Thursday, July 12, 2012
How Long Before the Gong?
I’ve been telling you about a lot of firsts lately: first pitch meeting, first critique group-- all part of my first writing conference-- the Ozarks Romance Writers. Toward the end of the day, they put on a Query Letter Gong show. What a great idea! I missed Chuck Woolery, with his cheesy grin and mini-fro, but it was loads of fun and extremely helpful.
Here’s how it worked: anonymous query letters were put up on a projector screen for all to see while a speaker read them aloud and the two agents and one editor in attendance listened and read with gongs at the ready. Actually, they were tambourines (gongs were hard to come by in the Springfield area) The idea is that the experts would hit the gong/tambourine at the point in the query where they would normally stop reading. They were pretty kind. They only gonged a couple of the letters. They did talk about the shortcomings of ALL the letters and what could be done to improve them.
Did I submit my own query? Yes I did. Did they put it up on the screen first? Of course they did. Was my heart pounding out of my chest as it was being read? Why yes, it was.
They never did shake the tambourine at it, but the expert panelists did analyze my letter, and I took notes as fast as I could with that little heart problem. My sister attended the conference with me and she took notes too, just in case that heart-out-of-the-chest-thing impeded my note-taking ability. What they all seemed to agree on was this: it was a solid query letter, but too long. Which is great.
I knew I needed to cut something out of it, but I had no idea which part to cut. So here’s the awesome thing- the agents specifically pointed out the unnecessary paragraph-- for me and the rest of the conference to see. Yay! I think writing query letters is so hard, and this really helped me. One of the agents also suggested using more suspenseful language to clearly indicate the suspense in the novel. So... they mentioned what was good about it and pointed out what needed work. What more could I ask?
As painful as it is to write query letters, and as much as I wish I could skip that step on the road to publication, I can see why they’re an effective tool for agents; those little one-page letters really did give me a clear feeling about whether I’d like to read each book.
Thank you to the members of Ozarks Romance Writers for your warm welcome and a great conference. Thank you to everyone who talked to me there and shared their experiences and expertise. And special thanks to Cecily White, who chaired the conference and whose debut novel Angel Academy is coming next year from Entangled Publishing. Her generosity and hospitality blew me away, and I can NOT wait to buy and read her first published book! Thanks to you for reading about it. Next time I'll share an interesting story that best-selling author Rob Thurman told me about Never Giving Up. Until then... keep writing and good luck!