Hello gentle reader,
Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.
Today the ever-wonderful Summer Heacock (aka Fizzygrrl) is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Summer writes Women’s Fiction and she’s represented by Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency.
I am seeking representation for WITH A SHAKE OF HER HAIR, a women’s fiction manuscript complete at 81,000 words.
Ellie Donahue is drowning in Suburbia. She is driving a beige mini-van and wondering where the twenty-year-old version of herself disappeared to. The version that didn’t give a crap about high-fructose corn syrup and thought ramen noodles and beer was a balanced dinner.
Stuck in a predictable rut of routine Sunday night sex and Thursday night chicken, Ellie’s biggest concerns are running into meddlesome Sancti-mommies at the grocery store, or being forced by her nudist mother-in-law to listen to an AC/DC cover by her band, ‘The Noody Blues’ and trying to ignore the fact that they are indeed naked while singing it.
When confronted by her husband’s infidelity with a coworker, Ellie is forced out of her rut and into a reality where she is torn between the temptation of an affair of her own with her daughter’s delicious soccer coach or fighting for her rapidly crumbling marriage. With her life upside down, Ellie struggles to determine her next step, and finds herself longing for the predictability of Thursday night chicken.
I have been writing for fifteen years, and for the last eight years have been featured in the local paper, “Our Home Town”, as the head writer for the Reviews and Opinions column. While my training is in Psychology and Creative Writing, I have a strong background in Theater and Stand-Up Comedy, a combination of experiences that I have found very helpful when writing. I am a stay-at-home-mother of two and in the process of writing my next novel.
I thank you very much for your time and look forward to hearing from you soon!
How long did it take you to write this query?
When I first wrote a query for this book, over five years ago now, it was a horror show. That’s not an exaggeration. It was the worst thing possibly ever. I knew nothing about queries and didn’t do more than a few Google searches for research. (Don’t be like me.)
An agent I queried at the time took pity on what I assume was the worst wuery she had ever read in her entire life and actually emailed me back and forth for a whole day, guiding me through what the query could be. I realized the errors of my ways, bought some pitching books, and got to work. There were at least fifteen versions of that query…
My next query had a great request rate, but the book wasn’t nearly as polished as it needed to be. Again, I was a total idiot and had no idea what I was doing. (DON’T BE LIKE ME.)
This particular query came four years after the original. I tinkered with it after spending time reading other queries online and asked a CP for some advice. It took me an afternoon to put this one together and it stuck.
Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?
I did have betas and CPs! My biggest help when I was writing this version was Brenda Drake (who every writer should know because she is an angel.) and a writers group called TwitWits. That group was the best support possible for a querying writer, and great to get critiques.
I can’t sell the importance of a core group of trusted readers enough. Trust is the key word. You have to know they will be honest. And find people who are good at what you suck at. I am terrible with mechanics and finding grammar and spelling errors. I just read in a different way. So I make a point to have CPs who excel in those areas. When we trade, I can give them content and story ideas they might not have had on their stories, and they can punch me in the face for continually misusing lay and lie in mine.
It’s the same way when we work on pitches together. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses makes everything a lot easier. Otherwise you’ll spend more time fighting with yourself than you will successfully writing. (In case that didn’t translate, this is me hinting at my stubbornness during my first querying attempts five years ago…)
What was the hardest part to get right?
The plot. The freaking plot. I still have a hard time putting my own pitches together without using some kind of cliché to explain it. I am good at helping other people with pitches, but for some reason with my own? I’m the actual worst. I can’t ever seem to see my own writing in a clear way.
I write contemp so world building isn’t as big of an issue to me as it was when I was working on a fantasy story a few years back. Querying a fantasy MS taught me I have no business writing fantasy.
Any advice for querying writers out there?
DO RESEARCH. All of it. There are a million resources out there to help. The first place that comes to mind is The Query Shark ran by the stellar Janet Reid. You can’t do better than that site for query help. CPSeek.com is a great place to meet and hang with other writers. Dahlia Adler has a blog that should be bookmarked by anyone trying to get into publishing.
Spend a lot of time reading other queries. Find what works. Learn what doesn’t.
Have friends who will read your stuff and tell you when it sucks. It’s nice hearing your work is great, but you want someone who will tell you what’s good, but what is crap too. That’s crucial.
Find a non-deadly vice and roll with it. I choose to mainline Jelly Bellies. My teeth might fall out eventually, but I figured it was a fair trade since I can’t have caffeine.
Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Summer!
Any questions? Ask below!