Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

And On I Go

One step done and another begun
And I wonder how many miles? – Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia, New Speedway Boogie

Do you play video games? I’m talking about the relatively simple ones where your objective is to clear the screen, a game like Bejeweled or Zuma, or, going way back, Space Invaders or Pac Man. Those games start out easy enough. But each time you complete a level by clearing the screen, the next level gets harder. The music becomes more obnoxious, there’s less time, the bad things move faster. Writing – rather, becoming published – is like this. Who knew?

This week I finally joined the ranks of the queriers (is that even a word? eh, it is now). I thought writing the book was hard. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. There were plenty of times I quite literally banged my forehead against my desk or exploded out of my chair and stomped around the house, indiscriminately dropping F-bombs as I went. But it was cake, it was level 1, compared to the query.

I’ve been trying to prepare for this stage since last summer. From time-to-time I would draft a query letter or two, play around with it a bit, before forgetting about it and getting back to the task at hand: finishing the damn book. But I finally got to the point where I said, “I’ve taken this book as far as I can go. I’m comfortable with sending this out now,” and it was on to the query, which has become a full-time job in itself. How do you condense your 93,000-word masterpiece into three paragraphs? It’s hard. Or maybe it’s just me over-analyzing it, that’s quite possible, maybe even likely. I started a fresh document with the best query. Each time I revised, I added the newer query at the bottom of the document. That document reached 44 pages before I finally decided I had it. Then I started a new one and did the same thing. That one hit 11 pages before I said “I’ve got it! This is good!”

Of course, now it’s time to send it, and that means it’s time to personalize the letter. And doesn’t that lead to all kinds of crazy head-games? There are several agents out there that I’d really love to work with – how do you say that without sounding like a total suck-up? It’s funny, I have gotten to the point where I actually AM confident about my writing, where I’ve thought I can shed this Doubting Writer label – now the query is setting me back to square one.

Well, it’s done, the first few are out the door. By the end of the week I should have all of my ‘first round’ out, and then we play the waiting game. If my query is good, I’ll advance to the next level, and we’ll see how much harder it gets. And so, because I am now in the waiting stage, here’s some Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I don’t think I’ve played this one before; if I have, forgive me. Have a great weekend, all.

10 Responses

  1. It is tough to condense a story into a few paragraphs and still make it sound intriguing. Doing so for a query letter gives you good practice for composing it for the back cover synopsis though.

  2. Query letters are so tough to do well! I've learned tons from the lovely folks over at Agent Query Connect – and I'm hoping to get to that stage sometime later this year. Good luck with your queries and, of course, the story itself!!

  3. Good luck. I've sat down a few times, and the discouraging feeling at the first sentence sent me back to revisions of the manuscript. Just something we have to do thought, right?

  4. Haha! Yes, Carrie is right. It IS hell! But you'll learn along the way, and your query will improve. I'd love to read it some time. (Yeah, that's a hint!)

    By the way, I'm reading another book that reminds me of Parallel Lives. It's called Pulled, and it's written by A.L. Jackson. It works very much like PL, going back and forth between the adult characters and their teenage counterparts in the past. There's a traumatic event that splits them apart for years, then they come together and try to work through it. It's a new release through my publisher, Sapphire Star Publishing (who, btw, will have a huge announcement you might be interested in on Monday. So stay tuned.)

    Anyway, good luck with the querying. I know how hard it is and how demoralizing it can be. Just don't let it get you down. You're an awesome writer and PL is a great book!

  5. Funny you should say that, the query did the same thing to me – 'maybe this part isn't quite right.' 'Do I need to fix that?' The good thing is it really does make you think about it in a different way from just another read-through.

  6. Interesting, I'll have to take a look at that book, thanks for the tip, and for the praise. And be careful what you wish for, I may take you up on that!

  7. Querying is the worst part of the process. It really is. Everything before and after is easy compared to it. It's not you, it's the querying! You will find an agent and I predict you'll find one pretty quickly. From what I saw, your query is amazing and your book is amazing too so prospective agents who are smart enough to request a partial or full will not be disappointed! It's going to suck but you'll find a great agent who is perfect for your novel! I know that same as I know the sky is blue!

  8. Good luck!! I think you've already started another project, too, but if not my best advice (which is not at all unique) is to try to work on that while your query is out there being mulled over. Once I finally obeyed this advice, it does help to take the edge off of the wait.

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