On Writing - dolce memole
(Wait. Isn't a query supposed to be like a book jacket? Not exactly. Shorter than a book jacket. Very short. Three paragraphs tops, people, and no more than 300 words to demonstrate your ability to work with Less. Not three paragraphs for the book and two for an intro and a wrap-up. One paragraph to tell an agent why you're querying them. One hook paragraph for the novel. Third paragraph to give "credentials" or writing credits. That's all she wrote. Literally.)
It took about a month of chiseling away at the query and the even uglier synopsis. With Michelle's coaching, something promising emerged. I researched a handful of agents and sent out the first three last week. I braced myself for a round of form-rejections like before saying, "Thanks but no thanks," or "your novel is just not right for us" etc. The same day I got what I'd been praying for over the last year: just one personalized response from an agent.
It was not a yes, mind, but a paragraph or two of some really helpful insights into the story I am building. I was not necessarily looking for a "yes", anyway, but some sort of confirmation that my novel isn't crap, that it has a future apart from a query slush pile. And here it was. It was not "yes" but it was helpful, friendly, and encouraging.
What the agent said was (paraphrased), "Awesome idea - but... here's what I was hoping to see..." In other words, here's how I could possibly make it better. I know it could be better.
First of all, she saw the story (despite its flaws) from a query, a synopsis and 25 pages. She was convinced the novel could be More. I still need to work on "showing" rather than "telling", particularly when it comes to setting and how it shapes the world in which my characters' lives unfold. (Honestly, that's something I know I'll always be working on.) The problem isn't the space I'm trying to build, but my tendency to reveal details and nuances in dialogue. Third, my characters should be allowed to flourish (her word) even more. I was beyond excited when she recognized their connection... I thought, "someone who understands..."
This response was an indication that, at least for now, I am headed in the right direction. Not only have I crafted a stronger, more professional query letter and synopsis (Thank you again, Michelle!) but I have a plan to make the writing itself - the meat of my novel - stronger, too. I know Waterwill will be a fluid thing for years until its published. (Okay, if it's published. But I like optimism.) The next draft will be about vivifying the setting and the characters' personalities and relationships, as well as paying very close attention to the balance of dialogue and exposition.
I know she is not my agent, and I won't presume that she'll leap on it if I send her materials a second time. Yet this experience has given me hope that someone will find and connect with Waterwill further down the line. I have hope that my novel, while still not quite "there," is closer than ever to where it needs to be.
That said, I've been marking up my drafts with vivifying and show-don't-tell ideas. For now, I'll hold off querying other agents on my list because, frankly, I want to give out my very best. I'm excited to be able to strive for it, to have a direction. Excited. Encouraged. Increasing momentum. I might have a different perspective on that in a month or two, but for now everything feels right - even if I'm still in the same place, between queries, agentless.
It may still be winter, but remember that seeds are sewn in the wintertime. Roots dig deeper. On the surface it may appear that the world is resting, but life is flourishing beneath the snow of Querying Season.
snow days by madeline gibson