Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Practice Call

There is so much wisdom to be gleaned from the show The Office.  I remember one episode where we found out that Pam screens not Michael’s incoming calls, but his outgoing calls.  For the uninitiated, Michael is the manager of a paper supply company (no longer on the series) and Pam is the office’s receptionist (not in that position anymore on the series).  When Pam announces to Michael that she has someone on the line for him, she makes him think she’s put the caller through, but actually she just stays on the line.  Michael inevitably says something wrong, unfunny, inappropriate, or generally unflattering in an attempt to be clever.  Pam then feigns a mistake and tells Michael she is now putting the call through.   Typically, having used up whatever comic bit he had planned, he just says hello on the second try in a reasonable, professional way.

This is a service I want in my life.  I need someone to screen my outgoing (fill in the blank with just about anything I produce - calls, emails, reports, chapters), but the first thing that comes to mind is query letters.  Boy, have I sent out a few of those puppies.  And my first batch for a novel is always cringe-worthy.  Of course, at the time I send them, I think they’re brilliant.  A quick movie reference here.  Remember A Christmas Story?  It plays 24 hours on Christmas Day, or Eve, or both.  It’s our generation’s It’s Wonderful Life, which is a sad commentary all its own.  Anyway, remember when Ralphie imagines his teacher reading his poorly written theme about his wish for a Red Ryder B.B. gun?  She’s patting her side and writing A + + + + all across the chalkboard and then beyond onto the walls.

You'll shoot your eye out!  And not get published!

Well, that’s how I imagine an agent's response to that first query.  Until I get a little distance and an actual response.  Then I should be so lucky to get a C + from a witch and a jester taunting me from the corner of my Warren G. Harding Elementary School classroom (please watch the movie if I’ve lost you here).  That first attempt at a query somehow manages to capture every insecurity, every self-doubt, and every misconception I have about my own story and condense it down into ten or so beautiful sentences of self-destructive prose.

Where’s Pam to intercept my emails and tell me to try again?  I've concluded that when you write a query, the best thing to do is put it away, wait a while, and then write a better one.  It will always be better.  I’ve been helped enormously by reading other people’s successful queries and having impartial fellow authors read my query and give me constructive feedback.  Queries are always better the second time around.  And the third.  And the fourth.  And the …        


  1. That's a great idea. I, too, have sent out cringe-worthy queries. (I think all writers have at some point.) Having others read them, reading successful ones, and re-working, re-working, re-working are the only fixes! :D Good luck!

  2. Good luck! :)

    btw, I nominated you for the Versatile Blog Award. Here's the info: in my blog