So here’s a story:
A newbie writer finishes her first draft. She is happy, ecstatic, over the moon, etc., and immediately attempts her very first query letter. It goes something like this–
My [WORK TITLE] is a [GENRE], complete at 120,000 words…
Yep. That was a true story, my friend. That clueless, achingly naive newbie was none other than yours truly. 120,000 words and no, it wasn’t historical. Holy MASSIVE FAIL indeed!
But the good news is, I wasn’t a complete dork. After researching and googling Query letter/How to write a query letter (see, I thought it was the content of my query that was garnering no’s), I stumbled upon an awesome site that has changed my life since: Agent Query and Agent Query Connect.
Everything you need to know as a writer is there. AQConnect also has an amazing community of writers–from the pros and agented, the adorable shmucks hanging out while waiting to get their ink-and-paper dreams come true, down to the wide-eyed newbies searching for the light.
So when I first landed there (in a highly-disoriented state no less), I quickly learned three important things:
1. 120,000 words is asking for a lobotomy. My genre being YA, I exceeded their word count limit by more than a mile.
Agent Jessica Faust from BookEnds, LLC has an excellent guideline on word count here. YA (Young Adult) is usually between 50,000 to 75,000, though 80,000 is acceptable and a safe bet (providing that your ms is squeaky clean of unnecessary words). I was 40,000 off the mark. I bet the five agents I queried took one look at the first line and hit the instant REJECT button.
Yep, they’ve been known to do that.
2. Chop off those darlings, baby! There will always be words, phrases, descriptions that’ll tickle our writerly brain and make us beam yeah, I wrote that beautiful mishmash of words. Grab a marker, preferably red, and slash, slash, slash! (Ooh, blood and gore).
Adverbs Excessive and overly colorful adjectives Passive writing Metaphors that don’t work/Metaphors that are out of place Cliches
I’m sure there are more no-nos to add to the list, but this is a good start. As with every weight loss regimen, *exercising and cutting out the unnecessaries will help you trim down your ms.
*By exercising, I’m referring to writing exercises, prompts, and even reading a published book to hone your writing skills.
3. That writing doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. Thanks to all my friends at AQ for letting me be a part of their community.
Now, it’s time for the other weight loss regimen–the kind I can’t chop off with a red marker. On to the treadmill!