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Writing with an Axe: Querying yourself *WEB EXCLUSIVE*

Anna Axelson, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012
Arts & Culture

Ad•jec•tive - noun: A word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.  

Can you imagine trying to avoid the use of adjectives? Yeah, me neither.

Like so many other CCC students, I have taken English Composition (WR-120, WR-121): Technical Report Writing (WR-227).  I’ve also dabbled in other areas, such as food writing (WR-270), creative non-fiction (WR-240) and years ago I delved into in fiction (WR-224) and poetry (WR-242).  Surprisingly, none of that quite prepared me for writing what is known as a query letter.  

The first step to landing the literary agent or publisher of your dreams is the dreaded query letter: consider it a cover letter but instead of making your resume look good, your goal is to make your story look good. Typically less than 500 words and averaging 250 words, it’s your story in a nutshell, jacket cover fodder, the “wow” that makes that interested party say “I have to read this.”  The problem is, how do you compact a story that could top over 100,000 words into a teeny, tiny little block of text?

I’m not good at “to the point.”  I like to ramble, I like words and when you put a keyboard in front of me, I will most assuredly babble with utmost ease.  But what if you couldn’t?  What if the goal was to say something amazingly awesome, without actually saying it?  (Anyone who uses Twitter will understand this plight to an extent – 140 characters is rarely enough room!)

Show, don’t tell – but do it while using with as few adjectives as possible.  Can you describe something without descriptive words?  Perhaps it’s easy for some, but not for me (which is why I’ve never written an article for the news section of this paper thankyouverymuch).  

I just never thought I'd have so much trouble with a synopsis. I just want to get it done and out there so I can stop thinking about it for a while.  The more time I have to stew, the less confident I become with parts of my book.

It's like when I'm shopping. I'll see something I want and carry it all around the store while I look at everything else. By the time I reach the checkout line, I've talked myself out of buying whatever it was for whatever trivial reason I can think of.  

I feel like I'm gotten to this point with my writing on more than one occasion. 

For the sake of a query letter, I am quickly learning that the key to simplicity is to remove all the words you don’t need (as a wordy person, this will forever be an ongoing battle). All the fancy words and pretty scenery should be left for the book, that’s why you wrote it after all. 

An awesome resource I have found in the venture for perfection is the Query Shark.  Written by the talented and informative Janet Reed, literary agent extraordinaire at Fine Print Literary Management, Query Shark is a to the point how-to of the rights and wrongs of query writing using real submissions as bait.  If you have reached the point of writing a query letter, I highly suggest reading each and every of Query Shark's 228 examples of what NOT to do before you give it your first attempt.

While I haven’t taken the class, CCC does offer “Advanced Creative Writing: Editing & Publishing” (WR-246).  As helpful as the power of Google is when it comes to researching this (or any) topic, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself enrolled in this class and some point in the future because I know one way or another, I would be walking away that much more prepared for what may come ahead.

If you would like to comment or start a discussion on any topic, please visit the Print Forum.






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