You spend hours staring at the screen. It’s a query letter. It shouldn’t be that hard, it’s your own words you’re trying summarize, your own plot you need to shrink down and manage, your own characters’ motivation you need to explicate. You’ve done the hard part. You’ve written the damn book. This is just to say, read it, agent. Take a gander, it’ll be worth the time.
The emotional journey starts on the first page and ends on the last. Waves come and go from paragraph to paragraph, and only combined do they give the full sense of the ocean. It’s an immensity that comes across clearly when the whole thing is beheld, but all I can show you right now, agent, is this one wave, and you’re going to have to take my word for the rest.
Or not even that, I can’t even show you how carefully I can craft a wave. That would be gimmicky. That would imply the query itself is a show, and the novel that lies beneath isn’t even so good as that.
Perhaps I could summarize a wave. But there are so many waves, just one wave is only the beginning. You can’t tear a corner off the Mona Lisa and expect me to understand the combined effect of the whole. Not even just the smile. Rip out the smile and hand it to me and if I can even make out that it is a smile, so what? This is a painting and somewhere in the painting there is a smile, or there was, until you vandalized it, you tool.
Go ahead, then. Sell me the Mona Lisa, sight unseen. It is a portrait but there are so many portraits. It is unique, how. It is famous, well that means somebody has already purchased and promoted it so what are you talking to me for. Go back before anyone knew what it was, sell me that.
Here in the portrait sits a woman, arms crossed at the wrists, wearing some robe-like thing, nothing special. (Poor start.) There is a pastoral sort of landscape behind her. Her hair is parted in the middle and tucked behind the ears. (Where is this going? I am not impressed yet.) But the thing that sets this painting, this portrait, apart from other paintings or portraits is – (yes? go on, I’d like an answer to that, please, it turns out I’m looking for novelty, I’m looking for something I haven’t seen before, and what you tell me next will make or break my interest in this project) the smile.
Fair is fair, parenthetical agent. If I have to sell it pre-fame, you can’t know about the smile yet.
Take a look at all the other portraits on the market right now. I assure you, my skill in the application of paint to canvas is second to none of these, a near-photographic realism, if that’s a reference I will be allowed. (Meh. Go on.) If I may ask for further leeway, in the future when photographs are a thing, you will be hard pressed to locate a portrait of any non-hipster, non-hiphop individual who doesn’t present a smile for the artist to capture, and a broad one at that. (You’re straying from the portrait at hand, da Vinci, stay on topic.)
Okay okay. My painting, this painting that I am offering to you to represent, breaks the mold, separates itself from the vast selection of portraits on the market today. Yes, it has all the familiar things to make it audience friendly, to give it broad appeal, it’s got the pretty Caucasian subject in an apparent state of grace, obviously the wife of someone rich because paint ain’t cheap these days, it’s got that much of the formula intact. The audience, at first glance, will be comfortable in front of this canvas. But what separates it is the smile. Not only do other portraits fail to capture a smile of any sort, but this smile is doing double duty, you’re getting value for your dollar here. It’s provocative but demure, daring but reserved, and the clash of the two opposing sides presents a third quality: mystery. It knows something you don’t know.
(Pick a better word. Mystery suggests secrets, it might make the audience uneasy, is that what you’re trying to say?)
Can’t I just show it to you?
(No! Those are not the rules! I don’t want to take all the time to analyze it myself when convention dictates that you have to analyze it for me.)
Just, fucking trust me!
Okay, fine. Intrigue. How’s that for a word? It’ll make your stupid audience curious, but in a good way. What she knows won’t hurt us. What she knows is something we want to know, too. (It makes us jealous?) Maybe. A little bit. The right amount. A jealousy that makes a promise that the reward of knowing the secret would be worth whatever uneasiness you must suffer in the wondering.
(Okay. I’ll bite. Rip off a corner and send it to me, and in six to eight weeks I’ll let you know if I want to regard the whole thing.)
Oh for the love of god…