This post is brought to you by Wordy Wednesdays. We’re still waiting to find out what that means.
One time I had the opportunity to pitch a novel to a publisher in person, and because it turned out we had some crazy (like, really crazy) connexions, he told me he really wanted to see my book. I pushed myself to finish it and send it to him, and never heard back.
I’m still trying to pitch the same book, but I feel like, although the book has gotten significantly better, my pitch has gotten worse. I finally broke down and forked over some money to Chuck Sambuchino to have a professional edit of my query letter, and it might be good that I went in and edited it immediately after receiving his response, without saving the original, because then I would feel obligated to post it here, and that would be embarrassing.
Mr Sambuchino’s methods for editing a query are . . . interesting. I’ve done some freelance editing myself in the past, and usually I would work with a Word document directly on the computer, using the Track Changes function. Admittedly, I occasionally had issues; before I had a Mac, sometimes people would send documents to my PC from their Macs, and then when I switched over, occasionally it turned out to be the other way around. Often there was a lot of reformatting on one end or the other before I could actually do my work so that the writer could see what I had edited. So the fact that Mr Sambuchino edits a query letter directly in the body of an email makes a lot of sense.
I guess it also probably makes sense that he doesn’t write his edits in other colours or fonts or in, say, bold, because then he’d have to keep turning on the alteration every time he wrote something.
So what he does instead is . . . yell at you.
My query came back in an email saying,
HI JENNIFER. SEE MY NOTES BELOW IN ALL CAPS. THANKS FOR REACHING OUT TO ME. PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF ANYTHING I SAID IS UNCLEAR. AND PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF I CAN DO ANY MORE EDITS FOR YOU.
THANKS AND GOOD LUCK! PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU FIND AN AGENT. I LOVE ALL SUCCESS STORIES.
Nothing wrong with that. Very polite and professional–hopeful and encouraging, even–except that the caps kind of remind me of when Grandma M used to send emails and not notice that she left her caps-lock on. For an entire email. Then again, she also had cataracts, so the caps may have helped her. As, I guess, they help Mr Sambuchino–only differently.
It’s just that–and this isn’t his fault–I was already feeling uncertain and sometimes downright fragile about this letter (I haven’t even sent out the book yet!), so when we got to the end of my query and his in-text comments and he said,
THE PITCH IS DESIGNED TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BOOK. ALL WE KNOW ABOUT “FAVORED ONE” NOW IS THAT ADONAI VISITS MIRYAM AND ACCEPTS TO BEAR THE MESSIAH. THIS TELLS US NOTHING NEW; BUT YOUR BOOK PROMISES TO SHOW US A STORY WE’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. SO WHAT HAVEN’T WE SEEN BEFORE? TELL US! YOU HAVE TO SHOW MORE PLOT (MOVE FASTER) AND TELL US WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BOOK. QUICKLY MENTION STORY BEATS OF WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW (THE MESSIAH, ETC.), BUT TRY TO SHINE LIGHT ON THE PARTS THAT WILL PROVE THE MOST UNIQUE AND INTERESTING BECAUSE WE *DIDN’T* KNOW THEM. MAKE SENSE?
. . . I wanted to curl up in the foetal position with a binky for a few minutes or something. (Stop shouting at me!)
I didn’t, because we were watching the last episode of Game of Thrones and the people in that show have way bigger problems (and usually far fewer clothes) than an actually helpful and constructive query letter edit is. Also because, as I thought about it a little more rationally later, I realised Mr Sambuchino was exactly right. That was when I discovered that, along with all the other issues attendant on pitching a genre-unclassifiable novel, blah blah blah, it’s also hard to write a synopsis highlighting the “differences” in a story that everybody knows or thinks they know. Obviously I left too many blank spots in my original pitch, but then again, I don’t want to dumb everything down to the point of insulting the publisher or agent to whom I am writing. How do I write a synopsis of plot that follows the Biblical trajectory and yet prove I’ve got something interesting and “different” to say?
So here, The Readership, is what I came up with. What questions do you have about Favored One, having read this? If you have successfully queried a book (or if, by some fortune, you are an agent or editor), what would you suggest to upgrade this query letter further before I start sending it out?
When I read in your submission guidelines that you “are looking for is something artfully written: the way the story is told is as important – if not more so – than the plot itself,” it might be dramatic (and cliché) but probably not an exaggeration to say that my heart leapt. Favored One is my completed manuscript of a novel about Miryam, the mother of Yeshua (more commonly known as Mary and Jesus, respectively).
The story is familiar to many and comes loaded with preconceived ideas both from people who take the Biblical accounts of these two characters seriously, and from those who do not. This fictionalized account follows many of these preconceptions but challenges others. The Bible tells us certain details about the life of Yeshua, but little about his family. What it does tell us indicates that all was not perfect in the home of the Son of God. Favored One imagines how younger siblings reacted to a famous but controversial brother who abandoned the family carpentry business; what Miryam did while her oldest son was gallivanting about the Judean countryside; how she reacted to his choice of friends; what she really thought she meant in the first place when she told the angel who announced her unplanned pregnancy, “I am the servant of Adonai, may it be to me as you have said.” This book seeks to explore what might have been happening behind the scenes among the lesser known followers and detractors of Jesus, as well as what was happening in Miryam’s own mind as she watched her son grow into his role of “Savior.”
Favored One follows the basic trajectory of the Biblical accounts: the announcement of Yeshua’s birth to Miryam as a young woman, his birth, his baptism and ministry, his crucifixion, resurrection and return to his Father in Heaven. The difference in this telling (besides its not being considered Holy Writ—by anybody) is the voice of a mother—beginning as a young girl afraid even to be a mother, maturing to a middle aged woman deploring her son’s choices, and transforming into one of the first female disciples of her own surprising son.
I have a published children’s novel (Trees in the Pavement, Christian Focus Publications 2008) and freelance writing and editing experience. Favored One is my second book.