Monday, January 19, 2015

A Query Helper Triumphant Tale with Luan Hall Pitsch

Today is a big day! Not only do I get to announce the first ever triumphant tale for the Query Helper, but the totally deserving Ms. Luan Hall Pitsch also agreed to be the first ever interviewee on my blog! And she's agreed to let us take a before-and-after peek of her query letter. What an absolutely fabulous way to kick off 2015! Thank you so much Luan for joining me on here.
It's absolutely awesome that you've just landed an agent! I'm so excited for you and so glad I was able to help you in a small way to achieve that goal. I promise we'll get more into that later in the interview. But to start off can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey up until now? When and what did you start writing?

Your generosity was a huge help. I’d just come off not getting picked on #PitchWars and I knew something had to be wrong with my query, initial pages, or both. When you offered to critique queries of the first five who contacted you, I was like white on rice, like pen on paper, like….yikes, I am the Master of Cliché. On it!

To answer your question about writing, I think the desire came from reading books that got me feeling and laughing and thinking. I came away with a different, ever-widening understanding of the world, and I wanted to be part of that written conversation. I wrote angst-ridden poetry in high school that will never see the light of day. Then, when I was in college I had professors encourage me to go on to the Masters program in English, but I was a single parent and it just wasn’t an option. Instead, I ended up working as a Juvenile Court Intake/Probation Officer in SLC, Utah. Down the road, when I remarried, I went back to school and got a Master’s in Creative Writing. 

When you sent me your query back in September, I remember your novel Nothing's Fair in Love and War had an awesome, unique feel. Plus, I'm a huge Jane Austen fan. Can you tell us a little bit more about Shae and your inspiration for writing it?

When you love Jane Austen’s books the leap to using one for inspiration is enticing. The social politics of high school today mirror the societal politics of Austen’s era. Popularity and the persuasion of friends leading to horrible decisions.

As in Austen’s Persuasion, my character, Shae is persuaded to treat her first love dismissively. He moves, and over the next three years she realizes popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Our story begins when Hawke returns. Shae realizes he was what she wanted all along and she is determined to win him back. Of course, Shea, as a character, demanded her own quirky love of war wisdom and somehow a stalker showed up too.

What was the hardest part about writing your query letter? What advice or questions that I posed during your Query Helper critique helped shaped the final query that landed you your agent?

The damn, awful, no good query letter.  While you’ll only see two of my query letters, there are at least a dozen others that exist in all their horribleness. In fact, when I sent the query letter to you, it had already changed from PitchWars and it was still bad.

For me, the hardest part about writing a query letter was picking those elements of a novel that will resonant and capture the interest of an agent. Something that says this could be a fun, exciting, provoking read.

Your critique pointed me in the right direction to rewrite my query.  One of the important elements you pointed out was that my sentences were too long, that they lost punch because of it. You said to keep my focus sharply on the mc, and make sure the stakes were high. 

I'm so glad my advice helped you. You've offered to let me compare before and after query letters for my readers, and I really appreciate it!

Query Luan Sent the Query Helper (with notes):

The Query that Landed Luan an Agent:

Shae loved the scrawny, General-quoting, wanna-be Olympic swimmer that was Austen Hawke. And Hawke loved the super-smart, covertly defiant, cigar-box saving Shae. That is, until the night of Freshman Homecoming when Shae stood him up and never spoke another word to him before he left for England.

Three years later Hawke returns. One look and Shae realizes winning him back will stop the nightmares that have plagued her since choosing family secrets over love. There’s only one small problem: Hawke isn’t interested in her slightly shabby, war-obsessed self.

Shae’s not about to give up. Battle plan 1: a complete makeover. Results: an emerald-eyed, football captain hottie (who isn’t Hawke), and a creepy, anonymous, love-note writer (who hopefully isn’t Hawke). Battle plan 2: tell Hawke the truth of that horrific Homecoming night. Only that requires truth, and Shae’s not sure it’s hers to give. Or if Hawke is still her war-wisdom guy.

Is she the champion of loved ones or the take-no-prisoners lover? None of that may matter when the note-writing stalker attacks her once, and then again, leading to a life and death battle for both her and Hawke.

My short stories have appeared in print and on-line journals—Southern Indiana Review, Red Rock Review,, and to name a few. I have an MFA from the University of Nebraska and I'm a member of SCBWI. 

How many query letters did you send out in total? Did any other agents request or offer representation? How did you decide to accept Laura Biagi of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency?

Query Letters: Over 50 – this includes all the ones I sent before I got a query that finally, finally started to work.

I had other agents request chapters and the whole manuscript, and once Laura offered representation, there was a flurry of activity and it all made me feel very loved.

I decided on Laura because her vision and feedback for the novel were so stellar. She is invested in making this a novel that won’t only just make it to a bookstore bookshelf, but one that will have some legs and heart to it. When I talked to her on the phone, there was just a connection and her strengths in editing and balancing being both warm and professional are what I need.

What advice would you give to authors who haven't yet found representation but really, really want it?

If you really, really want it, then be willing to work for it, and by that I mean put in the time necessary to master your craft, whether that be in your own study of writing books, in going to workshops and conferences, or in taking classes. I asked one of my first creative writing professors, “How long? How long will it take?” (I always want to pin down answers even when none exist). He said, “when you begin to play the piano or any other instrument, how long does it take to become a master? No one is just born with the gift of writing. If you want it, you’ll have to work for it, years of work to master the craft.” Writing the Query Letter is part of that craft. And the hardest damn work you’ll ever do.

I always think of that poem by Langston Hughes. Mother to Son.  Here’s the last of it:

“…So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.”

Just keep going, just keep climbing. 

Wonderful, and sometimes hard to swallow, advice. Thank you so much for being here with me Luan, and allowing us inside your query letter changes! Everyone, be sure to connect with Luan on Twitter and Facebook.

Want your own Query Helper Critique? I'm giving three away today! Subscribe to my blog and check out this post.

1 comment:

  1. This is so cool, reading this query evolution story and seeing one of the old versions, and then the one that worked! And by the way, based on that new query letter, I'd definitely want to read this one too!