Sunday, January 08, 2012

Three bruised thumbs later-a flash of insight

I bought a new bookcase recently. Unlike my previous purchases, this one came unassembled.  I figured how hard can it be to put together a simple bookcase; it's all straight lines; I know what it's going to look like, and I'm a smart girl.








 The bookcase arrived. Coiffed in what looked like saran wrap. Pieces of lumber. No bags of nails or screws, no directions.

I started thinking about how I'd get this thing assembled at once:



I thought hard for about four weeks. Finally it was either assemble the damn thing  or set it on fire. (Stacks of lumber in a small apartment ... well, let's just say a new and fluent vocabulary of strong language is associated with knee-high stacks of wood and dark rooms.)

I wielded my trusty scissors on the saran wrap.  Three pieces of wood promptly hit me on the head. Followed closely by two bags of nails, screws, shelf holders and something that looks like Velcro but remains unidentified pending DNA testing. The saran wrap had allowed the shelving to be stacked vertically, like the outer pieces. Once unwrapped, they yielded to gravity.



As I lay on floor, birds circling I remember a lesson learned at my sainted mum's knee: "Beware the Acme shipping label."



I got up, dusted myself off, found the directions between layers of Styrofoam, and thought "Ok, I'm ready!"

Well, of course you know how this ends.  The bookcase now assembled, looks something like this:








I, somewhat less assembled,  look something like this:



But, I had a flash of insight.

EVEN with directions in hand, which were not only written in English but had pictograms; even when I knew how the thing was supposed to look at the end; I still made a hash of it.

Some of this could be that I'm a dodo.  I'll cop to that.  But a lot of it is I hadn't done this before. It was all new.  I made mistakes I wouldn't have if someone who'd done this before was here, OR I could have asked questions.

Insight dawns: this is a bit like writing queries.  No matter how clear the directions, it's easy to screw up. It would be good to have a place to ask questions.

So...from now on, IF you have a SHORT question about how to query, send me an email with QUERY QUESTION in the subject line.  I'll do my best to answer. If I can't, I'll reply to say it's beyond the scope of the project.

This isn't intended for "what do you want" but more of "what font do I use." Procedural, technical questions.  How to assemble the bookcase, not do I want to buy a bookcase. Figure 25 words or fewer for the question.

Clarification: this is not the place for "what do most agents want."  This is a place to ask ME about MY query preferences and protocols.  If I ruled the world I would make my opinion binding on everyone, but sadly, I have been thwarted in my several attempts to gain the crown.

Let's see how this works.

29 comments:

jan said...

Karma, for sure.

Feaky Snucker said...

My husband had the same realization when he put the second bookshelf together, (I did the first 6 months prior). Hope your fingers (and head) are OK. Having assembled a shelf myself, I commend you for not taking the axe to it.

Rain Laaman said...

That is very generous of you. I am sorry, however, that you had to receive clunk on the head for your insight to dawn.

Judith Gonda said...

A rare typo for the shark "It would good..."
Effects of the screwdriver?

Janet Reid said...

judith, thanks!

Carolee said...

I feel your pain and share your knots and bruises. Sadly, mine was a desk. The plastic wrap also contained tempered glass.

angelhorn.com said...

This is why I have a cabinet maker living in my basement. And this is the kind of bookshelf I now enjoy:

http://wp.me/p1NlZX-6F

But he's useless at writing queries.

Janet Reid said...

Not only are those great bookshelves,angelhorn.com, the topic of your blog post is pretty spiffy too. Here's the clickable link. I encourage everyone to read it.

Sierra Gardner said...

One of the silliest things I've ever tried to do is assemble my loft bed alone. Basically, it involved stuff falling on me a lot and some pretty impressive acrobatics. Thanks for the offer of help!

NotWarriorPrincess said...

IKEA is Swedish for Satan. Encounters with Satan can, however, lead to epiphanies (see: Eve) or as in your case, epiphanettes. I love epiphanettes, though not always their inciting incidents. Per the first comment about karmic balance, is it possible these productivity-induced injuries are part of the penance for losing so many hours to S. King's novel? Cause then, you could blame the guy who gave it to you for THIS, too! Win-win.

Dominique said...

It's a very nice thing you're doing. :)
I hope your bookshelf issues become a little more sorted out in the near future.

Charley said...

Was it the S. King book you read, or the other 11/22/63 that just came out? (talk about duplicative titles...) Anyway, most generous query offer! Good luck healing.

Reagan Philips said...

And another hilarious blog entry.

Also, thanks for understanding that some of us newbies are trying to do our best not to screw up our first impressions. Even though you don't take queries for my genre, I really appreciate what you're doing.

It's also another reason I wish you did rep my genre.

Laurel said...

I like your multiple format thought process! And what a kind thing to do.

Unknown said...

Hope you had a large Scotch to help you recover! Love the Pisa-Hoops pics! I've hooped a little myself lately--the result is similar to the one you got when putting shelves together. But I have several friends who do it gracefully. May I please steal the pic to share with them? (not writers or I'd direct them here) Nice offer, too!

Keith Popely said...

I see a deluge of emails in your future, Janet.

I think you may be able to accomplish the same goal by making your blog and Query Shark searchable. After all, you've likely answered every question there is at some point.

angelhorn.com said...

Thanks for the plug, Janet. Adding you to my blogroll now.

Lauren Alissa Hunter said...

Oh My Gosh I completely understand about the bookshelf—I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, and have full use of all ten digits, yet I have never properly assembled anything. I owned an elliptical that rocked, an above-toilet-cabinet that liked to swing open just before I stood up, and all manner of leaning bookshelves.

I have since abandoned all attempts at assembling anything, and would rather borrow someone’s truck and buy the display. My bookshelves are plywood and cinderblocks because stacking blocks is something I have been good at since I was a toddler.

So I know this was about queries, but the whole shelf thing gave me that “oh my gosh, me too!” warm fuzzy and I just had to share.

Mystery Robin said...

Wow, you are very kind.

wry wryter said...

Question:
Since when do sharks have opposable digits ?

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks for posting a recent photo of yourself. I've always wondered what you are looking like nowadays.

Terri Coop said...

Just to let you know that I feel your pain.

http://tinyurl.com/83r7zhk

My divorce left me with custody of a three-story building built in 1888 where the roof is more of a suggestion than an actuality. Book and I will be tackling a lot of projects in 2012.

Thank you for the query primer as well. Terri

PS: word verification "fansa" as in we're all fansa The Shark

Kristin Laughtin said...

I imagine you'll get a deluge of questions. Maybe you can put together a FAQ of any commonly repeated ones!

The good news is that those bookshelves get easier. On the next one, you'll be a pro.

Rin said...

If you were able to make a bookcase literally look like a piece of cake, then I'd think you've got more assembly savvy than even the skilled carpenters I know.

The first thought that actually came to my mind was a bookcase built like a cake. With a cherry on top and everything. My bookcase resembles your results too - very Ludicrous Tower of Pisa.

Ali Trotta said...

Your shelf story reminds me of the time I tried to assemble a cat toy (don't ask), and ended up in a heap on the floor with a DRILL. It got assembled alright, but the manufacture messed up the design and the hole didn't match up. Four hours of trying to make it work, before the drill saved what was left of my sanity.

In all seriousness, this is so wonderful -- and above and beyond. You remind me of a professor I had, once, who used to bend over backwards to try and help his students get it right. You do that. With this blog, the query shark blog, and even on twitter. You want to help writers get it right, and I think that's pretty damn awesome.

Colin Smith said...

I agree with Kristin--perhaps you could put together an FAQ of the common questions?

ClothDragon said...

I conveniently discovered thisisnotthatblog and this particular funny not long after reading this.
http://thisisnotthatblog.com/2011/12/19/building-furniture-and-the-five-stages-of-grief/
It seemed to fit.

Susan S said...

Kudos and barrels of bourbon to you for a brave and dangerous offer. Once again you go above and beyond to help authors in need.

Note to the wise: I was an avid reader of Query Shark (though not a victim) and put its principles - and those on this blog - to work. I promise you Janet knows whereof she speaks (and I have an awesome agent to prove it).

Matthew MacNish said...

Excellent analogy. I can put a bookcase together easily, but it literally took me years to learn how to write a proper query letter, assuming I can actually write one now, which is debatable.