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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Elana Johnson Interview - Part I

            I happened to meet Elana at LDStorymakers11. She taught a workshop on Writing a Killer Query. This is a topic that I mistakenly thought I understood reasonably well. Everyone attending the workshop was allowed to send in query letters and received feedback on what worked and what didn’t.

            However, since then Elana has really grabbed my attention with the promotion of her new book “Possession.” Every time I check Twitter there is something about “Possession.” Which is a good thing; it means she has an excellent grasp of how to promote a book.

            Without any further ado, here’s Elana.

Randy: How did you get so knowledgeable about queries? 

Elana: When I needed to write a query letter of my own, I did the only thing that made sense: I studied successful queries. I printed them off in my genre, and identified parts of them that worked for me.

I spread them out on my counter, and proceeded to write my own query letter by hand. By identifying the parts of the letter, it helped me to have a purpose beyond trying to distill my novel into 250 words.

Randy: I imagine that a lot of people come to you for help on their query letters. Is there someone that you take your queries to in order to get suggestions?

Elana: I have a couple of trusted betas. I send my queries to them (yes, I still write them), and then I send them to my agent as sort of a pitch for a book I might want to write, or have started writing.

Randy: Is there a point in an author’s career where they no longer need to worry about writing queries?

Elana: I’m sure some people reach that point. Their agents might not require it. Mine doesn’t “require” it, but I actually like writing the query. I stop writing the book at about 50 pages (10 – 15K) and write the query letter. Then I can send the sample and the query to my agent and we can talk about whether this is a good story to write, or if I should write something else.

I’m sure there are people who don’t have to do this, or work with their agent in a different way that doesn’t require a query letter.

Randy: When you’re working on a query letter of your own how can you tell that it’s ready to go? Do you get an “A-ha” moment or a feeling that it’s right?

Elana: When every word serves a purpose, I know it’s ready. For me, “ready” is an emotional thing, a gut thing. I just know.

Randy: What is the first step you take when writing a query for one your books?

Elana: I have to be able to sum up my book in one sentence or less. Then I have to actually think about how the book ends… and that’s the hard part for me.

Randy: What is your reaction to your own query letters? Do you like them? Do you wonder if they’re any good? Or do you have a sense that they’re solid?

Elana: I’m 100% behind my query letters. I have to be!

Randy: What goes through your mind when you look over query letters for critique?

Elana: I always think: “Do I want to keep reading? Has the author done a good enough job at pushing me through the letter?” If not, that’s when I have questions about the query, or it’s so vague I don’t know what’s going on.

Randy: How effective are the majority of the queries you critique when they arrive? Or are they too spread out in their effectiveness to make a general statement.

Elana: Oh, they range from “ready to send” to “go back and start with a blank page.”

Randy: I know I find the query letter more difficult than writing an entire novel. Is writing a query a joy or a chore for you?

Elana: I like writing query letters. It actually gives me somewhere to go with the novel. The trick is to write the query letter BEFORE you finish the novel. I recommend writing the query when you’ve only got about 50 pages of the MS written.

Randy: What is the top piece of advice you can give everyone on writing a query letter?

Elana: Don’t leave out the consequence! It’s the “why do I care?” part of the letter that a lot of people forget about.

1 comment:

  1. Great questions and wonderful answers. I think it's GREAT advice to write your query early and I think it might be time for me to do so....*gets off blog-opens Word*