Friday, January 15, 2010

Gail Carriger’s Query Letter—Part II

STATUS: Uh, I have 310 emails in my inbox and I handled at least 50 today. More came in. Oh boy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OPERATOR by Jim Croce
(listening to some of Dad’s favs)

One of the reasons why I approached this query letter a little differently than previous discussions was to show blog readers that a variety of approaches in a pitch blurb can work.

There isn’t just one way to write that paragraph and have it work. I know y’all want the silver bullet that will assure your query letter the attention it deserves but as you can see from the list of comments left on yesterday’s entry, readers had different opinions on which one worked best for them.

And in actuality, both are good, strong pitches—but in different ways. So let me talk about that.

When I wrote my pitch paragraph, I remember that I didn’t have Gail’s original query handy. She resent it to me later so that I could have it on file. Since time was of the essence for the submission, I went ahead and created my paragraph from scratch.

Usually I take the author’s original query pitch as the genesis—the jumping off point for creating my pitch. That way I’m doing a blending of the author’s tone and approach with my own. I didn’t have that for this letter and I wanted to point that out.

For me, I wish I had the line “It is a romantic romp through the streets of Victorian London, from high society to the steam punk laboratories of Frankenstein-like scientists” for my letter. I think it’s the perfect sentence to establish the tone.

Alas… I didn’t so I went to my fall back (which a commenter pointed out) which was to describe the inciting incident that starts the novel. This also has the added benefit of allowing me to describe the world without having to do a lot of telling.

“When avowed spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a vampire at a private ball, she’s simply appalled. No vampire worth his salt would ever jeopardize his rank in society by attacking her so vulgarly in a public place.”

Without my saying so, the reader gets immediately that vampires are accepted and simply a part of the society in this world. An attack at a ball would be an oddity. See what I’m doing here?

Then I jump into back story because the key to understanding this novel is Alexia’s unique character element of being soulless.

“Not to mention, every vampire knows that she's soulless and therefore contact with her will negate all supernatural ability. Poof! No more immortality. Vampires know to avoid her like the plague.”

This allows me to highlight even more why this vampire attack is strange.

Now in Gail’s query, she starts with Alexia’s soulless state—which also works.

“Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul. This affliction could be considered a good thing, for in England those with too much soul can be turned into vampires, werewolves, or ghosts.”

She’s setting up how the world works. Then she hits on the conflict.

“Unfortunately, when unregistered vampires start to mysteriously appear in London, everyone thinks she's to blame, including the Queen's official investigator, Lord Maccon.”

Ah, folks think Alexia is responsible. That’s a problem. Notice that Gail didn’t really explain why Alexia’s soulless state is an issue (because it negates the supernatural). I, however, did in my pitch because I thought that info would be key to understanding the world. On the flip side, I didn’t mention in my pitch that Alexia is presumed to be to blame (and looking back, I should have).

Now Gail tackles the light tone and sets up for some romantic tension in next line:

“In such a situation, what's a young lady to do but grab her parasol and find out what's really going on? Of course Lord Maccon might object, but Alexia doesn't give a fig for the opinion of a werewolf, or does she?”

Gail does a great job of lightly eluding to a possible romantic entangle. I didn’t touch on that at all in my pitch—mainly because I wanted this manuscript be seen as steampunk fantasy—even though it leans paranormal romance a bit. I focused solely on Alexia for that reason. I only wanted to tease the editor enough to be intrigued and read on. My wrap up keeps the storyline deliberately vague.

“Which means that this is no society vampire and since no vampires can be made without the proper paperwork, this vampire is a rogue. No simpering miss, Alexia is delighted to try to find out the particulars but she just may get more than she bargained for.”

Now rereading this, I probably should have phrased that second line “this is a rogue vampire.” Oh well, I’m not perfect. Grin.

As for the last line “If the author Jane Austen were to have written a vampire novel during her lifetime, SOULLESS would have been it,” I included it because that’s exactly how this novel struck me.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies had not been released yet. I didn’t know a thing about that novel and how successful it would be, but Austen stuff has been hot for a while and since this had that feel, I wanted to highlight it as a selling point. Thus the last line.

It worked! And anybody who reads SOULLESS knows exactly what I’m talking about.
So there you have it—anatomy of two pitch blurbs.

TGIF! I’m out.