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Terrible Tips Tuesday: Courage!

March 22, 2011

Of all the heroes in literature, the one I most identify with is Rincewind of the Discworld series.  The reason is that he’s not a hero at all.  When the shit hits the fan, he makes sure to run the other way.  Of course usually this winds up leading him to somehow save the day, but the point is that he’s got no illusions of being brave and bold.  He realizes it’s only in stories that heroes can save the day without getting killed or at the minimum badly maimed.

That’s my kind of hero.  I’m not brave or bold at all.  I get nervous at the thought of conflict.  Probably because I got no muscles or sweet kung fu moves.  Or even a gun.  If I did then it might be a different story.

That’s why I’ve put off sending any queries for this.  I have a couple of drafts, but none I really love.  That’s probably just as well, because if I love a query then it’s probably really awful–the same logic you should use when reading these tips.  I call it Costanza Logic after the Seinfeld episode where George realizes that every instinct he has is wrong, so to get ahead he should do the opposite.

Anyway, I did go on QueryTracker once and half-ass browse around.  I even signed up for the Premium membership so I can use all the features.  Have I been back there since?  Nope.  I keep making excuses like the query isn’t ready or I don’t want to send them on the weekend or I don’t want to send them on President’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day.  Or I just try not to think about it at all.

At some point I’m going to have to work up enough courage to bite the bullet, though.  What I should do is like in the old days and get myself good and drunk.  The query letters would certainly be a lot more interesting then!

Of course I know I’ll fail because I’ve failed every other time.  So why would this be any different?  But there’s always that little voice that says maybe this will be the time it doesn’t.  I like to call that the gambler’s fallacy.  You keep playing because you think at some point you’re bound to hit.  Well, statistically the odds are that someone will win–it just probably won’t be you!

On other blogs they’ll tell you all the ins and outs of submitting queries.  They’ll tell you to research the agent and all that stuff.  I say, why bother?  The less I know about them the better is what I say.  What really really sucks is when you get your heart set on something and then you don’t get it.  So what good is it to research and find a “dream agent” only for her intern to give you the old form letter enema?  That’s like setting your sights on Anjelina Jolie; you’re never going to get her without ether, duct tape, and a quick getaway car so what’s the freaking point?  Aim low, buddy.  Real low.

My tip is to muster courage is stages.  Get just enough to write the query.  Then a while later to look up some agents.  Then much later to actually send the query to them.  Then do a Rincewind and run like hell the other way before the form emails start raining down.

But then maybe I’m just a fatalist.  Or a realist as I’d put it.

Anyway, at some point I’ll probably must enough courage for that final stage.  Someday.  Maybe soon since I’m going on about it in the blog.  Which really is why I’m doing it, to psych myself up.  Give myself a public challenge.  Call myself out.  Though I already admitted I’m a coward, so…yeah.

If you want a real tip, though, one thing I’m not going to do is update you on this feeble quest.  I’m not going to say, “Today I submitted to agent so-and-so.”  Or “today Ms. Ironfanny sent me a form letter back.”  What’s the point of that?  I sure as hell don’t see any point to it.  You the reader don’t care and the agents don’t care.  Though it would be in character for me to be that selfish.  Yes, yes it would.

Just for the hell of it, here is one version of the query:

Some are born to be heroes while others stumble into the job.  Dr. Emma Earl’s path to becoming a hero begins when she’s nearly disemboweled by a monster known as the Black Dragoon.

In the hospital, Emma is led by her mother’s ghost to a hidden cavern beneath the museum where she works.  There she finds a suit of red plate armor that allows her to jump long distances, deflect bullets, and turn invisible.  By donning this armor, Emma becomes the latest in a line of heroes known as the Scarlet Knight, the Dragoon’s sworn enemy.

A Hero’s Journey is a 100,000-word novel that begins not only Emma’s path to greatness as the Scarlet Knight, but as a person as well.

As Mike would say, it’s probably not charismatic enough.  I mean it’s not funny at all.  Kind of boring really.  I need to hire a better joke writer.

Lately, while I make any excuse not to begin the Rain of Email Death to come, I’ve been toying around with something more like this for what I call the Chick Lit Version:

Dr. Emma Earl has it all:  a great new job, an apartment with her best friend, and her first steady boyfriend.  Then she gets the last thing she wants:  a suit of magic armor that makes her a superhero known as the Scarlet Knight.

She soon finds that being a superhero isn’t fun like in the comic books.  Being Rampart City’s savior means prowling the city’s dark alleys all night, facing death a half-dozen times while pummeling criminals to a pulp, and then getting home at five in the morning with only a body-length bruise as a reward.  It also means ingesting copious amounts of Red Bull just to keep from falling asleep at her desk and some serious bags under her eyes.  Even when she goes to the opera with her boyfriend to relax for a couple of hours, her arch-nemesis the Black Dragoon shows up to wreak havoc.

It’s after this Emma realizes that being a superhero also means choosing between her duty to the city and the man she loves. A Hero’s Journey is a 100,000-word novel that follows Emma as she learns what it really takes to be a hero.

Or I could do the more Insane Rant version:

Being a superhero really sucks.  In the comic books it’s all fun and games.  You put on some tights, punch some bad guys, and then the hot damsel in distress gives you a kiss.  In reality being a superhero means getting the shit beat out of you on a nightly basis.  It means going to work on almost no sleep.  It means you have some psychopath supervillain gunning for you all the time, taking your loved ones hostage and forcing you to choose between their lives and the rest of the city.

Dr. Emma Earl finds out just how much being a superhero blows when she stumbles on a magic suit of armor.  Sure now she can deflect bullets, jump really far, and turn invisible, but there’s a lot of drawbacks that come with it.  As the latest incarnation of the superhero known as the Scarlet Knight, she has to protect Rampart City from evil.  In this case evil comes in the form of the Black Dragoon, the Scarlet Knight’s ancient enemy.  He happens to have his own set of armor that lets him deflect bullets and jump really far, not to mention he has some really sharp claws.  As if all that isn’t bad enough, she’s falling in love with her coworker at the museum.  She wants to spend the rest of her life with him, but the rest of her life might not be very long if she can’t stop the Dragoon.

I’m still working on a way to engineer a priest, a rabbi, and Dr. Emma Earl walk into a bar joke to lead it off…

Thursday let’s get back to something more sensible with a discussion of short stories…


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  1. Just to be clear, you’re right. I don’t think it’s funny enough. However, I don’t know how to fix it cause I’m not a good query letter writer either (I’ll never get an agent). I’ve just seen copies of those query writers that have made it. Like Tahereh Mafi…she posted a part of her query on a blog somewhere (I’ll never find it again) but I remember thinking…it’s funny…it’s catchy. She’s just one of those writers that is a social networking genius. Shit, before she was published, like a year before (been following her blog about that long) she was rubbing elbows with Nathan Bransford and the Rejectionist (like really rubbing elbows in the same cafe and taking pictures of their shoes). She wrote one query letter for only one agent and got representation the first time out.

    Here’s my query that I sent out to one agent yesterday (found one that represents gay books cause big surprise, I write books with gay boys in them that kiss and stuff–not the kind of material you’d want to send to a Christian agent). I also saw that 50% of her clients were new authors. I was like…hmmm…I might have a chance with this one. So I sent it out, but it wasn’t funny. Just a rundown of my plot.

  2. I’m gonna email that query example to you instead.

  3. You’d think agents would get that most writers are not social networking geniuses–that’s why they’re WRITERS! I mean writing is a solitary activity and throughout history many great writers have had personality disorders like alcoholism that wouldn’t exactly make them cover boys for US Weekly. But then maybe that’s part of the corporitization of our society, where everything, including art, has to be a slick PRODUCT these days. It’s getting to be almost as shallow as the music industry.

  4. LOL, I have to admit the third is my favorite. It has great voice to it and I would hope the writing has the same humor and grit to it. I know you didn’t ask, but I’m rude this way…here are some thoughts to tighten it.

    I thought the first paragraph was great other than the last sentence. Here’s a suggestion: It means having a psychopathic super-villain gunning for you all the time, taking your loved ones hostage and forcing you to choose between their lives and the rest of the city.

    Dr. Emma Earl finds out just how much being a superhero blows when she stumbles on a magic suit of armor. Sure now she can deflect bullets, jump really far, and turn invisible, but there’s a lot of drawbacks that come with it. As the latest incarnation of the superhero known as the Scarlet Knight, she has to protect Rampart City from THE evil Black Dragoon, the Scarlet Knight’s ancient enemy. (I’d drop the next sentence.) As if all that isn’t bad enough, she’s falling in love with her coworker at the museum. She wants to spend the rest of her life with him, but the rest of her life might not be very long if she can’t stop the Dragoon.

    Yeah, I’m sorry to butt in. 😀 Anyway, last year I did a test run. I chose some agents on my list and sent queries. I only did a few just to test the waters so to speak. It took some of the pressure off, but helped me see what was working and what wasn’t working. I even had a few partials requested. The feedback I received has really helped me focus on the revisions I’m working on now.

    So, work yourself up and do a test run. And I agree, it helps to not have your heart set on one agent. Good luck!

    • You know Charity, the whole problem with this “you have to be funny” thing with queries is the story ISN’T written that way. I mean, it’s not a comedy. Though the second draft was closer to that way because it was written in first-person with a sarcastic ghost as the narrator. The problem was the ghost narrator thing was funny at times but it was a huge liability.

      It’d be nice if agents realized that sometimes writing is actually serious. I mean, if you’re writing a story about the Holocaust, how are you going to make that funny? Some stories just don’t lend themselves to the whole jaunty tone thing.

  5. Hey mutt what’s your email so I can send you the query that I wrote?

  6. I’ve actually never heard that the query has to be funny. Just that it has to have a unique voice that pulls the agent in. I think they actually prefer the feel of the query to match the story, but I know what you mean about that kind of sucking sometime. 🙂

    Have you read this post ? It really helped me relax again and focus on the writing. The story. The query is what it is, but you can have a kick a$$ query and not get an agent because the writing sucks. But if the writing is wonderful, an average query can be forgiven.

    Here is another example of a non funny query that broke all the rules and just rocked:

    I saw this up for review on the authors blog before she sent it to the query shark. We all said “SEND IT NOW” This format won’t work for my story though. *sigh* So, I’ll hope to polish my wip and then put together a decent query that doesn’t send the agent running and screaming before looking at those first 5 pages.

    good luck!

    • I think you’re fooling yourself if you think it’s about the writing of the book. An average query and they won’t even bother reading any of your WIP. You think when they have 100 or more Emails from schlubs like me they’re going to sit there reading everyone’s 5 pages?

      And don’t you just hate when they say in these blogs all this stuff you should do and then they show you one that doesn’t do any of that and succeeds?

      It’s just a crap shoot. (More crap than shoot.) Great, now I’m depressed again.

  7. I’m just not that clever. /sigh.

  8. I’ve heard from a fairly reliable source that Agents typically only accept 1% (if that) of queries they actually receive. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a 99% on anything in my life that didn’t have to do with math or science.

    • The more I try to understand this process the less I understand it. The 1% they accept are probably the ones that “broke the rules”–the “rules” they set!

      I need a drink.

  9. did you get my email?

  10. I’ve never written a query–but (after reading the comments) I can see your point that the queries agents do accept break the rules people mention all the time. If something’s not individual then it’s just another query out of the, what, thousands they receive. I guess the question is what the agent your submitting to counts as “special” and not “into the junk pile”. Pretty subjective process.

    Good luck!

  11. “Insane rant version” lol! Yeah, I had one of those versions once, haha!

    Good luck with diving into the query pool!

  12. Honestly, I like the second one better. It gives more details that set the story apart from other superhero stories, and also explains her obligation to be a superhero. Interesting that it doesn’t seem to start out from any kind of noble origins. But the query does break all the rules. Aren’t they meant to be broken anyway?

    • Might as well break the rules. As Charity pointed out, some people who do succeed anyway. Which I find very annoying because I’m a sensible person and I don’t like to think this system is completely arbitrary. But it sure seems that way.

  13. I think you should enter one of your flash fiction stories and stop being a grumpy bulldog.

    • I bet the bulldog is really happy right now. Butler’s still in the tournament and he’s probably getting another enormous bone to chew on. Would that we could all be satisfied so easily.

  14. *sigh* Arbitrary, subjective. It’s all basically the same thing–a shot in the dark to see how lucky you really are.

    Ok, now you’re pulling me down! Stop! 😀

    I think all this talk proves is that it has to be about the writing for US. That way if we never win this traditional publishing lottery we won’t be crushed. I’ve started cultivating relationships with some small publishers that like my writing. Never seen my query letter but they’ve seen the book. Who knows, this may be the route I take eventually.

  15. RM I have been here. I have soooo been right where you are. And while I think you’re doing the right thing to break the scary query task up into stages, that final stage really is the kicker, and without it there’s really no point to the others, right?

    Just remember that the best way to be GUARANTEED failure is to not try at all. And I think all of your query versions are pretty good by the way, so why not make your list of 20+ agents and then send a few of each version of the query out?

    I think you’ve posted on this topic again a few days later so if I can work out how the heck word press organizes posts I’ll try and find it so I can cheer you on and say YAY if you did send some queries out.

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