Saturday, October 08, 2005

Quite Write, the Query Letter Site

Writers are a funny group. We all want other writers to succeed, and we're happy to reach down and pull someone up behind us. Unfortunately, when we reach down, the writer below us usually tries to pull us off the ladder.

We're all guilty. We want to be known as the successful writer who hasn't forgotten where he came from, but first we need to be successful, so we fight our way to the top with all the fierce competitiveness of those heroic tadpoles on the Disovery Channel's documentary about conception (When you get depressed, remind yourself that billions of sperm entered THAT race, but YOU won).

One writer I know, when he encounters discouraged fellow scribes, puts a gentle hand on their shoulders and tells them they should just give up; that the business of writing will only contaminate their artistic souls, and if they want to survive with their integrity intact they must never again subject their vision to the callous brand of capitalism that is rampant in the world of agents and editors. I'm not sure if he later asks them for the phone numbers and email addresses of all their contacts, but it wouldn't surprise me. It's what I would do.

What has surprised me, though, is the generosity of one particular group of struggling scribes, how much they help each other, and how much helping them has helped me. is an online magazine for writers, and editor Jenna Glatzer is an expert on the business of writing. Beautiful, bubbly, and brilliant, Jenna draws talent toward her like a tiki torch draws mosquitos. She is the author of such books as Outwitting Writer's Block and Other Problems of the Pen, and the soon to be released The Street-Smart Writer. She is also a frequent contributor to Writers Digest. You can learn more about her at her personal site, (The porn filter at my office blocks her site. I've looked, and looked, and looked, and cannot find the reason for this block. If you do find any naked pictures of Jenna, please email me their exact location, so I can get this straightened out.)

Among the talented folks Jenna has drawn to Absolute Write, are agent Andrew Zack, president of the The Zack Company, Inc., who spends time every day answering writers questions about the mysterious art of finding an agent, and James D. McDonald, the author of dozens of published books in multiple genres, who runs a kind of online writers workshop called Learn Writing with Uncle Jim. Scores of other published writers, agents, editors, and publishers, visit regularly to answer questions and offer suggestions.

What I've found most surprising, though, is the help from my fellow neophytes. Ask any question you can imagine about writing (writing anything, from gargantuan novels to greeting cards) and you will get a dozen answers from people who, like you, are struggling to find their way. What value is there to an answer from an initiate? You'd be surprised.

When I wrote the first draft of my query letter for Transit Gloria, I thought I had a pretty good piece of writing in my hand. When I posted it for review at Absolute Write, I quickly found out just how much better it could be. These are people who have read every possible bit of advice on how to write a good query letter. They've written, rewritten, and rewritten again, their own query letters, and if they've been at Absolute Write for more than a couple of weeks, they have read dozens of other author's queries and critiqued them.

The very first round of critiques improved my letter. While I used several smart guy (and gal) first readers to evaluate my novel, it had never occurred to me to do the same for my letters, even though writing a short summary paragraph about Tranist Gloria was far more difficult for me than writing the 90,000 word novel. I write character driven stories, and it's virtually impossible to have a character driven paragraph (don't send me your examples, please).

My letter didn't really get good, though, until I started critiquing other people's letters. When I saw what worked for them, and what didn't, my mind flashed back to my own letter and I recognized my own weaknesses and strengths. I've watched other writers on the site go through the same process, and watched their letters improve dramatically over very short periods of time. It is truly amazing, and perhaps the most gratifying part of the process is the sense of accomplishment when the folks you've helped, find success. Now I feel the urge to share my own success with them, not to brag, but to thank them, and to let them know that I know they are largely responsible for the good things that are happening to me.

I told you in my last post about Famous Writer referring me to Famous Agent. Here's an update: I posted my query to Famous Agent on Absolute Write, and got some great feedback before I sent it. I cc'd Famous Writer, and she replied,

"Mark, this is the best query letter I've ever read. I'll email Famous Agent today, myself. My land, boy, you know how to write a query letter!"

Two days later, I got a reply from the agent. She said I had piqued her interest, and requested my first three chapters. Piqued is one of my favorite words. The only word I'd rather have her use, is zeitgeist. If she ever uses the word zeitgeist, I'm gonna put a down payment on a Ferrari.

None of this would have happened with the first query letter I wrote. So, to all the folks at AbsoluteWrite: Thank you. WE did well.

Mark Pettus,
Saturday, October 08, 2005

5 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger Jenna Glatzer, Blogger Jill, Blogger Mark Pettus, Anonymous Ed Rogers, Blogger Mark Pettus,

Let me know what you think

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at 6:40 PM Blogger Jenna Glatzer said...

Dear Mark,

I love you, and will probably love you more when the tears in my eyes quit blinding me, thus preventing my ability to read the remainder of your post.

Oh, and I think some porn blockers block everything with "Jenna" in the title. Y'know.

You have discovered the greatest secret to improving your work: critiquing others' work. I found the same thing when I started critiquing screenplays. Suddenly, I was able to spot the weaknesses in my own so much easier!

Best of luck with Famous Agent. It sounds like you're well on your way. Go, future famous author, go!

at 7:10 PM Blogger Jill said...

Mark - What a fabulous acknowledgement. I think it does so much for ourselve as well as for others when we tell others, point out to them, just how helpful they are. Because so often they refuse to see it - for modesty or whatever reason.

Good, good luck to you. And thanks for letting us hack away at your stuff so that we can make ours better. (Jill aka Mommie4a)

at 12:03 AM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

You ladies made my month. Thank you both for your comments and for taking the time to read this mess.

at 6:27 PM Anonymous Ed Rogers said...

Mark, first time at your Blog. That was one of the finest tributes I have ever read. You have a kind heart my friend. Good Luck. It will be good to see a nice guy come in first for a change. Ed

at 9:09 PM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

It would be nice to come in first, for a change. By the way, who's this nice guy you're talking about?


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