Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Return... of the answers to your questions!

Okay, well let's get back to it, shall we? Since I took a two week break, I didn't finish answering all of your great questions regarding querying and finding an agent. Here are a couple more:

Jennie Bailey asked:

How do you whittle your book down to one small paragraph without leaving anything important out? Do you give away your ending? Or keep it secret? I'll be querying by Spring, but I have so much trouble with narrowing it down and getting to the good stuff (yes, I've tried a few times just for practice)!

Technically, you can whittle it down to two paragraphs, maybe even three if they're on the short side. But I understand what you mean. It is really hard to take a huge, 70,000 word novel (give or take ten or twenty thousand words) into a query. That is one reason I say start your query before you write the book if possible. That is when you have your core idea but not all of the details swimming around in your head yet. You will most likely edit and change it once you write the book, but at least you will have a good starting place. If you've already written the book you have to ask yourself two questions: who is my main character (the query should only focus on their story, no supporting cast allowed if at all possible), and what is my hook? The hook is what is going to grab an agent's attention. This is not the place to try and show them how intricate your plot is, or the number of twists you've thrown in. You don't want to confuse them by naming too many characters in those two short paragraphs. It is also not the place to reveal your ending. Save that for a synopsis. Take some of your favorite books and read the jacket copy or back of the book blurb. Which ones sound the best to you? That's basically what you are trying to accomplish with your query. Keep it simple, intriguing--stick to your basic plot and hook, and you've got a query.

Alexia asked:

Question: When you get THE CALL, if your brain goes completely blank from mega freaking out excitement, what is the one question you should not forget to ask? Sorry, that's probably totally unfair. No pressure :)

Ha ha, well, I'm going to cheat on this answer so I don't feel any pressure at all. This is why you PRINT OFF YOUR LIST. Your brain will freak out, and you will go blank, and you will have that lovely sheet of paper right there, with all of your questions printed on it, and a pen or pencil in your other hand to write down their answers (or at least jot down notes). Problem solved. But if for some truly horrible, awful, (really, really bad) reason you can't find your paper, I'd say the most important question is to ask them what their thoughts and goals are for your book. That's kind of squishing the "tell me what edits you envision for my book, or is it ready to submit right now?" question together with the, "do you already have an idea of who you are going to submit my book to, and how soon do you hope we'll be ready to go on submission?" questions into one. Honestly, just make sure and be prepared and have your paper ready. They will set up an appointment with you, so it won't take you by surprise or anything.

Well, that's it for now. More to come soon!


Shannon Messenger said...

Ooo, this is great advice. Also makes me very glad I don't have to worry about this stuff right now. Querying. *shudder* :)

Jennie Bailey said...

Yay! I love the return of Answers! I have so many of your posts tagged as favorites so that I can pull them up when I need them. You're the BEST source of information. Thank you!!!

Melissa Gill said...

Thanks for the great answers. Your blog is so helpful.

Shari said...

Wonderful advice! Thanks, Sara!

Beth said...

Great questions and answers! And I love the idea of writing your query before you write your book.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Man, if and when that day comes I'm about to get the call, you better believe you'll be one of the first I call. I get so stressed at the thought of querying and pitching. Getting a call? Gah!

But super advice! You wrapped things up really well.

ali cross said...

I loved your answer on THE CALL. Great advice there!