Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Welcome to The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment.

Hello and welcome to the Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment.

My name is Matthew MacNish. I am a novice writer who has completed his first novel and decided to share my querying experience with other amateur novelists so that we can share a little of the pain together and then perhaps some green but talented wordsmith in the misty future will learn something from my experiences - even if I never end up getting published.

I realize that the name of this blog is silly, possibly even irritating; but I find a certain parallel between it and the tormenting, hair-pullingly maddening process of writing polished professional query letters to strangers that are supposed to "pitch" what is essentially my heart and soul to them in a page or less. I spent a year writing the thing and after 475,000 words in the first draft (yes that word count is correct) I felt somehow drained and ecstatic at the same time. As of this post still not one agent has read my full manuscript. It wasn't until my first personalized rejection that I realized writing the story is the easy part.

It is hateful, tedious, spirit-rending work that I considered either beneath me or beyond me for a long time. I'm a writer, for god's sake, an artist even, hopefully ... not a secretary, an attorney or a salesmen (successful query writing seems to require a bit of each profession's skill set). On the other hand I have found that with a lot of research and feedback, prior to clicking send if possible, the whole process can be much simpler and more effective, though still painful at times - kind of like getting a booster shot rather than having a wart removed.

The way that this is going to work is that I plan to send 100 queries to 100 separate agents by the end of this year. I realize and admit it's a bit of a rip off of Julie and Julia (except for writers not foodies) but my hope is that this might somehow help others avoid the mistakes I've made and therefore hopefully be more meaningful, though probably far less entertaining. Agent's personal info will be redacted from posts. If you do happen to figure out who an agent is that rejected me, form or otherwise, please do not go after them on my behalf (you will have enough fire for vengeance burning in your belly over your own submission processes, trust me).

Then, while we all wait breathlessly for responses I hope that this will be a forum for suggestions, questions, rants, and other general sharing by writers. I intend the blog to be mainly a meeting place for amateur, unpublished authors, but if a published writer or - god forbid - an agent wishes to grace us with their presence, all the better. Please let's work together to make this a knowledge base that furthers all our efforts toward becoming professional writers and achieving our dreams and not sink to disparaging anyone in the publishing world - though a certain degree of expression of anguish is to be expected.

This blog is about the query process - not my novel. If anyone absolutely has to read it please let me know and I will consider it. Of course any agents who by some miracle find this clumsy journal are welcome to express interest. If I do manage to somehow obtain representation by year's end I will certainly keep the blog going; albeit based more more closely on the specifics of success than the woes of submission/query purgatory.

I will make a few brief points about the book because querying is clearly specific - not only to the genre but even to the project.

- I consider my book to be upper YA - but I'm a novice so what do I know. The protagonist is a 15 year old boy at the beginning but some of the themes are pretty mature so I'm not sure what that will mean in the long run. I hope boys 14-17 will love it, but the thing that matters is whether they will buy it.

- 475,000 words is about three times too long for a debut novel these days it seems. Apparently about four times too long for YA. The fact that it incorporates fantasy seems to give me a little room, but not this much.

- After learning about these word count restrictions (suggestions) through some of the positive agent feedback I have gotten, I have managed to cut it to 350,000 and it still makes sense! I am still editing for length and have a ways to go but have come to accept that it may require a split into two novels before anyone will publish it.

- Speaking of word count this really frustrates me because the books I love are all nearly as long as my first draft or even longer. By the way I use the exact MS word word count not the convoluted 250 words per page formula. You may have to use the formula when communicating with professionals but to me the REAL length (as far as ability to draw the reader in and maintain their focus without fatigue) is far more important than the cost of manufacturing the actual pages. To publishing professionals the opposite will be true - mostly - so be prepared. Still, the restriction on debut novel length does make some sense, however frustrating. Why would the publisher want to spend any more than necessary to produce a product before they have some indication of how successful it will be?

So welcome to The QQQE. Hopefully we can all find some level of catharsis together.


Henya said... title for your blog.

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks Henya.

JE said...

This cracks me up - I love it. Hopefully you'll do well (but I'm very concerned about your word count). I'm totally following!


Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks again Justine, and I agree. I had never written anything since High School and the words just came pouring out when I first decided to write this novel. I wrote about 5 pages a day for 6 months and when I was done it was less than a 100,000 words short of War and Peace. Of course I figured my writing was amazing so I went ahead and began querying after the first revision (which was mostly just corrections and clarification, not much cutting).

Eventually I learned a lot more about getting published and realized it was ridiculous to expect to get something that long published, especially as a debut. So I cut and cut. Now it is down to about 310k and I am still working. The problem is that I got promoted at work and now have about half the time I did while writing it. Janet Reid (Query Shark) said in one post that 200,000 is the absolute upper limit so I am going to try very hard to get down to that and if I can't I will try to re-write in such a way that it can be cut in half.

I've already made a lot of progress with the novel and the queries but I wanted to start at the beginning with the blog, so we're basically jumping back in time almost a year here.

As you can see I'm pretty long winded when I write, so it has been hard, but I will not give up. Thanks so much for visiting and finding interest.

Unknown said...

310k words? Holy Moly, Batman! I see you considered cutting into two novels, and it seems like you could actually make a trilogy of it. Isn't there some place around 100k that you can end the first book with some kind of resolution, but still leave it open for the next part?

Anyway, wish you the best of luck with it.

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks Mary, sound advice, and I'm considering it but I've been cutting extensively for the last month or two and am still making progress so I'm going to see how far (or near) that can take me before I do anything else.

Thanks for the comment and follow!

Kay said...

Hey! Great experiment! :-) I'm eager to see what will happen.

Question...instead of editing your story down, why don't you just break the book into 2 books? Maybe even 3?

Can't wait to read more on your query experiment. Drop me a blog and keep me posted on the latest!!!


Matthew MacNish said...

Good question Kay, and I certainly have considered it. The problem is that the intro/rising action/conclusion only really fit with the single novel set up. Mostly there is just too much back story and too many descriptive passages.

I could write a minor conclusion into the middle and split into two, but three would not work. I may end up doing this in the long wrong but I want to see how short I can make it without destroying the integrity of the story first.

It's funny though. Before researching publishing and all of that I was really proud of myself for writing something so long and detailed. I still love the original version but I am at peace with the fact that if I want to get published I will have to play by the rules.

Kirsten Lesko said...

Hi Matthew - I just found your blog on AW & look forward to following along. I'm gearing up for the query process myself and think it will be fun to get this sneak peek at what I'm in for.

I think it's a great idea for a blog - much more interesting to me than recipes!

Matthew MacNish said...

Hi Kirsten, thanks for stopping by. If by AW you mean The Alchemy of Writing, Ink's Blog, then great! I love his posts and especially his moderation over at NB's forums.

Anyway welcome and thanks for the compliments. Hopefully my query woes will inspire you to be more well prepared than I was when I started out.

Shannon said...

Hi Matthew,

I stumbled across your blog from Nathan's forums. Thank you so much for putting this out here. Keep up the great work!

Regan Leigh said...

Did I mention 475k blew me away. Really? That's for one novel?! My first (the one I will query soon) was 175k and I've worked like crazy to get it to 100k! (Still not quite there.)

Anyway, good luck and thanks for stopping by my blog! :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Hi Shannon, thanks for stopping by, please come back anytime!

Regan, yes you read that right and yes I am aware that 475k is massive. Hell I think WAR AND PEACE is only about 550k. I have already cut to 300k and am still working on it.

It's kind of funny, word count. Before I started querying and learning about the publishing business I always thought higher word count was better, I mean I enjoy reading longer books so I figured I had to write one. Now I wished I had done some more research first, it would have saved me some time writing the thing.

Oh well, live and learn.

angelarene said...

Hi Matthew!! Great blog! I found you on NB's forum. Good luck with all the editing you have before you and I think Kay has the right idea of breaking it up into 2 books

I'll keep checking back :)