’t have food on my shirt
  • And? Allows me a couple photos to add my Vlog title to.

I literally open them in MSPaint, Impact size 48 or whatever the title on one side of me, and roll.

Yes, YouTube will give you freeze frames as the preview image, but usually, they’re the most awkward poses I’ve ever seen. Luckily, there’s a handy-dandy “upload preview” button so you can toss your new image in there.

This is when you’d cut together all those different takes from step 3. Maybe add some background music if you like that feel. Maybe just an intro bar or two of notes.

youtubeUploadButton

Step 5 – Uploading To YouTube

youtubeScheduleWhen I upload my videos, I make sure to click the drop-down and select ‘Schedule’. Once you start uploading, you can’t switch and the default goes live as soon as you hit publish.

I don’t want my videos to upload the second I’m done prepping them, I want them to post in the mornings, not somewhere between 10:30pm and 1am the night before the blog post goes live.

This is where you can add that title-added preview image.

Things I like to do with my videos:

  • Schedule them
  • Add preview image with my title on it
  • Add Tags
  • Add the video to my playlist, so people can subscribe to that [like here!]
    • You can have different playlists on the same channel
      • book reviews
      • writer tips
      • guitar playing
      • life updates
      • etc
  • Type up a short twitter-worthy shout-out to draw people in (with hashtags)
  • Give links to my other social media and the original blog post in the ‘about’ field

Things I’ve been testing recently.

  • I found the ‘default settings’ for uploads last week, where you can pre-load all your tags, all your repeated ‘about’ information, etc, so you don’t have to remember what tags you used last week.
  • How do you find out what tags you should use?
    • check out a popular vlogger who shares a lot of the same subject matter
    • in your browser settings, have ‘developer options’ turned on
    • hit F12 to view the page’s source code
    • hit ‘ctrl-F’ to open up search
    • type “tags”
    • copy-paste the list after the word [ make sure it seems to be a list of usable tags, the word may be in the source code more than once. If it’s not what you’re looking for, hit enter to move to the next entry.]

SnapChat and Instagram and Facebook

I’ve already talked about Instagram, but why is SnapChat even on this list?

For those who don’t know, SnapChat lets people message each other and the message immediately is deleted after they view it. It warns you if the other person screen-shots the message.

So, how does this grow your social media presence?

I personally don’t do it, and it may be more useful for artists, but you can upload STORIES. These are images, text, or VIDEOS that are shown to anyone OR everyone on your list–and they stay visible for a day.

If you have a following, uploading a ‘story’ or two a day can be a good way to interact and form a more personal feeling connection.

Instagram also allows stories to be shared and these are promoted posts.

And Facebook? Facebook LOVES videos. Unlike blog links, or worse PATREON links, Facebook doesn’t try to hide these as much.


YouTube and Facebook Live Video

These intimidate me, but they are growing in popularity and are given priority viewing on Facebook. If you find a time that’s good for a lot of your followers (plus, it can be viewed after the fact), it’s a great way to re-engage with your followers and be given priority viewing on both social media sites.

If you’re brave enough.


Putting yourself out there, creating content, and recording your image, voice, and thoughts for all of posterity is intimidating.

Every week, I strive to do a little better (or at least not worse) than the week before.


And that’s it.

The introduction to social media types. ALL OF THEM. (Or at least a good, wide-spectrum of them.)

If there’s any I skipped that you’d like me to talk about, feel free to ask in the comments.

If there are any tips you’d like to share, feel free to reach out!