I know I haven’t posted in over a month, but things have been busy. I moved from Fort Wayne to Mount Vernon (the one in Indiana) at the end of June. I started my new position as the pastor of First United Methodist Church. I’ve been learning a new job with new people in a new town. The transition has been a big adjustment for my family. So yeah, life has been busy.
But I got to sneak away for part of a week and focus on writer stuff.
The Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University was incredible! From the day I registered in February, I wanted to get professional help with my manuscript and query letter. On the last day of the workshop, I got to sit down with two literary agents and discuss my query.
First up was Janet Reid, the Query Shark. Janet is amazing and encouraging. She’s a great critic. She was able to point out all kinds of things that didn’t make sense in my query. I really appreciated the time I spent with her.
I didn’t take many notes because I was paying close attention to the things she pointed out in my query, but Janet took my notebook and wrote down four invaluable questions:
1. Who is the main?
2. What does she want?
3. Who’s blocking her?
4. What does she sacrifice?
She told me that once I answer these questions, I can craft my query letter around them. These four things have to be in the query. They’re the most important pieces.
I can’t thank Janet enough. This was exactly the kind of guidance I needed.
Second up was Brooks Sherman. He asked me some tough questions that made me think. His comments were helpful, too. My query was too general. It left too many random ideas hanging out there, and too many things were left unanswered. I really appreciated his feedback. It helped me understand how I can clarify my query.
The last question Brooks asked me was the best one, but also the most difficult. “Do you think the problem is with your query letter or with your manuscript?” I really wanted the answer to be the query letter. That’s the answer I gave before we ended our session together.
But as I sat down with his notes in my hand, I started to wonder about my answer. Then I pulled out my notebook to look at the four questions Janet Reid had written down. All of her input was still fresh in my mind. I needed to figure out the answers to her four questions.
The answer to the first question was easy. “Who is the main?” Ashura is my main character. The whole story is told from her perspective.
The second question was the one that bugged me. “What does she want?” I was pondering that question when Val and Christine, two members of my Noodle Friends critique group, sat down at the table and started discussing the questions with me.
You see, I had an answer for question #2, but I was starting to think it was the wrong answer. Val and Christine questioned my answer, too. They didn’t think the one I had given was correct.
I realized that I had answered the question according to part of the plot rather than the character. As soon as I recognized that, everything began to come together in my mind.
Once I answered question #2 correctly, questions 3 & 4 were easy to figure out.
I also realized the problem was with both the manuscript and the query.
I had created this amazing, vivid main character, but I wasn’t listening to her. Ashura tells us what she wants in the story, but I had shoehorned in a different answer. A wrong answer. Even when I was asking the right question, I was giving the wrong answer. That’s what threw everything off. It’s why my query letter didn’t make any sense. It’s why I needed to revise my manuscript.
I saw Brooks Sherman in the hotel lobby after the workshop and thanked him for the questions he asked. I’ve emailed Janet Reid to thank her as well. They both pointed me in the right direction in slightly different ways, and it felt so good to finally have that.
I know I can do this whole query thing. It’s not something I dread anymore.
I’ve been working on the four questions Janet Reid wrote down, and I’m confident I can craft a great query letter. I’m weirdly excited about it!
Thank you, Janet Reid!
Thank you, Brooks Sherman!
Thank you MWW15 staff, interns, and volunteers!
This is why I love going to writing conferences. This is why I can hardly wait to spend part of next July in Muncie, Indiana.
When I get this query letter hammered out, I’ll post it. It’s going to take many drafts, but I’ll keep tinkering and revising until it’s right.