Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Pat's Day

Tip of the Day: Want to generate that lucky feeling? Pick a number between 1 and 30 as your lucky number. Every month, celebrate your lucky day. Mine’s the 17th and good things always happen to me on the 17th. Just don’t make me prove it with statistics.

This week, we’re celebrating the Luck of the Query. Sure, a good query has nothing to do with luck. It’s all about writing and research: write a killer hook and research your targeted agents and editors. Or is it?

I’ve only queried one novel, my very first novel. When I started writing it, I knew nothing about the market. I had as much chance of explaining the difference between middle grade and young adult as I did of explaining the difference between the governments in two former Soviet Union republics. Plus my story fell in that gray “tween” area. I didn’t know this was a gray area when I wrote my novel, of course.

But I got lucky. I found a fantastic critique partner—Deena, our Miss Recently Repped—at the annual Rochester Teen Book Festival. She introduced me to blogs, websites, Verla Kay’s message board, and the teenlit group on Yahoo. I read interviews with agents and noted who was looking for boy-oriented middle grade/young adult. Now I had some people to send queries to. But how would I ever write a query letter? What the heck was a hook?

I got lucky again with a downtime at work that coincided with a burst of hook contests online. I read hundreds of hooks on Miss Snark’s website and the Fangs, Fur, and Fey community. Eventually I wrote my own hook. Looking at it now, I think it’s too long. But in January of 2007, I sent out my hook in highly personalized query letters. I mentioned it was my first novel, not knowing I “wasn’t supposed to do that.”

I didn’t query widely before I decided to put the book aside. I received a few responses for partials, though, and one request for a full, which encouraged me to no end. The personal comments I got back on the requests were remarkably similar, hinting that I needed to work on the plot. I feel like I have a stronger sense of story now than I did on that novel. I look forward to the day I finish my WIP and worry about querying again.

Did I do things wrong querying the first novel? Definitely. Why did I get requests for partials then? Beginner’s luck?

Maybe. I think it helped that I wrote in each query letter why I sent it to the agent specifically. I found agents interested in what I had written. I think there was an element of luck in that people were looking for boy-centered, humorous stories at the time, which I certainly wouldn’t have known while I was writing the book.

And maybe the next query letter I send out won’t get as many requests as early. But I’ll have the faith in myself to know this is a better novel, one worth querying widely instead of putting aside. Sending out query letters is a scary endeavor. But I learned so much from my first experience and I’ll learn more next time. Eventually, I’ll find out how much of my positive experience was luck and how much was writing the best query I could at the time.

So, what do you think? Does luck exist, or is it superstition passed on through my Irish ancestors? Is writer’s luck an oxymoron? Do we always have to make our own luck?

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer


Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Ah, Kate. Luck does indeed exist...sure as the faeries dance round the Black Thorn tree every night at the hill of Tara.

I absolutely believe in luck, twists of fate, bits of providence and all that jazz. But you gave yourself an insurance policy. You worked for it. You did the research and it paid off...maybe not in an immediately contract, but in constructive criticism and invaluable experience.

Thanks for sharing! and HAPPY SAINT PATRICK'S DAY!!!! (Dog, I miss Ireland today :( )

Emily Marshall said...

Yeah, I definitely do think luck does exist. More with timing and when you send the query then anything. But it can only take you so far and the work has to support it's own weight.

Kate Fall said...

Exactly, Emily! I got lucky with timing and got requests but that only carried so far because the book couldn't support its own weight.

I totally believe in luck and that having good luck all the time is actually bad for you. Although probably not as bad as having bad luck all the time. I've met both kinds of people. Or at least I believe that I have!

Mary Ann, I think I might have to write a story someday about my family experiences called "I Hate St. Patrick's Day." At least you've been to Ireland so you're allowed to miss it. My family pretends to miss it and they've never been there.

DeenaML said...

I definitely agree with the Luck Plus Insurance theory. :) I was lucky that I queried Chris right when she was getting ready to move more into kidlit! But then yes, the book still had to stand on its own.

Kate, both of our plotting skills have quadrupled -- I know you'll do well when you reach the querying point!