Sunday, January 14, 2007

QUERY. QUERY. WHO'S GOT THE QUERY?

9 am and 73 degrees.
My good friend and author HOLLY KENNEDY has graciously placed her query letter that got her representation on her blog, and I thought I would do the same. I think it is interesting to see the difference between snail mail, versus email (Holly's was snail mail and mine was email). I also show the original 5 pages which were pasted at the bottom of the e-query. If you notice, I set it up pretty much like a business letter even though it was sent electronically -- This was so I could print it out and know who I sent it to, and have addresses there just in case an agent wanted a full or partial sent snail mail. Everything is together and easy to find.
After it was sent, I copied the whole email and placed in a file under LOTTERY marked SENT. I made files inside marked: PARTIAL, FULL, and REJECTIONS, then moved the queries from one to another after each response so I had a record.
When my website goes live and you read the excerpt of LOTTERY placed there, I believe it will be of interest for you to see how the final version has changed from the original. For example: The word count is now 85,000. The date my character wins the lottery shifts. The amount of his lottery win increases. His name is changed from Jerry to Perry. His age lowers so that in the beginning of the story he is 31 and it ends when he is 32. Additionally there are the edits I have done for my editor. It has been fascinating so far.
For your interest, I am also including dates, times, and Dorian's initial response below.

*****************
DATE: 11:15 a.m. June 23, 2006
FROM
(My name address phone and email)
TO
Dorian Karchmar
William Morris Agency
1325 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019

Dear Dorian Karchmar,

I understand you are interested unusual fiction. I would like to show you my novel LOTTERY. The first five pages are included below. My book could be described as "Forrest Gump" wins Power Ball, however it differs in the respect that it is written in the realistic voice of a cognitively challenged man and could be considered a parable of our times.

What would you do if you won the lottery?
Gram would go to Hawaii. Keith would go to Mexico. Jerry would go to Pennsylvania and tour the Hershey Candy Factory.
"I am not retarded. To be retarded your IQ number must be lower than 75. Mine is 76.” Jerry L. Crandall is lucky. Gram says so.
He has two good eyes, is honest as the day is long, and has two brothers, one an attorney, the other an MBA. But Jerry calls his mother Cynthia, his siblings cousin-brother, and has lived with his grandmother since he was a baby.
At thirty-six, he has worked for Holsted's Marine Supply for twenty years.
On November 10, his life and the lives of his family will change forever when Jerry wins four million dollars in the Washington State Lottery.
No one will ever look at Jerry quite the same way again.

I had the pleasure of working with Jacqueline Mitchard at the Maui Writers Retreat and we have maintained a regular email correspondence. When I told her the premise of my latest novel she asked to see the synopsis and first chapter. After reading it, she strongly suggested I obtain representation. I've additionally been fortunate to have Paul Theroux as a mentor (he spends his winters here in Hawaii). He is quite enthusiastic about this project, and also recommended I actively seek representation after reading the second draft of my book.

I am currently working on my PhD in education at the University of Hawaii. My cognate (minor) focuses on disability and diversity. I am committed to my writing career and have other novels completed. LOTTERY is commercial fiction and is complete at 72,000 words. I would be honored to send you the manuscript and look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely and Aloha,


LOTTERY

Prologue

My name is Jerry L. Crandall. I am not retarded. You have to have an IQ number less than 75 to be retarded. I read that in Reader’s Digest. I am not. Mine is 76. Gram always told me the L stood for Lucky.
"Mister Jerry Lucky Crandall quicher bellyaching!" She would scold. "You got two good eyes, two good legs, and you're honest as the day is long." She always called me lucky and honest. Being honest means you don't know any better.
My cousin-brother John calls me lucky too, but he always snickers hard after he says it.
"You sure are a lucky bastard. No high-pressure job, no mortgage, no worries. Yeah, you’re lucky all right." Then he looks at his wife and laughs harder. They are lawyers.
John told me lawyers get people out of trouble. Gram said lawyers get people into trouble. She ought to know. It was a lawyer that gave her the crappy advice on what to do about Gramp's business after he died.
"I never should have listened to him. Should have waited. Look at John. Look at that guy he defended. That stock crap. That accountant. You can’t tell me he didn’t get a little payola on the side." Her gray hair would come out of her bun like it was mad too.
I am thirty-six years old and I am not retarded.
"You have two good ears, Jerry. Two! Count ‘em!" Gram would hold my chin and cheeks between her fingers so tight my lips would feel like a fish. She stopped doing that because of the evil arthritis. Arthritis is when you have to eat Aleve or Bayer and rub Ben Gay.
"You're lucky." She said. "No evil arthritis for you. You’re a lucky, lucky boy."
I am lucky. I know this because I am not retarded. I know this because I have two good arms. And I know this because I won four million dollars in the Washington State Lottery.

Chapter 1


I write things down so I do not forget. From the beginning. From before the beginning. Writing helps me remember. It helps me think and that is a good thing. I am slow, that is what my teacher Miss Elk said.
"Just a bit slow, Jerry." The other kids had different names.
“Moron! Idiot! Retard!” They cried with tongues and fingers pointing. But Miss Elk told them to be nice. She said I was not any of those things.
Gram said other people are just too fast. She told me to write things down in a notebook.
"I'm not slow, I'm old. I have to write things down," she said. "People treat you the same way when you're old as when you're slow." Gram had me do a word a day in the dictionary since I was seven.
"A word Jerry. That’s the God damned key. One word at a time." God damned is an adjective. It can also be a noun like, "I'll be God damned!" Gram will be reading something in the newspaper and it will just come out all by itself. Out of the blue. "God damn." Or sometimes "GOD damned." Or even, "God DAMNED." At eleven, I was on page eight of our dictionary.
"Active. Change, taking part." It is a struggle for me to read.
"Sound it out Jer." Gram chews the inside of her lip when she concentrates.
"Squiggle vooollll...caaaa...nooo..." It takes me a long time to figure out that word.
"Squiggle means related to. Remember Mount Saint Helens?" Gram has a good memory for an old person and knows everything. On May 18, Mount St. Helens blew up. Six days after my birthday. We had ashes from breakfast to Sunday, Gram said. They were a fine gray sand that got inside my mouth when I went outside, just like the stuff Doctor Reddy used when he cleaned my teeth.
"What’s breakfast to Sunday?" I asked.
"Don’t be smart." Gram always cautioned me about being smart.
I was still in the A's. Gram and I sat down and added it up. Our dictionary has 75,000 words and 852 pages. If I did one word a day, it would take me 205 years to finish. At three words, it would take 51 years. If I did five words, it would take 12 years and six months to get through the whole book. I wrote this all down. It is true because calculators do not lie and we used a calculator. Gram said we needed to re-think. Re-think means that you made a mistake and have to change your mind. You don't want to say you were wrong so you re-think.
"Pick up the pace Jer. We have to pick up the pace." Gram clapped her hands together to get my attention and make sure I was listening. I remember I was on the word auditor. An auditor is a listener. It says so in the dictionary. I decided right then to be an auditor. A listener. I remember this.
We picked up the pace and by the time I turned thirty-five, I was on page 337. Gram was right. That day my words were herd, herder, herdsman, here, here, hereabouts and hereafter. Hereafter means future.
"You have to think of your future!" Gram warns about the future each time I deposit my check in the bank. Half in checking and half in savings. For my future. It is very important to think of your future because at some point it becomes your past.
My best friend Keith agrees with everything Gram says.
"That L. It sure does stand for Lucky." Keith drinks beer wrapped in a brown paper sack. He works with Manuel, Gary, and me at Holsted's Marine Supply. I have worked for Gary Holsted since I was sixteen years old.
Keith is older and fatter than me. I do not call him fat because that would not be nice. He cannot help being older. I can always tell how old people are by the songs they like. For example, Gary and Keith like the Beatles so they are both older than me. Gram likes songs you never hear anymore like Crazy For You by Patsy Cline and Always by somebody who is dead. If the songs you like are all by dead people then you are really old.
I like every kind of music. Keith does not. He goes crazy when Manuel messes with the radio at work.
“Who put this rap crap on? Too much static! The reception is shit! Keep it on oldies but goodies.” Keith has to change it back with foil and a screwdriver because of the reception. Static is when somebody else plays music you do not like and you change it because of reception.
Before Holsted's, I learned reading, writing, and math from Gram and boat stuff from Gramp. After he died, I had to go to work. I remember everything Gramp showed me about boats and sailing. Our family used to own the boatyard next to Holsted's.
"It's a complicated situation." When Gram says this, her eyes get all hard and dark like olive pits, or like when you try to look through that tiny hole in the door at night. That is not a very smart thing to do because it is dark at that time and you cannot see very well.
Just before he died, Gramp took out a loan for a hoist for the yard. A loan is when someone gives you money then takes collateral and advantage. After that, you drop dead of a stroke by the hand of God. A hoist lifts boats up in the air and costs as much as a boat yard.
That's what the bank said.
*********************

FIVE MINUTES LATER...
***********************
FROM: Dorian Karchmar
To: ME
DATE: 11:20 a.m. June 23, 2006

I'd like to see this. Feel free to send via email. I would appreciate an
exclusive read on it for 3 weeks. If that is not possible, just keep me
in the loop if other agent interest arises. I'll be out of town until
July 5th, but will look forward to reading upon my return.

Best, Dorian

**********************
I will ask Holly to talk about the road to representation and I will do the same.
Stay posted.
Ask any questions you want about the querying process.
Does seeing these letters help you clarify what an agent is looking for?
What else would you like to know?
Just ask.

22 comments:

Holly Kennedy said...

This is a great example of how BOTH processes can work -- email queries vs. snail mail queries. The point is to concoct a compelling query and have the product to back it up! Cheers, Pat.

Zany Mom said...

Silly question -- why does Jerry/Perry's age matter? Why does the date he wins it matter? Why does the amount matter? Why does his name matter?

As an obvious total newbie and certainly one who has never had a manuscript in the hands of an actual editor, how does changing these things really change the story.

Curious as to how the process works!

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thank you for posting this. I like your prose.

I currently have a novel proposal drifting around from agent to agent. I think I may rethink this approach. I thought it might be more effective foregoing the query and just sending the proposal.

Good luck with your work.

millhousethecat said...

I just found your blog and have been reading daily. I find your information fabulous and helpful.

Just yesterday I was thinking, "I wish instead of all of those annoying 'sample' query letters I find online, I could read an actual, real live letter that did what it needed to do for an author."

And here it is!

Thanks. It is super helpful.

Not only that, your book sounds exactly like the kind of fiction I read (Ever read the amazing Curious Incident of the Dog in Night Time?). I look forward to being a paying customer.

ORION said...

Zany mom-
Great questions. My agent thought Perry should be younger to be a bit more appealing and to fit in with what happens later in the book.Most readers thought 4 million too little to make an impact (interesting yeah?) The name was too close to my brother in law's name and even though there was no intended relationship my editor thought it best just to change it and make it clear Perry in no way is supposed to be a real person. The other things were all subtle changes that make for a bigger impact with the story.
As a writer you have to be flexible and open to changes that make your book better and enhance the story.

Amy MacKinnon said...

Pat, when I first read this deal on Pub Marketplace, I couldn't wait to read Lottery. Now that I've read the first few pages, I'm really intrigued. What a great voice Perry has! Is it all told from his POV or do you alternate?

Great query, too, obviously. I'm one of the few writers who actually enjoys writing queries. Does that make me odd?

ORION said...

I stay totally first person in his POV

Zany Mom said...

Oh, I wasn't complaining that there had to be changes. To me, as a reader, these particular changes seemed very minor, so I wondered why they'd matter. Not that I'm opposed to changing things to make them more marketable, not at all.

Yeah, 4 million dollars would make a lot of my obscure relatives come out of the woodwork, for sure. I do see how 12 (or 22 million) would really up the ante.

One year younger really makes a difference? Interesting!

This is such a cool process. Thanks for sharing!

Back to ghost stories and basements...LOL

LadyBronco said...

Pat;

Oh wow! I am hooked. This type of book is not something I would normally pick up, but I love the POV! I think it makes a huge impact.

"Just before he died, Gramp took out a loan for a hoist for the yard. A loan is when someone gives you money then takes collateral and advantage. After that, you drop dead of a stroke by the hand of God. A hoist lifts boats up in the air and costs as much as a boat yard.
That's what the bank said."

That last part was great.

Heidi the Hick said...

WOW!

FIVE MINUTES LATER you had a reply!

Hmm. Maybe I should be emailing instead of snail mailing.

Okay, I'm off to re-examine my query letter! Thank you very much for showing this- it's very helpful. And inspiring!

canwag said...

Love it, Pat - I can't wait to read the whole thing. I think I can see a studio buying the rights to this. Maybe someday we'll get to watch you on the Academy Awards! (But then again, it never seems like the writer gets enough credit.)

Kanani said...

Thank you for sharing that!

I love the main character and the plot. And WOW... Paul Theroux? JACKPOT, BABY! That's better than watching Jack Bauer deliver a vampire bite! ;0)

Kiskadee said...

Pat.. how many agents did you send this to? How many asked for more, how many, if any, rejected?
You mentiomd a high humber of rejections elsewhere, but I believe this is for ALL of your novels?

Anonymous said...

Very Good query letter! I'd take it in a heartbeat!!

Sam

Sleepless Writer said...

This is amazing, you're such an inspiration! Thanks for sharing, you have me motivated to just DO IT!

What a great story you have going for yourself.

ORION said...

kiskadee (aruna)
Oh gosh I must have sent LOTTERY to maybe 15 agents, certainly not more than 20 because my first query for this was to Dan L at writers house on May 30 and I stopped querying on June 23 letting the dust settle (as I had several fulls out) and accepted Dorian's offer of representation on July 20.
so 15 out, 4-5 requests for fulls (I am guessing here so I don't have to go back and dig in my file but I think this is very close) No answer maybe 5 and rejections another 5?
That sounds about right - a third- a third - a third.
Which was (to me) stunningly effective.

Kiskadee said...

I was just looking through my own query history today and guess what?
I queried Dan Lazar on May 30th - same day as you! And got a request for a full.

WMA and Writers House were my first choices and I had requests for fulls from both of them in my first batch (not Dorian).
Then rejections from both, but with helpful feedback which I used for a revision.

Guess who my next WMA agent query went to - Dorian!

But she never replied. AFter a few weeks (I was sending them out singly by this time) I queried the London WMA ageent, and got a partial request. At the same time, I got a request from Emily at WH.
She took me on about a week later.

So there are many parallels in our query history I especially like the one about Dan!

L.C.McCabe said...

Patricia,
(Or do you prefer Pat?)

Thank you for sharing. I have queried agents in the past for two different nonfiction proposals I had been working on, but had not been successful in getting representation. Now that I've changed my focus to fiction it is another skill set entirely to master. I'm grateful to see examples of what has worked for others to learn from.

BTW, in response to the question you left on my blog: being a guest on talk radio rather than just being a caller is a whole different ball of wax. I realized yesterday as I was writing my post that it would be far too long if I tried to cover those bases as well.

Linda

P.S. In your bio I saw that you were a Med Tech. That's still my paying job, although in California our profession is referred to as Clinical Laboratory Scientists. I don't know if it helps the average layman understand what I do any better by giving a different title.

writtenwyrdd said...

This is an example of lovely writing, too. Thanks for sharing.

Timothy Trimble said...

Thanks for the great post! It's very helpful to see what has worked for others. I'm a published non-fiction author and getting an agent was way too easy. The publisher asked me to write a book. I told them I'd get right back to them, then I contacted the best non-fiction computer agent in the field.

I know I'll pay the price when it comes time to find an agent and publisher for my fiction novel. I wish you much success with the book. I'll try to come by for the signing in Seattle.

Tim
www.timothytrimble.info

Prince Valiant said...

72,000 words translated to 336 pages? Did revision add some pages before publication? I would have thought 72,000 words would give you less than 300 pages, typically. Or am I just full of crap?

Harshita Kale said...

Hi! I just finished reading Lottery and I had a few queries. Would be grateful if anybody cleared them up for me!
She pushes.
"It's the opposite of what you think it is", Cherry says. "Not like a car. It's the opposite."
She tries again. "Like a lot of things", she tells me. "Like money. Like love. The opposite of what you think."
Could anybody be so kind as to explain what the above sentence suggest?