Sunday, August 08, 2010

An extrordinary thing has happened

QueryShark has been up and running for about 28 months. There are 168 entries. I've signed one client out of the that list (the amazing Dan Krokos #124.)

But look at #119.

When this query arrived it was the very definition of mess. I spent more time striking out paragraphs than actually critiquing them. My final comment was "I don't have any clue what the story is here. Form rejection."

So the author worked on it. She didn't get much better, but there was progress.

At the second iteration, I gave her the recipe for a query and told her to start over.

The third iteration got us somewhere in terms of the plot.

The fourth and fifth iterations were better, but frankly it was still unfocused and not enticing.

By revision #6, we'd been at this for almost a YEAR. A lot of that was down time since I work on QueryShark in off hours; when I'm not so exasperated at mistakes I can actually offer constructive suggestions rather than simply "this sux, what are you thinking"; and, on the most recent post revisions first.

But she hung there. And didn't give up. And tried.

And holy moly, she made it.

The sixth version, posted today is so much improved, that the only apt metaphor is caterpillar to butterfly.

I'm so proud of this author I could hug her. And we all know: DO. NOT. HUG. THE. SHARK. is a hard and fast rule.

This is what tenacity looks like.
This is what writers are made of.

The shark is very very happy.


Unknown said...

Ms. Reid,

You've done so much to help writers in general and me in particular I hope karma showers blessings on your great-grandkids. You're tough and your bite is nothing short of vicious but what a priviledge to get mauled!

Emily Cross said...

That's wonderful - well done to her and you! I think queryshark is such a brilliant resource for writers (says the girl who read ALL the queries on it in a day - my eyes are still blurry lol).

I think your advice goes so beyond query letters. I'm not near the query stage but I found the advice you give applies so well to overall writing and has been invaluable. I've learned a lot about info dumping, plotting and focusing of story from just reading your critiques and comments and others'

Thank you :)

Robert A Meacham said...

I loved the post Ms. Reid.
I now can wrap myself like a mummy in the many rejection letters I have received...but I keep on keeping on. At least all the rejections are not from the same query and not one, not one spent the time with the author as you did. are next on my list because I think you give a damn.

Andrew said...

I really enjoy reading this blog as well as Queryshark.

But something I've been curious about, Janet, is your experience with the correlation between (initial) query quality and novel quality. I sort of assume that if a writer can't construct an at least halfway decent query on their own (or at least after a single 'try again' with guidance, and the motivation to put in their own research on the topic), can they really write a good novel?

Is someone who needs 4 or 5 revisions to pique your interest with a query really likely to provide you with an awesome book?

I would think not, but I'd like to hear your perspective. If there is little correlation, why do you bother reading queries instead of just randomly asking for chapters? And if there is strong correlation, why do you bother coaching terrible queries into better shape? :)

middle grade ninja said...

What a great post. I love it when you let us see your warm, gooey center:)

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Hurray, #119!

Um, Shark? I believe I'm annoyed with you. I got all teary-eyed over this post. How embarrassing!

I just love success stories. :)

Unknown said...

Hi Andrew,

I worried about this too but then I have to be honest and admit I didn't work non stop for almost a year on this thing. I write other stuff and I go to group and I edit and re-edit and then I attempted to take another stab at it. Hearing that I as almost there kept me trying to rework a query that was just starting from the wrong angle.

Beside, ever heard of "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"? That writer took thirteen years to pelt out that Pulitzer (I'm not saying my novel is on that level but everyone grows and learns at their own pace).

ryan field said...

This kind of wonderful tenacity really is what it's all keep going, to keep moving forward, and to keep making it better no matter how hard it gets.

Love this post!

Unknown said...

That is made of awesome.

Unknown said...

Just my two cents on the questions you raise. I am looking forward to seeing the response as well.

In my experience, writing a query letter is MUCH more difficult then a novel. I wrote a complete novel in six weeks. I revised for another six weeks. I got beta readers to read it. I got some constructive criticism, most I agreed with, some I didn't. I spent a year doing more work because my baby just wasn't quite good enough. Now it is. Now is the time that I take the love of my life and try to put a year and four months of work into two, maybe three paragraphs.

How do I boil that down? How can I sit there and try NOT to put down every single tiny little juicy bit? It's all great. What part will the agent of my dreams love best? I know... I'll put it all in!

Sometimes it's hard to understand what needs to go, and what needs to stay. And it is a process that I am still working on.

I have written a great book, in my opinion. A few others agree with me. And no, my beta readers were not friends or family. It was easy to write, because at the time, there were no preconceived notions about what it should be. About how it should flow. About what agents were looking for. About what readers wanted.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said with query letters. And to make matters worse, the kind of query one agent likes may not be what another is after. There are letters that work posted on a lot of agents blogs. Most of them are different.

I know this is my just my opinion, and that doesn't count for much. But unless there are glaring errors, such as typo, grammar, -ly words, then you can't really tell from the revisions that a query letter goes through.

Wow. Okay, sorry to have rambled along this much. And I didn't get to edit because my other half is rushing me out the door to see a football game. I wonder if I am going to get ripped to shreds.

Best of luck to everyone! Ms. Reid, thank you for everything you do for aspiring dreamers like us. You are a gift to the writing world!

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Way to go, #119! We become better writers by learning from the masters and taking the lessons to heart.

And, I love that shark pic. *smile*

Rick Daley said...

Once again the old adage is proven true: real writers re-write.

Laurel said...

Congrats all the way around and thanks to both the author and the shark. If we only saw pristine efforts, it would be a lot harder to spot where we are screwing up our own queries.

I'm so impressed with the folks who hang their work out there like a pinata waiting to get beaten and keep coming back for more.

Jan Markley said...

Let's hear it for persistence! You are right, that's what writers are made of!

Margaret Yang said...

:::dabs eyes:::

I just love a happy ending.

jjdebenedictis said...

Andrew: It takes years to hone one's writing abilities to the point of being publishable. Why are you assuming people don't improve over time?

Is a writer who can't write a decent query capable of writing a decent novel? Yes, but maybe not today. Diligence is what will determine if they will be able to someday.

I'll bet the writer has been polishing hir novel all this time also. S/he has what it takes to get to "someday"--specifically, the ability to never give up.

JS said...

Congratulations on all your hard work, querier! The difference is astonishing. Kudos to you!

Lucy Woodhull said...

What an incredible story. #119 should feel very proud of herself. It's an amazing lesson in tenacity, and one I really needed right now. Thank you!

Unknown said...

I got the same question as Andrew - I've been thinking that the state of a query reflect the state of a manuscript and therefore makes it easier for the agent to judge the quality of the novel.

This despite - or rather because of it! - having hammered out several queries myself with only 1 request for full to show for the effort. I truly believe that how I write is reflected in the query. Or even the other way around - I can actively hide some weaknesses in the query which I know exists in my manuscript.

So, Shark, are you finding that chum in shape taste better and that's why you whip us into super queriers?

Christina Auret said...

This type of thing makes me want to cheer. Someone who keeps on doing their best does not always succeed, but they can always say that they did the very best they could. That is a goal worth striving for. The fact that you succeeded in getting your query there just makes this even better. So congratulations!