It wasn’t the rejection letters that made me think it over, not really. I was expecting them. Honestly, I think it was the fact of my so definitely expecting them that made me really think it over, like I didn’t have a chance in hell.
It’s because my query letter sucks, I thought. I just need to rewrite my query.
And then I thought, No. It’s something else. It’s not ready. But what could be wrong with it? I have combed over it near to 1,000 times! I’ve checked on every comma, every line of dialogue; what else could be wrong? What’s missing?
That was the key to the puzzle, “What’s missing,” because the answer to that question is, “a lot apparently.”
One of my favorite writing gurus is Roy Peter Clark. He’s written a bunch of books about writing, most of which I own. I was reading Help! for Writers in conjunction with a book on query letters, The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt – Thomas. I think it was the combination of their advice that helped me pinpoint the problems in my manuscript.
In the section called “finding focus,” Clark discussed the need to cut your writing back to its essence. He suggested writing down the theme of your work, like a missions statement, so that you can chop off the unnecessary limbs. In conjunction with this, he mentioned deleted scenes in movies. He suggested watching the deleted scenes of your favorite movies and decide why it was that they cut that particular scene.
At first, this was all just information in my head. I could feel it mattered, but couldn’t pinpoint why or how it applied to my novel.
Then I picked up my query letter book. One of the examples of a good query opened differently than most of the others I’d seen, with a succinct statement of the major theme of the story, written in such a way that it tantalized you to read down to the pitch synopsis below. I’d read about these in other query books, but never before seen the tactic so well employed. I wrote one for mine:
“Told through a mixture of letters, poetry, and smatterings of cheeky dialogue, Through This Darkness is a novel about death interrupting the plans of the living and finding a new path of love through the darkness.”
I don’t yet know if I’ll employ this in my query letter and I’m not sure if the wording is right, but the exercise of writing down the theme of my book helped me put the rest into focus.
I was finally getting it.
Now I know what I’m missing. Now I know what needs to go.
So, I’ve cut a chapter of my novel (for the greater good) and I’m in the process of writing at least two more letters along with a slew of new dialogue. Plus, I’m now twice as thankful for those five rejections. Not only do they mean I’ve crossed over the threshold into the realm of those who tried, but also no one requested to see a full manuscript for a book that would not actually have been ready.
Sometimes your inner critic DOES know what they’re talking about. 😉