Query

So, I am thinking about rewriting my query. It has worked quite well, but I want it to work better. Since, I think I will be continuing on with this current query batch, though the book is out with a handful still, I was wondering if anyone would care to comment. Any thoughts? Advice? Here is my current query:

I am seeking representation for my novel DISTILLATION, supernatural women’s fiction with New England flavor. DISTILLATION would appeal to readers who have enjoyed Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. 

Alice Towne has been trying to get pregnant and to be a good wife, but the smell of the dead is getting in the way. She smells their memories, sweet and sour, essences of life hanging on with the soul. When her husband can’t accept her for who she is and his disdain borders on abuse, Alice finds the strength to leave. With few options, she agrees to do a favor for her mother, caretaking a house in the hills of western, Massachusetts, where she hopes to exorcise her demons and come to terms with her curse in solitude.  

Ashfield is beautiful and quaint, filled with history and an air of enchantment. Everyone in town, however, seems to have a secret to share or one to hide. Alice is wary of the witchy women who own the hardware store, friends of her mother, but knows their spells are what has kept the old house’s past at bay. Alice’s presence, though, seems to wash away that protection. The odor of peppermint lingers in every corner and the spirit of a woman lurks beside the garden, seemingly aware Alice can sense her and waiting to be heard. In the middle of it all, is Josephine, her mother, pushing Alice to stay the course and embrace her gift. But, when Alice unearths the preserved bones of an infant buried in the cellar, and discovers an ancient symbol that ties her own family to the house’s history, she knows she must learn the truth of what happened on Watts’ Hill, if she ever wants to understand herself.

From an alchemist damned, to a distillery that launched a pharmaceutical giant, Alice will sift through history and legend uncovering a betrayal and a love that echo across time. In doing so, she also discovers who she truly is and just what eternity really means.

I’ve learned to link, Back to it, and the Lonely Quest

Hello from my corner of the world. First off I would like to congratulate Matt Rush for having been linked in Nathan Bransford’s “This Week in Publishing” post last Friday. How cool is that? As an English teacher, I will be talking about banned books more than usual this week. So many of the books on my classroom shelf have been banned. It is scary though that a lot of parents are afraid of what is in those books. At open house two weeks ago – I put up a power point that had hooks for the books we read in my class and I headlined Hamlet as “Ghosts, Murder, Sex and Suicide!” One mother paled at the sight of this tag line. I bet she’s never read it. But we wouldn’t ban Shakespeare would we?

I also wanted to note that the Author!Author! blog got me thinking about Author Pics just this evening. If only I had an agent I would start thinking about one. I wouldn’t want to be caught off guard without one as she says often happens. So, just for fun, what about this one?

Just kidding. That’s a little scary. It would bring ‘newest female horror writer’ to a whole new level. That’s me last summer taking a break from writing.

Anyway…I am back to it. I have read through DISTILLATION twice in the last four weeks. I made significant changes to the pacing and I worked hard on character continuity. Making sure dear Alice keeps her emotions straight. I think I was successful. When I finished the second go through today I felt really good about it. Even though I’ve read the thing so many times now (changing it a little or a lot each and every time) I am taken aback by how much I like my own story. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it even scares the bejesus out of me at times. I like that the best.

Someone commented on some blog last week (sorry I can’t remember which) that the query process is like wandering through the desert. I totally agree with that assessment. What a lonely quest. Even with the writing group (thank goodness for them) and the blogs, it is still so bizarre. We send stuff out – maybe it gets a response – maybe not – and the consistency is nonexistent. One never knows.

So you are afraid to go to a writer’s conference?

A few weeks back, when reading some of the blogs I follow, there was a discussion about the fear of Writer’s Conferences.

Well, if you want to immerse yourself in the world of writing – a good writing conference is just the ticket. I am so glad I went to the Muse and the Marketplace in Boston this past weekend.

Saturday started out giddy. I ran into my writing group friend and met some of the people she already knew and everyone was so excited. Of course we were a little nervous too because some of us, me included, had our agent meetings first thing.

The agent meeting: was okay – not great. My agent wouldn’t shake my hand because she was sick – which did not seem like a fortuitous beginning. She looked tired and claimed that since this was her first time at the conference she wasn’t really sure what her role was. But… she gave me enormously helpful feedback on my Query, even if some of it was different than the pointers I have read before. She offered advice on genre – telling me “Women’s Fiction with a supernatural thread,” which was interesting and something I had not thought to call it.

She then went on to my ms and told me she loved haunted house stories, which was encouraging, but she didn’t understand why I didn’t start with the house. I did originally start with the house – but that got changed based on workshopping. She then said she wanted more back story. I had more back story – but based on workshopping removed a lot of it. So – that made me cringe. I agreed with the changes my writing group suggested (eventually) and I think the beginning is a lot stronger. But, not for this agent and the agent is what matters.

In the end of our 20 minute meeting – she said – make the changes and “query me.” Not the same as send me the pages directly with a big bright red “Requested” stamp on it – but still it’s something.

She was not scary at all. I felt comfortable with her even though she didn’t shake my hand and I was able to talk to her just like a regular person. Which is probably because she is one.

After that, on to a panel of agents and editors explaining the terms and procedures of the publishing industry. Very informative. They did seem like an unreachable club – but they were friendly and funny and made it very clear they were in the business to sell books. “We don’t like to crush people’s dreams,” one of them actually said, “what ever you do, write from the heart.” This was funny is a sick sort of way.

They stress over and over that good writing is what wins the day. But, they also made no bones about how subjective it is. ‘If your mc reminds me of my ex-boyfriend, I stop reading…If you wrote about a house fire, I stop reading. My house burned down last year and I can’t love a story about one, and an agent should love your story, otherwise they won’t be a good representative.’ I am paraphrasing, but these are actual things they said.

I think the lesson I took from this is that perseverance is key. We all know that of course – but in the face of rejection it is hard. What one hates another might love. I also saw this again and again in the Agent Idol sessions where a reader read the anonymous first pages of peoples’ manuscripts submitted then and there. The agent was told to raise their hand at the point during the reading that they would have put it down. There was wide variety – sometimes one would put up a hand – but the others wouldn’t. Sometimes all three would refrain, or if there was a major point of confusion – all three hands would go up. It is very subjective.

From this I also heard again and again how important it is to find agents who represent your kind of book. All of them said – from multiple panels – that they LIKE you to compare your book to other works. But don’t just pick the most recent best seller, and be accurate. Say what it is that makes your book similar to another book. Don’t pick the ones that are cliche at this point from Harry Potter to Janet Ivanovitch. So that is useful – but not as easy as it sounds.

Also genre – do pick a genre – but there was SO MUCH variation on genre definition. Not what a genre is – but what a book’s genre is. It all depends on what an individual focuses on in that book. And it can change with marketing ideas. So even though you might say your book is historical fiction with a supernatural thread – someone else might call it a paranormal thriller – or women’s fiction with a supernatural thread. Also – good to know – but not very easy to get right.

And of course – the query, the query, the query. That is the most important thing. Get it right in the query. I was encourage to learn from my agent that my query, though in need of work, did leave her intrigued.

So – those are the first lessons. It was enormously enlightening overall. And it was really nice to hear them talk about it in person. To see them agree or disagree. To make them explain themselves and people did.

Later I will write Conference Re-Cap # 2 on meeting authors and how authors got their agents.