Tuesday, March 3, 2015

24 Query Letters And Counting

As many of you might know, my current #1 goal in life (other than to get the girl, because that's the goal of many a lonely geekboy other than myself) is to get my first full-length novel, Red Rain, published. Perhaps the one thing that really pushed me to do so was the release of this here real-life book.

His first book in three years, and half of it
was presented as written by someone else.

The main character in Afterworlds, one Darcy Patel, manages to get an agent to pick up her novel after only one query letter. Bear in mind that Darcy is a teenager, and that her book is a little on the short side at sixty thousand words, and that she wrote it all in only one month. (By comparison, I'm 21, Red Rain is slightly under eighty thousand words, and I completed my first draft in four months.) According to this article, the ideal novel length is 80-100K words, and "anything less than 70,000 or over 110,000 might make publishers think twice before selling it." I'm guessing either Darcy didn't read this article, or her agent (and, later on down the line, her publisher) is an exception to the implied rule. But, of course, that's not the point of the novel. The real point is that while Darcy's story was good enough to attract an agent almost immediately, it's actually still quite the work in progress, and the bulk of the story involves Darcy not only being forced to seriously edit her novel, but also consider a sequel. She gets lucky at first, only for that luck to backfire when she's (metaphorically) thrown into the deep end.

Me, I'm nowhere near as lucky. I sent my first query letter for Red Rain almost three months ago, right after the end of my fall semester. I received my first rejection (from the same agent) before my spring semester began six weeks later. Up till now, I've sent a grand total of 24 query letters. Most of these have been rejected, whether through a fairly standard form letter (which is bereft of any information other than some variation on "I'm sorry, but this project just isn't right for me at this time") or outright failure to respond. It's hard to say which is more maddeningly unhelpful. Even more maddening - the timing of any and all responses I do get is erratic as hell. Around the end of January and the start of February, I was sending letters daily, and getting rejected daily too. In some cases, the rejections came within less than two hours. But in the last month or so, I've gotten almost no news - which is most certainly not good news, I don't think. I had only one agent respond to me after the first week of February. I don't know about you, but I really hate waiting like this.

Tell me about it, Not-Moose.

I'm pretty sure I'm part of the problem too. In at least three cases, I've made serious mistakes in my query letters, which I'm sure have torpedoed my chances with those agents before they even began. Today, for instance, I sent a huge batch of query letters. Unfortunately, due to real-world events interfering with my concentration (namely, a U-verse technician screwing with my internet and replacing all the cable box remotes in the house, forcing me to painstakingly program one to control my ancient TV-VCR combo)...

God bless my sixteen-year-old idiot box, though.
It's the last non-flat screen in the house.
...I ended up completely forgetting to paste in the first five pages of the Red Rain manuscript to one of those queries. Which now makes me look like a fool to that Mr. Agent Man to whom I sent said letter.

Facepalm away, Potter Puppet. I know that feel, bro.

There's also the fact that my book is full of all the sorts of things that my parents say are the reason why I alienated all my old high-school friends and classmates. Chief among them: weird and/or black humor, excessive pop-culture references, Maroon 5 hate, Katy Perry hate, quirky characters, love of Marvel in general and Spider-Man in particular, and did I mention excessive pop-culture references? I'm sometimes told to avoid those because they might make my book dated. Or, if they're like my mom, they find my ability to quote movies and TV shows on command - usually in a good-to-awesome impression of the original character, too - insufferable and pretentious.

I'm gonna bastardize Ichabod Crane here:
Stow thy smug mug, unholy minion.
And the granddaddy of all the potential reasons why my story isn't getting picked up is this - the fact that I'm publishing it on Wattpad. Granted, the version I have on Wattpad is the second draft, and the version I intend to publish is the fourth (it would have been the third, but thanks to extra feedback from a user of Amazon's Write On site, it no longer is the third.) But there's a party line going around that anyone who publishes on Wattpad is almost certainly not gonna get their book published for real. Of course, tell that to Taran Matharu.

Now on my Goodreads "to-read" list.

Then again, though, Matharu was a pretty instant success. My story, though, not so much. While it's been in the top 1000 for Teen Fiction on and off in the eleven months since I first joined Wattpad, Red Rain is still just shy of fifty thousand reads - half of which are on the first chapter alone. My guess is that while a number of people find Red Rain and try it out, the vast majority don't want to stick around. I do get a lot of people adding it to their reading lists every day, and I try to make sure I drop a note on their message boards thanking them for doing so. (If I don't, I hereby apologize.)

So...why am I such a Wattpad underachiever? Could it be that my geekiness shining through in every word of the story is repelling potential readers? Perhaps - even though that same geekiness is certainly helping attract fans to my Spider-Man-centric Marvel fanfic, Deadpool Syndrome. Could it be that they go in thinking it's going to be something it's not? I know at least one Wattpadder has mistakenly filed Red Rain under their reading list of vampire stories - which required me to kindly correct them. Same with the Wattpadder who was somehow under the impression it was a 1D fanfic.

Speaking of highly popular sections of Wattpad, there's another one that gets a hell of a lot of attention: boyxboy romance. It seems that attaching that tag to your story (along with "LGBT" or "#taygetsthegay") will really pull in a lot of readers. In Red Rain, protagonist Alex Snow is straight, but his twin brother Gabe is gay. I could potentially put an LGBT tag on my story, and it wouldn't exactly be false advertising. But I don't. (Yeah, I think I may be answering one of my earlier questions right here.) The reason for this is because while it is important to the story that Gabe Snow prefers other boys, it's not his primary trait as a character. I'm also gonna direct your attention to another novel that I shall use as a justification for my decision not to play up Gabe's sexuality.

Also recommended by Marie Lu. :)

I went into this one blindly, attracted only by the dust-jacket blurb. The main character of London's story, Syd, is openly gay, and when that's revealed about thirty pages in, I was very much surprised. And I felt very bad for him too, because it was only revealed when another boy called him a strange futuristic slur, and the narrative had to pause for a moment to explain what "Chapter 11" meant in this 'verse. Because of this story, when I decided that Gabe was gay as well, I also decided to try and emulate London by dropping it on the reader after a short while. (Of course, I didn't have to have Gabe get bullied in that moment, although it is revealed later on in the story that he's had to deal with homophobic teenage angels before.)

There's also the fact that while there are some diverse characters in my book (not only Gabe, but also the half-Asian Fionna Lee), because none of them are the protagonist, I almost feel that any attempt to attract readers (and agents) to Red Rain by bringing up diversity and/or LGBT-friendliness would be misleading. Sure, we need more male YA protagonists, but because Alex is still a white American (albeit non-human, living in an alternate universe), I'm gonna probably have a hard time selling Red Rain without bringing up what diversity it has at some point. And even then, I'm not guaranteed to attract an agent that way. Hell, one agent who rejected me had "LGBT Friendly" listed under her name and place of business at the end of her form letter, and I didn't even think to bring that up in my query.

Oh well. It's past midnight in California, and I need to pull the emergency brake on my brain before I completely fly off the rails. So now you know what keeps me up at night, people.

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

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