Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Great Query Critique of a Not-Quite-There Query

So here's what happened:

A month ago I sent out a bunch of query letters for The Water Tower 5, and to date I've had an impressive 1.9% positive response on the thing.  For those of you mathematically-impaired, this is a terrible percentage.  Actually, since precise word choice is important in writing, 1.9% isn't just terrible, it sucks.  Like gold medal in the Olympics level of suck .  How's that for precise?

Logically, I understand that a as 42-year-old adult I should take all rejection in stride and put it into perspective.  I mean, I'm healthy, have a great family, and a great job.  Put simply, I have zero to complain about.  Whining that "I can't get an agent to request my manuscript" is pretty much the epitome of a First World Problem, at least with how my life is.  This doesn't mean, however, that even though I understand this logically, that I've reacted logically.  In fact, with every form rejection that's shown up in my Inbox I've been like:
                                     (Okay, so maybe not like this.  I mean, I have better teeth than that guy, but not by much.)

Eventually, in hopes of sparing my family from my continual irritation, I decided something had to be done.  I mean, I thought my query letter was pretty good - not great, but good enough.  I wondered if maybe: A. the language was too strong, B. the word count was too high, or C. that possibly ending every letter with a menacing, "It certainly wouldn't be too difficult for me to find out where you live" was the problem.  (One of those three choices isn't true.)  I started second-guessing everything about the query letter, the manuscript itself, and even my own writing abilities.  Ultimately, I had to do something before:

(Not like this would help.  I've got it all backed-up on Dropbox, and I can't just destroy all of their servers, right?  Or could I?)

Finally, sanity returned long enough for me to consult with my more rational friends, Kimberly Gabriel (go to her blog, she's fabulous), who pointed me in Matt MacNish's direction.  

Me: "Who's Matt MacNish?"
Kimberly: "He's like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of query letters."
Me: "Cool, but could he beat me up?  Because I can't be friends with any guy who could beat me up."
Kimberly: "Kurt, every guy could beat you up."
Me: "Which explains why I don't have any guy friends."
(This conversation never took place.)

So long (like really long, right?) story short, I went to Matt's blog, and saw what Kimberly was talking about.  Matt does these great query critiques, and I sent him an email asking if he'd give mine a go.  He (wonderfully and awesomely) agreed, and his critique is up today.  Go read it HERE, and then subscribe to his blog because he really is a super nice guy and gives great advice.  (Oh, and his shouting from the mountaintops about Grasshopper Jungle is dead on, too).

Now to start revising!  I'll post a (hopefully) improved query sometime next week.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

True Detective

So I've had a few days to process the conclusion of True Detective, and just as I was about to share my thoughts I read this article and thought, "That's exactly what I was going to say, just not as intelligently."  So without further ado...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Query Letter Madness

Okay, so after weeks of query letter writing, this is what I've decided to go with.  I'm still a bit leery on parts of it - I worry some of the language may turn some people off, but honestly, it's language used in the novel.  However, if the query letter should (in part) represent the novel's tone, then this does it pretty well.  Like my friend John mentioned, this is a tough book to summarize quickly because I don't have the space to mention the friendships that form and learning how your perceptions of people are usually wrong.  Still, the letter covers the basics - The Breakfast Club fused with Oceans 11 - so I'm happy with that.  Thanks to John, Kimberly, and my wife for their thoughts throughout, and Pat for her grammatical wizardry.  Fingers crossed.
Dear ______,
Sophomore Max Lewis is living in a world of suck:  he’s considered a nobody for quitting the lacrosse team, he’s just pissed off a tyrant - err - vice principal, and now he’s been humiliated in the latest epic prank by the mysterious Chaos Club.
And that’s just his first day of school.
Angry, embarrassed, and tired of being victimized, Max recruits four other misfits to form The Water Tower 5.  Their goal?  Destroy the Chaos Club.  But how do you wipe out an organization with an anonymous membership capable of trapping cows on the school roof and assembling stolen desks into a giant phallus on the football field?  Easy, by relying on what Max does best – scheming, scamming, and swindling.
Well, maybe not that easy.
The Water Tower 5 lures the Chaos Club into the open by framing them for a series of pranks involving precision vomiting and indecent pictures of the school mascot.  Unfortunately, they also succeed in attracting the attention of the school’s administration and security team.  And it’s not like the Chaos Club is going to let a bunch of underclassmen take them down without a fight.  Soon, Max finds himself arrested, suspended, and even worse, dealing with an angry girlfriend.  With summer only days away, can Max devise a caper ingenious enough to clear his name and expose the Chaos Club?  (Hint: It’s possible, but he’s going to need a hell of a lot of weather balloons to pull it off.)
THE WATER TOWER 5 is a contemporary YA novel (94,000 words) fusing the offbeat relationships of The Breakfast Club with the capers and cons of Ocean’s 11.  It is the first in a planned series, but also works as a standalone.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Kurt Dinan

Friday, March 7, 2014

Our Greatest Living Writing Rock Star? That's easy.

In preparing for a class I'm teaching this trimester - Best Sellers - I re-ran across this fantastic video of Neil Gaiman espousing the importance of libraries and reading.  As I watched it again, I could help but think what a rock star Gaiman is as a writer.  Not in the I-demand-you-don't-look-me-in-the-eye-and-that-you-bring-me-only-water-bottled-by-a-virgin type of rock star, but more in the larger-than-life, just-radiating-awesomeness type of rock star.  Sometimes when I  get down about my writing, I play "Would it be nice if ______ lived next door?" where I think of who would I want to talk to about writing that would help my attitude and confidence.  The more I think about it, Gaiman is that person.  Hell, he's probably the person I'd want next door not just for writer-ly advice, but to borrow sugar from or a black trench coach should I need one.
Here's the video of Gaiman address about libraries:
But maybe if you really want to see what I'm talking about with the whole rock star thing, you should watch this - his address to the gradates of The University of the Arts.  This is in my top ten inspirational pieces ever.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Water Tower 5 Update

So remember when I said I was ready to send out query letters and whatnot?  Well, I jumped the gun a little bit.  I've spend the last three weeks revising and tweaking the novel, focusing a good bit on the opening chapters.  It's close - darn close - and in another few days I'll be ready to really start the querying process for which I'm excited.