Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Note to My Future Agent

I just wanted to write this in advance as a thank you for being the first to judge my book in the aggregate. Though I have gotten some encouraging feedback from agents who read the first few chapters among the slew of boilerplate and silence, most notably Judy Heiblum at Brick House, who represents the wonderful writer M. Allen Cunningham, who wrote, “The work is imaginative and your writing shows both power and fluidity,” and gave a perfectly respectable, constructive rejection with, “For my taste, there was a bit of a sense of the language getting in the way of the writing, if you know what I mean. Also, I am perhaps a bit too traditional to get really excited about the format you propose for the book,” I congratulate you on seeing the potential in our partnership, especially beyond the terrible copy of my query (I’m assuming it was terrible to be so off-handedly rejected when it pimped something unique, and exceptionally constructed – this is where I’m supposed to be humble and discount how excellent I believe the work to be so I don’t seem conceited, so all I will say is that I wrote a novel I would love to read: innovative, but with a soul; characters that breath, laugh and cry and leave you in similar attitudes; with descriptions outrageous while simultaneously piercing – but then you’ve read the book, so you know how great it is, and I can be an openly proud Papa with you).

Just out of curiosity, would you mind going through my query and enlightening me to the pratfalls I fell into composing it? Thanks:

A victim of rape at fourteen, the songs Lucy Faas initially writes as therapy bring her more fame than she was prepared for at seventeen, so after her second album receives critical but lackluster financial success she enters a self-imposed suburban hermitage.

[So, in this revision of the query I strove to put character first, introducing my heroine Lucy as “the hook,” establishing in this single sentence that she carried the ultimate personal usually private pain of rape heavily upon her back in a too full frontal view to the public; that though talented, and still quite young, she already had significant issues with the byproduct of her expression: celebrity – enough to drop out of her career for a considerable span of time; issues that would make her impressions an interesting mix of insider and outsider.]

Emerging seven years later with aspirations to revive her abandoned music career, she joins the crazy assemblage of actors, musicians, directors, significant others and an heiress at architect Alexander Murphy’s celebrity haven – hidden and secure in the Montecito hills above Santa Barbara – there to preempt or hide from scandal, or simply dwell in a paparazzi-free zone. Amid her efforts at composing her comeback, Lucy decides to investigate the enigmatic Mr. Murphy’s origins, discovering aptitudes and interests enticingly adverse to musicianship as she learns more than any prior guest, and cultivating love for more than just the character of The American Riviera. But then she stumbles upon the secret that may bring this celebrity Eden to an ignominious end.

[So, here I laid out the unique plot of the book, my heroine’s conflicted journey through it, hinting at the interesting characters she will interact with, presenting setting as an equally rich character, and establishing intrigue behind the titular character driving Lucy through the book, portending an exciting climax.]

Incorporating Lucy’s songwriting, mock nonfiction articles, and sections of pure play-style dialogue into the narrative, and with a cast of celebrities alternately real, inspired, and imagined, Alexander Murphy’s Home for Wayward Celebrities is a literary novel, not so erudite that it will not appeal to a mainstream celebrity-hungry readership, completed at 92,000 words.

[Here I outlaid the singular narrative structure of the book, setting the genre as literary just in case the theme of celebrity left doubts to the seriousness of the novel – but also grounding the novel from the ether of literary works for a general readership, providing an ancillary marketing idea, while conducting the business of a attention-barbed title and reasonable word count. Trivia: I considered qualifying “mock nonfiction articles” with “mock architectural-themed articles,” but decided against it for the reasons of brevity that all the books and websites I researched on query-writing beat me over the head with.]

Studying creative writing at Westmont College in Montecito, graduating with a degree in Art, my seduction by Santa Barbara County – where encountering celebrities in their sweatpants at the supermarket was a common, humanizing, occurrence – mirrors the character of Lucy Faas. I currently reside in the San Francisco Bay Area with my wife and two children, have had several short stories published in various literary journals, including The First Line, who graciously nominated my Summer 2005 issue story for a Pushcart Prize, and am hard at work on my next novel, which will integrate my experiences as a substitute teacher.

[Here I gave a bit of biography that concurrently qualified me to express the setting and themes of the novel in a fresh voice; then another bit on my current situation, modestly showing that others have found my work not only publishable, but among the best they had published that year. Then I finished the paragraph with an assurance that I am a working writer, burgeoning with ideas, which interred in your stable, will be a productive, long range asset.]

I am querying you because...[-]. I look forward to sending you the manuscript for review. Feel welcome to contact me anytime from the contact information below. Thank you for your consideration.

[and, of course, here is where I proved to you that I had researched and handpicked you as a potential agent, offering my reasons in a hopefully flattering way. And then wrapping everything up sedately, belying my overwhelming desire to see my novel published because to admit my frustration with the inherently drawn out process of book publication may make me seem desperate.]

So what do you think? Too How to Get Your Novel Published formulaic? As I said, this is just for curiosity sake, so don’t put yourself too out with your commentary. (Blog readers listening in, I welcome your comments as well).

I should let you go; I respect how valuable your time is. I just really wanted you to know how much I appreciate your faith. I’ll have my next novel in soon as I can (how you worried that that was simply a ploy in my query!). Looking forward to all the marketing and touring, and, of course, a long and fruitful partnership.

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