Blast from the Past #3: My Querying

This blog post originally appeared on Dec. 17th, 2007:

Black Hole

My early queries had roughly the same gravitational suckage force as this space anomaly.

The following is a query I sent before getting help from Kristin Nelson. It’s a bit painful for me to post this, because it sucks like a black hole, but sometimes we learn from mistakes and it’s more fun to learn from other people’s mistakes than from our own, unless of course, we’re learning what a mistake it is to eat deep-fried brownie sundaes off the naked bodies of beautiful people, which is a mistake I probably wouldn’t mind making if the ice cream was vegan:

Dear Ms. {Agent},

As a big fan of Jonathan Safran Foer and Colson Whitehead, I am hopeful my completed literary novel, The Merchant’s Son, will be a good fit with your agency. I am including the first five pages below.

When Caleb Cross’s best friend returns from adventuring in South America, he brings Caleb an old book as a souvenir. Caleb fails to notice the book is cursed. A few months later, Caleb’s friend walks into a Mega-Mart in a suit of armor, slices apart an Olsen Twins Make-Up Kit display and gets shot in the helm for his troubles. Caleb blames himself. He drives into a line of parked cars. As Caleb is being busted out of the hospital by a silver-haired stalker who claims to be Caleb’s real father and who has been anonymously mailing Caleb tarot cards, the cursed book starts chatting.

This is, of course, all part of an elaborate plan by Caleb’s interfering mother to help him learn to see the world as it truly is.

The Merchant’s Son is a tragic story about the stories we tell ourselves and the identities that imprison us. It’s about sacrifice and atonement, the troubles of the world, prophecy, and open rebellion.

—–

Alright, so it’s not the worst travesty of querying ever committed, but it certainly didn’t get me an invitation to submit.

Then Kristin helped, pointing out, among other things, that if you’re trying to sell a somewhat funny book, you should try to be at least a little bit funny in the query.

This next letter is the one that eventually got me my agent (and a close cousin of this letter got a request for the full manuscript after I’d already signed with my agent–yes, it sometimes takes 6 months to hear back when you query):

Dear Stalwart Query Reader at Levine Greenberg,

Given your agency’s representation of Lawrence Douglas and Gayle Brandeis, I am hopeful you will enjoy my novel, The Merchant’s Son. The novel, which is just over 100,000 words, should appeal to fans of Christopher Moore, Dave Eggers, and Jonathan Safran Foer.

In an effort to cure his normally cheerful best friend of a troublesome spot of depression, Caleb Cross gets said friend shot in the head. Caleb must now cure his best friend of a coma. If only his interfering mother, ex-CIA-agent-turned-Shaman-of-the-Sacred-Owl-Tribe father, biblical nymphomaniac mentor, and Amazon-witch-queen-wannabe girlfriend would stay out of his way, he might succeed. Of course, that’s all assuming he survives the murderous plots of a talking book with a homicidal streak and a love of irony. The Merchant’s Son is about friendship and the search for God, virtual romance and Shakespearean porn, the need for revolution against corporatocracy and the consequences of tearing up a Mega-Mart with a broadsword. Well, it’s like that anyway, but funny.

—–

As I’ll describe in an entry later this week, a few months and several rejections happened before I actually got my first yes, so I revamped the letter once more. This last query (like the others) isn’t brilliant, but it did get me a couple of requests for partials (both of which led to requests for the full thing, and both of which I had to withdraw when I signed with my agent).

Dear Ms. {Agent},

I hope you’ll be interested in my humorous literary novel, “The Merchant’s Son.” Complete at 100,000 words, my novel should appeal to fans of Christopher Moore, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Jorge Luis Borges.

A cursed, talking book might very well be trying to kill Caleb Cross. At the same time, the love of Caleb’s life has decided she finally wants to commit to him. Unfortunately, she’s only ready to settle down in a virtual world, and only with someone she thinks is a wealthy and athletic globetrotting stockbroker from New York City. Caleb is not wealthy. He does not globetrot. Rather, he lives in a ramshackle one-bedroom in Denver and struggles constantly to overcome his costly addiction to starting non-profit organizations. When Caleb’s normally effervescent best friend, Bigger Falkirk, returns from a South American adventure with a spot of the blues, Caleb decides the one thing he can do right in his life is to help his friend get his groove back. Soon enough, Caleb gets Bigger shot in the head. Caleb must now cure his buddy of a coma, assuming the talking book and Caleb’s virtual lies don’t catch up to him first.

I live in Colorado with my wife and daughter. I first published poetry in small literary magazines when I was 12 and then decided to take a short cut to literary superstardom and write a novel. Eighteen years and eighteen thousand attempts later, I’m beginning to suspect this wasn’t the shortest of short-cuts. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy.

P.S. If you’d like a brief sample of the writing, please read on:

—-

Anyway…I hope that all this shows you don’t have to write a perfect, shining query to get an agent. You merely have to write something that piques their interest. And keep sending until you find one kind enough to request your stuff. Later this week, I’ll describe in more detail how my query process went.

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