Monday, June 6, 2011

Query letter for CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN


I've written hundreds of versions of a query letter for this novel.  Hundreds.  The ones that I've sent haven't worked for me.  I know that I'm trying to promote a project that isn't much in demand these days:
a literary novel.  About ten years ago I had a prominent editor offer his help free of charge.  He thought the writing was audacious and fresh.  We weren't a good match as editor/writer.  The relationship turned strange.
This latest query letter is, I know, a bit too long.  But I think it's pretty good.  What do you think?  Really.
Help me out, fellow writers.




Dear Agent,


            The literary turf of my novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN,
is similar to that of Jonathon Franzen, Dave Eggars and Richard Lethem.  It's about fifty years in the lives of members of a midwestern Jewish family.  The major focus of the story is the war between mother Esther Kantro, and her son Aaron.
            When Aaron is nine years old his talent for music is discovered by an influential concert soloist.  Aaron is offered a precious scholarship.  Esther tries to squash this opening, tries to flatten her son in all his aspirations.  We don't yet know why this is so. 
              Aaron wins the scholarship but sidesteps the ambitions that other people have for him.  Aaron learns about jazz from his fourth grade teacher.   Aaron's passion is ignited and he is consumed by jazz for much of the book.  He finds his apprenticeship with a successful musician named Zoot Prestige.  It is Zoot who provides Aaron with a mentor and spiritual guide.  Zoot is a sly wit, a very tricky cat.
            CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN, at 125,000 words, is divided roughly into three segments.  There is the world of jazz.  There is the world of 60s high school in a Jewish suburb.  And there is the world of Afghanistan, in 1982 and 1996.  In Afghanistan Aaron finds the inner resources to confront his demons.  
            My writing career began with a sale to Playboy Magazine.  My short sci fi humor piece was represented by Scott Meredith.  The story won Playboy's Best Story Award.   My budding career was unfortunately interrupted by a long illness.  I returned to active writing in 2000.  Editor Barry Malzberg offered his assistance with CONFESSIONS after Mr. Meredith's death.  I've since written and published as a photographer for Shutterbug Magazine (six articles, two magazine covers), eDigital Photo, and The United Nations Environmental Photography Exhibit.  I've shown literary pieces in Exquisite Corpse, Species Link, and Truckin.' 
            CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN is a book that will have a special draw for baby boomers.  It deals with adolescent life in the 60's and includes cameo appearances by Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.  If you are interested, I would be glad to send my material. 

Best

Art Rosch
Rohnert Park, CA
415-272-0147

12 comments:

  1. It sounds like you know what you're talking about. I do admit that it is long. I've learned to keep them to 3 paragraphs and that's it. 1st paragraph with the logline, genre and word count. 2nd with a short synopsis, the 3rd my accomplishments. What do you think?


    ♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥
    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Let me work on a shorter version. Thanks,Elizabeth.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It *is* too long, I would agree. Try to zoom in on the essential personal conflict and keep it at that. Try to evoke emotions and mood - you may feel the power of this story inside yourself but I didn't feel it when I first read it - I didn't feel what was the emotional 'drive' of this story and therefore I didn't know why I should care. Although in my rewritten version below I've tried to fill in a few of the blanks:-)

    Speaking of which, my greatest frustration when reading your query letter was in fact that there were a lot of things in your account of the novel that I wasn't told and therefore didn't an awful lotta make sense to me: Everything from what instrument Aaron was playing (which, I would say, makes it more personal and easier to visualize) - to the much - much more - important reason as to why he should suddenly end up in Afghanistan.

    So I've tried to come up with a few 'powerful details' and possible reasons in my rewritten example below. Maybe you'll think of it as sacrilege and throw it out and that's all right. But at least know you have a second opinion ....

    P.S: In the personal stuff, about your career and such - please, don't excuse yourself but focus on your strengths. It doesn't really matter, I think, where you've been or what you've written or not written. If you are going to mention this illness then tell us more about what it was about and hint that it made your writing all the more powerful for some reason. I know it may be difficult to sell yourself in this way, but I believe it is the only way forward - to get through the slush pile and into (legacy) print. Editors aren't really interested, sorry, in your personal story - only if it can somehow help them sell the book.

    If you don't have any luck with legacy publishing, then do us a favor and consider seriously publishing this as a combined e-book and print-on-demand book. It is quite fashionable these days, you know, and can be quite profitable. Read the blogs of deanwesleysmith.com, kriswrites.com and jakonrath.blogspot.com for more about this path, if you are interested. You can also just offer it as a download from your page and sign up with E-junkie and Paypal to let them handle the storage and payment processing.

    I'm going to publish my first e-book collection of novellas this month or next month, depending on how much time it takes me to set up the payment solutions and I would be glad to share my experiences, if that's an option that appeals to you.

    Sounds like a great story. As a matter of fact,
    I would be glad to read it too, at some point - maybe as a commentary reader or review reader.

    Best,
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  4. Okay, here goes - another take:

    When Aaron is nine years old his talent for piano is discovered by an influential concert soloist. Aaron is offered a precious scholarship. However, his stern mother, Esther, is not happy about it for some unfathomable reason and to Aaron's dismay she does everything in her power to prevent him from receiving it and to sabotage his dreams. In his teenage years Aaron finally finds a place of refugee from Esther's attacks when he unexpectedly manages to gain the trust of the sly, tricky jazz musician Zoot Prestige and becomes his apprentice. Aaron is finally on his way to realize his dreams when he has to leave for Afghanistan [for x reason?]. Thrust into this war in a far-away country, Aaron finds himself in the one place where he can no longer hide from his own inner war, and the painful secrets that poisoned the relationship with his mother will have to be faced - if he is ever to go back to music ... or just survive.
    CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN is a story about three worlds, all intersecting: the world of jazz, the world of 60s high school in a Jewish suburb and the brutal, but also life-changing world, of wartorn Afghanistan.
    The literary turf of my novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN, is similar to that of Jonathon Franzen, Dave Eggars and Richard Lethem. It's a generational story about fifty years in the lives of members of a midwestern Jewish family. The major focus of the story is the war between mother Esther Kantro, and her son Aaron, the gradual revelations of the reasons for this war and the inner war that Aaron has to win in order to let go of the pain of his past and forge a new life for himself.
    *
    I have a very versatile career behind me in writing. I won the Playboy's Best Story Award for a short story sale in [year] but I've also written and published as a photographer for Shutterbug Magazine, eDigital Photo, and The United Nations Environmental Photography Exhibit. I've shown literary pieces in Exquisite Corpse, Species Link, and Truckin.'
    I use my blogs [names/links - here or in footnotes] and well known networks like Twitter, Facebook and the Ning groups to promote my works and I already have a large following [number].
    CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN is a book that will have a special draw for baby boomers. It deals with adolescent life in the 60's and includes cameo appearances by Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. If you are interested, I would be glad to send my material.

    Best

    Art Rosch
    Rohnert Park, CA
    415-272-0147

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hmm ... my first comment was 'eaten' by your blog, but here are the *reasons* for my new draft:

    First, it *is* too long, I would agree. Try to zoom in on the essential personal conflict and keep it at that. Try to evoke emotions and mood - you may feel the power of this story inside yourself but I didn't feel it when I first read it - I didn't feel what was the emotional 'drive' of this story and therefore I didn't know why I should care. Although in my rewritten version below I've tried to fill in a few of the blanks:-)

    Speaking of which, my greatest frustration when reading your query letter was in fact that there were a lot of things in your account of the novel that I wasn't told and therefore didn't an awful lotta make sense to me: Everything from what instrument Aaron was playing (which, I would say, makes it more personal and easier to visualize) - to the much - much more - important reason as to why he should suddenly end up in Afghanistan.

    So I've tried to come up with a few 'powerful details' and possible reasons in my rewritten example below [that would be 'above'
    now :].

    Maybe you'll think of it as sacrilege and throw it out and that's all right. But at least know you have a second opinion ....

    P.S: In the personal stuff, about your career and such - please, don't excuse yourself but focus on your strengths. It doesn't really matter, I think, where you've been or what you've written or not written. If you are going to mention this illness then tell us more about what it was about and hint that it made your writing all the more powerful for some reason. I know it may be difficult to sell yourself in this way, but I believe it is the only way forward - to get through the slush pile and into (legacy) print.

    Editors aren't really interested, sorry, in your personal story - only if it can somehow help them sell the book.

    If you don't have any luck with legacy publishing, then do us a favor and consider seriously publishing this as a combined e-book and print-on-demand book. It is quite fashionable these days, you know, and can be quite profitable.

    Read the blogs of deanwesleysmith.com, kriswrites.com and jakonrath.blogspot.com for more about this path, if you are interested.

    You can also just offer it as a download from your page and sign up with E-junkie and Paypal to let them handle the storage and payment processing.

    I'm going to publish my first e-book collection of novellas this month or next month, depending on how much time it takes me to set up the payment solutions and I would be glad to share my experiences, if that's an option that appeals to you.

    Sounds like a great story. As a matter of fact,

    I would be glad to read it too, at some point - maybe as a commentary reader or review reader.

    Best,

    Chris

    ---

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dang, I reread your post ... seems like you really liked your most recent draft, and probably put a lot of effort into it.

    Well, I'll be ready for a good slapping then - for tearing it apart like that. But believe me, I did so with the best of intentions :)

    I'd best get out of here now ...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Christopher it was very kind of you to go to the effort of writing another draft. I'm surprised at how well MY draft enabled you to comprehend the main points of the novel. Good work! Don't be embarrassed. Since this represents but one draft of several hundreds, I expect I'll be moving on to yet another.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks Art. I hope you feel you make progress soon. It feels like this novel has been 'in you' for a long time, waiting to be shared with the world. Hopefully it won't be much longer :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I started work on this novel in 1976. Do you think every writer crafts a literary autobiography? Reshapes his/her life into a mythical narrative?
    The novel DOES end before my funeral, I can tell you that. Getting people to read the novel seems harder than creating it. I guess it depends on the author. All of Philip Roth's books are autobiographical. I got this one out of my system and moved on to a sci fi opus, which has nothing to do with my personal life.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I believe every writer writes about himself, scifi or realism or whatever - it just shows in different ways: choice of characters, theme, favorite topix etc. But some narratives are more autobio than others, obviously. My own Shade of the Morning Sun-short-story-series is, I would say, 30 per cent auto - but mostly in terms of themes, personal problems that I choose to write about and so on. Cleverly disguised in a protagonist with a diff sex, diff nationality and so on but still ... very much linked to some personal experiences I've had. I've written scifi, too, you know - and yeah it was 'farther away' from my life in every respect. The link was there, to some existential stuff I had thought a lot about, but nothing more.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You already said it's long, but I do think you should tighten and focus.

    Feels like you're sort of all over the place. Classical music scholarship, he switches to jazz, then suddenly he's in Afghanistan. The plot feels disconnected to me.

    If he's fighting Esther all his life, then fighting the effects of Esther later, it's not coming through as clearly as I think you intend. If jazz is critical to him, maybe the thing that kept him sane no matter what, then I think you have to be more specific than 'he is consumed by jazz for much of the book.' That just doesn't get at the jazz effect on Aaron.

    Zoot may be an important character, but knowing he's a 'sly wit, a very tricky cat' doesn't tell me how he's important to Aaron, (how he helped Aaron combat Esther's attempts at suppression?). If their relationship isn't the crux of your novel, you might consider leaving out mention of Z.P. in the query.

    Just my impressions. Best of luck.

    — Sasha S.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sasha, I somehow missed your comments more than a year ago and just now came back to this page of my blog by sheer coincidence. Your observations are perceptive and very helpful. In the past year I've concentrated on platform building and on attempts to attract an agent to my non-fiction book, a memoir about living full time in a big RV. I've been getting close...really close..only this week I had a sad "pass" from an agent with whom I had developed considerable rapport. She doesn't handle fiction, however, and there would have been a limited future for us. In a way, I'm all over the place,writing a new fantasy series while trying to market my three finished book projects.

    Still, thanks. And apologies for not responding for so long.

    Art

    ReplyDelete

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