Non-writers have no idea.
Because my writing group is devoting a meeting to queries next week, I’ve done some thinking about the whole process of trying to get an agent or publisher. It occurred to me that playing the query game is a lot like trying to convert the heathen masses by knocking on random doors. Because I don’t wish to offend, and have dear friends in both of the religions most commonly known for plying the sidewalk seas, I’m going to use the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as my example. Pastafarians are notoriously difficult to offend.
In order to land an agent, you have to get one to read your manuscript. This begins with the query letter, first contact. It’s the cover letter you send with your sample chapters hoping to spark the agent’s interest and get her to read your pages.
So the unsolicited query you send to an agent is like the knock on the door.
Querier: Hello. Can you spare a few moments to hear the good word about our Carbohydrate Creator?
Agent: Um, well, I’m kind of making dinner right now.
Querier: Oh? Is it pasta?
Agent: Um, it’s lasagna.
Querier (nods sagely): Ah. His most bakeable form. Truly He has led me to you this night.
The point of the query is to get the agent’s attention. It’s the little spiel that catches her interest. It’s the adorable five-year-old child you take with you as you ring the doorbells because people find it harder to slam the door in a little kid’s face.
Querier: So may I leave these tracts? They tell the story of the Great Meatball and how He created the world with his Noodly Appendage.
Agent: Um, Okay. I guess…okay.
Those tracts are your partial. It’s the opening few chapters of your amazing manuscript that you hope will grab the agent’s attention and make her want to know more about His Holy Glutenness. It raises questions that must be answered. Questions like, “Really? Your god is a pile of spaghetti? With meatballs for eyes? And what’s the deal with all the pirate stuff?” What agent could help but be intrigued?
If they feel the Spirit of Semolina, they will request more information about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s when you send in your full manuscript, the Holy Book of Noodles (There isn’t really a Holy Book of Noodles. But there should be.)
They read the Book. They like the Book. That’s when it happens.
In querying as in religion, they say you’re “getting THE CALL.”
Agent: Verily I was touched by His Noodly Appendage. I must heed the siren song of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I offer representation. Baptize me in the Holy Marinara. I am a Pastafarian forever.
So for all my friends struggling in the query trenches, know that most people don’t even open the door when the religious folks come knocking. Of those that do, most just glance at the pamphlets and toss them away. But a few will read them. If you’re very lucky, maybe one will feel the Power of Pasta. And just like those really huge meatballs at Bucca di Beppo, one is all you need.
Keep knocking on doors, friends.