A few weeks ago, I finally completed a project I started back in the year 2000...I wrote the last word on my humor book, for a grand total of 80,000 words.
As I typed “THE END” at the bottom of the page, I felt a sense of joy and relief...followed by a sense of dread. That’s because I knew that writing the book was the easy part, and what was to follow was going to be nothing short of torture – the equivalent of spending time in a Medieval dungeon. I’m talking about writing the all-important query.
A query is a one-page letter in which a writer must pitch his or her book to a literary agent or an editor. In just a few short paragraphs, the work must be made to sound like the next Gone With the Wind or The Great Gatsby and entice the person reading it to write back with lightning speed and say, “Yes! Send me your book! I’m dying to read it! It sounds like a literary masterpiece!”
So I set to work on writing the query. After about 150 hours of failed attempts, I came to the conclusion that humor, when summarized in only a paragraph or two, just doesn’t sound, well...funny.
Each chapter in my book centers around the experiences I (back when I was a 12-year-old city slicker with severe arachnophobia) had during my summer vacation at a primitive cabin my parents purchased as their getaway from the noise and heat of the city. The chapters include subjects such as battling the outhouse snake, discovering the local swimming hole, rafting down the river, and meeting some of the kids in the area. Without my humorous comments and descriptions, however, all of my chapters sound pretty yawn inducing.
So I read a bunch of how-to articles about writing the perfect query letter. “Don’t try to be cute or witty,” one article advised. “Make your query sound as professional as a job application.”
Well, that pretty much ruled out everything I’d planned to write.
“Do you think it’s OK to write that I took one look at the outhouse and was immediately stricken with a bad case of constipation?” I asked my husband as I sat struggling with my query.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“How about that being with Conrad had the same effect on me as drinking syrup of ipecac?”
He shook his head. “You wouldn’t write that on a job application, would you?”
The only problem with writing a query letter on a computer screen is I don’t have the satisfaction of crumpling sheets of paper and tossing them into the trash. Although, considering all of my failed attempts thus far, I’m probably saving an entire forest.
Another problem with writing query letters on the computer is that most agents and editors want queries sent via e-mail. This leads to quicker rejections, sometimes within minutes. I’m not certain if I’m prepared to be rejected and made to feel like the world’s biggest failure that swiftly.
The other day, I found a website called Absolutewrite.com, which has hundreds of forums about writing. I happened to check out one that deals with receiving rejections to query letters. Many of the rejected writers’ comments made me laugh out loud.
“I’m going to quit after I receive 200 rejections,” one author wrote.
“Me, too!” another replied. “That means I have only 189 more to go before I can shoot my book in the head!”
And yet another writer stated, “It’s Saturday morning and I just received two rejections via e-mail. Apparently, editors come to work on Saturdays just to reject my novel!”
“I got my rejection at 5:00 in the morning,” a first-time author wrote. “You know that has to be before their morning coffee, when they’re so cranky, even War and Peace would sound like crap to them!”
“You think that’s bad,” came another comment, “I’m receiving rejections from agents I haven’t even sent queries to!”
So I have the feeling that trying to get my book published is going to be a long and emotional struggle.
But at the rate I’m going, it probably will take me another 12 years just to write the query letter.