After my whirlwind of online betas, I started writing something I had dreaded from the start of this process.
A query letter.
For any non-writers out there, a query letter is a pitch of your book addressed to a literary agent or small press in hopes of getting a book traditionally published. Crafting the perfect query letter is a tight-rope of various opinions. You want to avoid confusion with your premise, but you also want to hook with the high concepts of your book and avoid summation. Draw people into your concept without giving everything away.
And for all the time people spend agonizing over those one page letters (250-350 words), the sad truth is that it all comes down to taste, timing and a whole lot of luck (like dating! :P). You may write the perfect, chocolaty query, only to find out that all the agent wants is vanilla. And even if there are large parts of your book the agent WOULD have enjoyed, if you fail to divine and highlight that in your query, you will again miss your opportunity. And most agents respond with form letters, so you never really know what the “reason” was. The second guessing can drive anyone a bit mad.
Lots of rejection is common in this stage, something I have never been all that good at. I love my books, but I make a terrible saleswoman. This is why I am holding off the decision to completely self-publish for as long as possible, though I am determined to get my books out one way or another.
Anyway, I started making the “djinni” book’s query to enter in a contest called Pitch Wars (more on that later). My first attempt was so terrible, even my kindest betas had issues with it. One suggested I post my query on another writer forum to get a lot of feedback at once (one of those, I’ll-critique-yours-if-you-critique-mine situations). I took her advice and soon on my way to craft … well, let’s just say “better” query that I submitted to Pitch Wars along with my first pages.
It looked like this:
Ashira wishes for excitement, faraway adventure and, above all, to change her coming of age prophecy that she will live a life of “no renown.” What she gets is a lazy and cynical djinni who hands her a rock when she wishes for a kingdom.
Ashira still hopes the djinni bottle she found will change her fate, but the djinni sets even the smallest wish awry, dissolving into smoke with a smirk on his face. To learn how to gain his compliance or alter her prophecy alone, Ashira leaves her desert village for the Kingdom of Kalum, joining the apprenticeship of the bearers—spiritual leaders who regulate magic. But her habit of yelling at an empty bottle only alienates her from her peers.
Then she meets Kalum’s handsome, young prince.
She thinks it’s another one of the djinni’s pranks; the djinni has taken his face every time he assumes human form. The djinni claims not to remember the prince, but hates him instantly—more than he hates everyone else.
When the prince asks for help investigating reports of a rising demon, Ashira jumps at the chance. She chases after every available sorcerer to discover the root of their power. By the time she realizes the prince is the demon in disguise, she has already uncovered the magic he needs to release the rest of his kin.
The djinni’s lost memories may be the key to stopping the coming hoard, but unlocking them may unleash another demonic force.
Perhaps a life of “no renown” wouldn’t be so bad after all.
THE DEMON PRINCE is a young adult high fantasy adventure told in three points of views: Ashira, the djinni and another apprentice working behind the scenes. It is a 93,000 word novel with potential for another series set in the same world. This is my first novel.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Now this makes me wince because I think I still summed up my story too much, but that’s what it was, for better or for worse, when I entered the contest.
For those who don’t know, Pitch Wars is a popular writing contest hosted on the blog of Brenda Drake. In the first round, you select up to four mentors (published authors or others with professional publishing experience) to send your query and first pages to. If you are selected by one of those mentors, they read and provide feedback for your entire manuscript to help you pitch to agents in the next round. This contest has a huge publishing success rate, so I had been watching it for a while, even submitted another story last year on a whim with absolutely no bites.
This year I felt much more prepared, and was THRILLED when one of the mentors requested my full manuscript. In the end, she selected another manuscript to mentor, but she sent me a very nice note, just saying that deciding on one entry was “nearly impossible,” but she loved what she read of mine and looked forward to seeing it on the shelves one day. Another mentor gave me feedback, saying she really liked my premise/query, but wasn't drawn in by my “omniscient narrator.”
Now, technically, this wasn’t correct. An omniscient point-of-view jumps into multiple character heads, whereas I only use one character at time. But still I knew exactly what she meant. The first pages of my book start with a more distant point-of-view, meant to mimic a more traditional fairy-tale. Three pages in, that breaks into a closer, more modern, voice that I keep throughout the rest of the book as the traditional fairy-tale is twisted and unraveled.
It was one of my “writing darlings” that I was rather attached to.
Three pages really SHOULDN’T make or break you in a full-sized novel, but when it comes to catching the attention of an agent, it can certainly seem so. I hated the thought that someone would like my stupid query, but not like my actual writing. Through the next months, I got my writing group to go through the whole manuscript again and gave it to a few interested family members as well. They were all very positive, so I entered a few smaller contests and a few cold queries, without much movement.
But the feedback I got in Pitch Wars still gnawed on me until I made the very painful decision of altering my first pages, building the information and lines I felt I needed into a closer point-of-view scene in the same style that is used throughout the rest of the book. At first, I hated it, but I kept working on it until I had something that worked, and then even liked better than the initial version.
And that is the page I used for the next big contest, Authoress’s Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction. More details on that in the next post, then we will be all caught up for the year. :)