Friday, August 27, 2010

Query Woes and a Checklist: Before You Hit Send

Hello all you aspiring writers out there. I have an important question: Where is my brain? I'd like it back, now, please.

Detective looking through magnifying glass

Yesterday I was agonizing over my latest query letter. With virtually no information on my intended audience, I decided a one paragraph description of the book was too risky--better to go with two. But that second paragraph took me hours to polish. And since our ambassador of goodwill to aspiring writers, aka Nathan Bransford, says it's okay to attach the first five pages, I went ahead and did that too. A set of newly edited, hopefully richer and more enticing first five pages.

Fast forward ahead to 3 pm, the TV's blaring Barbie's latest adventure, my four-year-old is snoring blissfully on the couch and my six-year-old is yelling for her chocolate milk. I swear, I should give that kid a silver bell and be done with it.

Big Bear: Bartender, BARTENDER! Send in that mug of Intense Chocolate Moo Juice and make it a double!

Me: Yes, master, right away, just let me hit send and get this hopeless letter off.

I come back to the computer and my stomach falls through the floor. Oh no. No, no, no. I didn't. I couldn't. Crapola-manola, I didn't spell check the sample pages. Here's the damage:

Frawely instead of Frawley
bigtime instead of big time
tweny instead of twenty

and, the worst, the one that really makes me cringe: quadrapaligic for quadraplegic

Ironically, I was reading a submissions checklist for a small publishing company yesterday that said you'd be surprised how many people don't spell check their work. I chuckled, thinking, "Boy, you'd have to be a real idiot to forget that! Hyuck, hyuck!"

Man hammering brain

Okay, enough whining, here's a checklist to consider BEFORE you hit send.

While still in Word:

1. Start on the right foot. Look at the Dear ____. Do you have the correct name? I know you cut and pasted from the last letter, so LOOK. Is it spelled correctly? Do you have Mr. when you should have Ms. or vice versa?

2. Now peruse your contact information. Make sure it's typed correctly.

3. Stare hard at words like their, they're, and there. And it's (only for "it is" not for possessives) and its. And too, to and two.

4. Spell Check the whole letter including sample pages and synopsis if those are included. Even though Word will put red lines under most names, don't ignore them. Make sure each one is spelled the way you intended.

Now go to your email and paste it in.

1. Send a copy to yourself. Check the formatting. Read it out loud. Fix any problems. If you make any changes, send the new version to yourself and repeat this step as many times as necessary.

2. Once your letter looks perfect, you could send it off to the agent, but don't. A better idea is to leave it overnight, come back the next day and read it over one more time. I'm not always able to follow this advise, but I have bolted up in bed with the realization that a letter I'd sent that day had an error.

Okay, I'm banning myself to the basement for the rest of the morning. Our 23-year-old air conditioner is facing retirement on Monday and I have a storeroom to clean out before the crew from "Hoarding Nightmares" shows up. Who knows? Maybe I'll find my brain.

Have a great weekend, y'all.


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