Querying: What is My Story About?

whats-it-about

The sun is shining, the world is beautiful, it’s Monday, and somehow I have off work! Instead of strapping on a pack and taking a group of 5th graders hiking, I’m posting up at my living room table, keyboard at the ready. Queries are slowly trickling into my “sent” box and life feels glorious.

As I’m back on the query train, I’ve been thinking about the process a lot these days. I recently received some stellar query advice from picture book author, Dev Petty. I know I’ve been shouting Dev out a lot these days, but during her talk a few weeks ago she said so many inspirational nuggets of wisdom that I’ve needed a few weeks to process them all.

When it comes to querying, Dev says that, without using any character names, you should be able to answer this question in less than one sentence:

What is my book about?

An agent probably won’t ever ask you to explain your book in a single sentence but having the ability to do so will give you the foundation of your query letter. You’re the author after all. You should be able to narrow the essence of your manuscript down to just a few short words. If you can’t do it, no one else will be able to.

An excellent example that Dev gave us was Sendak’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are. She asked us all the simple question: What is this book about? A few brave souls volunteered their answers:

“It’s about a boy who runs away from home.”

“It’s about a boy who gets mad and goes on an imaginary adventure.”

After a few, Dev cut us off. As it turns out, this one can be narrowed down to less than a sentence. The very essence of Where the Wild Things Are is anger. The book is about anger.

It’s true. Arguably, the most well-loved picture book of all time is about anger. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the plot and sub plot and characters. That’s part of what makes writing queries and synopses difficult—all of the distractions that seem so important to summarize, but would ultimately be useless without the books fundamental message.

I started thinking in these terms about the picture books and YA manuscript I’ve written so far. Pairing them down to a sentence or even just a word makes talking about them seem so much more manageable.

My book is about perspectives in nature, or learning from your choices, or human nature. This is the first step, setting the framework for the rest of your query. If the book is about perspectives in nature, what essential plot points do I need to communicate in order to convey that message?

So far, this process has been working wonders for me. It’s turned query writing into a puzzle: identify the essence of the story, add in the details that support it.

I’ve got another picture book in the works these days and will definitely be using this approach when it comes query time.

 

Much love & keep writing.

 

The Aspiring Author’s “To Do” List


Hi All,

Long time no blog.

This post goes out to those of you that are in the drafting stages of your first book. Right now you’re probably experiencing some Frankensteinesque tunnel vision along the lines of “Must finish book, must finish book…” It’s an involuntary mantra that never seems to turn off, even in sleep. I used to dream of finishing my manuscript only to wake up and find that I was still at a meager 20,000 words.

The point of this post is to drive home a very important message: The work doesn’t end once you’ve written your last word. Once you’ve decided your manuscript is ready to be seen by the eyes of agents and publishers you’re opening an entirely new can of worms and those worms need tending to.

So to give you an idea of the work involved in pushing a completed manuscript through publishing, I decided to share the things on my current writing “To Do” list:

  1. Research agents that are interested in my genre
  2. Send query letters to said agents (this can be pretty involved as most agents want query letters, synopses, and partial manuscript requests in varying formats)
  3. Attend writing functions/network (SCBWI is a great organization to be a part of if you want to get involved in your local writing community)
  4. Read books within my genre to see what’s currently hot on the market
  5. Find other writers (beta readers) to read my manuscript and provide feedback
  6. Beta read for other writers.
  7. Work on a second/third book (agents will be more interested in you if you have multiple books to publish)
  8. Make business cards
  9. BLOG (the more followers you have, the more marketable you look to agents and publishers)

Those are just the things I could think of off the top of my head. It’s safe to say that I’ve got quite enough to keep me busy for a while.

For those of you that are in the same stage, what’s on your writing “To Do” list? Is it the same as mine? Shorter? Longer? Did I miss anything?

20071126-todo-list

Much love, and keep writing.