Tuesday, September 7, 2010

One-Sentence Wonderful

Sigh..... Yoda was right.

There is do or do not. There is no try. (I am probably misquoting the great green sage, but my Star Wars crazy kids are not here to double check for me.) Try sucks. Try is driving me a bit crazy these days.

I've spent a lot of time this beautiful labor day weekend tweaking my draft and query letter, researching appropriate agents, tweaking some more... researching, rereading, revising and so on.

At this point, my query is the literary equivalent of marshmallow fluff-- an amorphous mass that can be pulled a little one way or another but has stubbornly refused to be sculpted into anything close to a work of art. Or at least that's the way it seems when I've been so gosh darn close to it a while.

If ever there was a thankless and miserable task, it's putting together a pithy, slam-bang fantastic query letter. There are a hundred great resources out there to help, and yet... the thing just isn't falling into place.

Perhaps if my novel were more high concept, the sort of one-sentence wonderful that would sell itself I wouldn't struggle along like this. But it isn't, or at least doesn't seem like it to me. In fact, after staring at my 3rd draft for a few days and at my lousy query version #73, I have no idea what it is!

So, in desperation, I'm asking you guys -- all 12 of you... :) -- to tell me what's wrong with this query. (Please!)

Here it is:

"Roger “Zorro” Weitz has it pretty good, slumming off the scant profits from Hate You (Gonna Eat Cheese), a hit second only to Muskrat Love in the cornball-rich scene of 1976. But when a near-death experience leads him to a rare moment of introspection, Zorro decides to make a more tangible impact on the world. Believing “cool” is about all he has to offer, Zorro commits to helping his girlfriend Carla’s timid, obese daughter find the attitude and style that could bring about her own hip transformation… even if it means going behind Carla’s back to do it.

Eleven year old Dawn, a budding zoologist and certified genius, is puzzled by Zorro’s sudden attention but intrigued by his mention of a band mate’s long-abandoned gibbon. While she makes no progress whatsoever in “cool” she does learn a thing or two about blackmail, and before he knows it, Zorro is involved in a vaguely illegal rescue attempt, a slow-speed car chase and—most unexpected of all— he’s actually starting to care for the kid.

Readers of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby will enjoy Family, Genius, Species, a sort of reverse Pygmalion, replete with cheesy music references, a lesser ape, and a lot of heart. The book is 90,000 words and ready for perusal."

(I've left off the chummy and agent specific greeting and short bio as the crux of the matter is this middle part.)

Any ideas?


Hello. My name is Elizabeth. said...


First off, I like it a lot. It makes me think of Nick Hornby's About a Boy, but with a more Royal Tenenbaums feel, and maybe a little Max Barry thrown in. My favorite part is the song title, which is ignominious enough to be believed as a disco hit. I'm not an agent or an editor, but if I saw this on the back of a book, I'd buy the book, no question.

I am a little ambivalent about the last line, though. On the one hand, stating the wordcount and that it's finished seems a little redundant. Then again... there are a lot of dictionary-sized works of progress out there, so maybe not.

Secondly, anything can be pared down into a one-sentence idea. The key is to distance yourself. It's like squinting for Waldo.

Nicole MacDonald said...

I wouldn't compare your work to others, always be an original and that way when it turns out they hate one of the authors you compared yourself too it won't matter ;p Both paragraphs seem a tad long... I really like the second paragraph. Totally gets my attention. The first paragraph though reads tricky. It's too much information.

that's all I can offer for now :) gotta dash to work (is 6.55am here in NZ) Good luck!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Sounds like a crazy-fun read! If I was an agent, I'd give it a go. :)

But, I found the first paragraph confusing and had to go back after reading the second to sort it out.

I didn't realize it was a song title until the mention of the band mate.
But once I got it, I was interested.

Have you tried the "When(or)After __, he __" construction? After Roger, a washed-out singer, has a near death experience, he commits himself to saving his girlfriend's loser daughter... etc..."

Well, not that obviously, but that sort of construction sometimes helps pinpoint the main plot.

I find writing the query harder than writing the actual novel. You have to leave out so much, but make it sound interesting. Crazy!

Lynda Young said...

The story sounds great. I think the two different point of views (Dawn and Zorro) in the query is one too many. And I'm with the others about the confusion in the first paragraph. Queries are the worst thing to have to write. I'm not looking forward to when I have to write mine.

Perri said...

Thanks so much everyone, this is so helpful. I feel like I can take a step back now and... breathe!

Elizabeth, I love the squinting at Waldo analogy! And thanks for the vote of confidence. Honestly, I wasn't sure I made it sound interesting to anyone but myself.

Nicole and Amanda, you're right about that first paragraph. I'm going to work on it a bit, pare it down.

Lynda, I kinda knew I was committing query letter sin by squeezing in the two POVs. Almost got away with it too! Glad you mentioned it.

Back to the drawing board!


Anna said...

Ya you did the Yoda quote wrong it goes..

No. Try not. Do or do not there is no try

well, I'm pretty sure it goes that way but not positive.