AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

April 5, 2009

QUERY LETTER CONVERSATION WITH FRANK BILL

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 4:44 pm

 frank-bill-mail-picAn excerpt of the novel Acting Out can be found in the post below this one

 

Elaine Ash: Remember how I said at first I was going to put up the first five pages of the two novels you sent me, and compare them?

 

Frank Bill: Yes.

 

EA: Well I changed my mind. Because I want to get to the heart of why Acting Out was rejected and why you never heard anything from anybody. The reason lies in your Query Letter.

 

[Laughter FB and EA.]

 

FB: I got it right out of the writer’s guide that they put out every year! I used to subscribe to their magazine and after a while I realized they kept putting these people on the cover that I don’t even read, so…but I followed their guidelines.

 

EA: This is good, good news. Your story wasn’t rejected in my opinion, because they never finished reading the letter. They never cracked the novel and it wasn’t rejected…I mean, you just got form letters rejecting you, right? No personal notes or anything?

 

FB: Fifty of them. I probably got a sample of every rejection letter ever sent off. I used to do the shotgun effect. I’d query 15 or 20 people or magazines at a time. I did agents 20 at a time because they get back to you pretty quick.

 

EA: Nobody gave any indication that they had read the manuscript?

 

FB: Oh hell no. It was just a little card, like somebody’s business card or a little bigger. They probably paid less than I did for postage. Standard form. If the query letter is the key to the first gate, I never got a key.

 

EA: First, I want to tell you that when I do my commentary, I’ve compared you to Ornette Coleman when he first started out, who was a horn player from the 1950s and Hall of Fame, and won all sorts of awards, so understand that I’m being very complimentary about your writing. So having said that, I think it’s only fitting that I crown you as writer of the World’s Worst Query Letter. It might even turn into a competition where people can compete for the title. Don’t you think that would be funny? To poke fun at all the agony we go through with query letters?

 

FB: (laughs)

 

EA: I want to analyze your letter on the Challenge to illustrate and educate. My aim is not to point a finger at you, but…

 

FB: Hey, go ahead. There’s no direction out there. Even if you look query letter writing up on the internet, you can’t really get clear on what it is. All the outlines are the same, you understand? They’re all pretty much three paragraphs an opening, middle and ending. It says to put in a little information at the end about why you wrote this story, or life.

 

EA: I understand that your letter is written according to what “they” tell you to do. And what writers do, is they write to the agent or publisher—especially small publishers, you often bypass an agent—and writers write as if the recipient actually cares about your story. And they don’t. Nobody can tell how good a story is from a logline. So, you don’t want to go into too much detail, what you want to do is right off the top, give the hottest thing about you—the hook of the letter. So the hottest thing about Frank Bill is that he’s all over the e-zines, he’s published in Plots with Guns, he’s got the “Frank Bill Double Bill” coming up on Beat to a Pulp, where two stories will be released in one week, and that’s a first for BTAP.  That’s what you want to hook the agent with right away, that here’s a writer who’s developing on the internet, who’s coming up and getting recognition. So the first sentence of your story should have them sit up straight and focus, eager to read more.

 

Then the next paragraph of the story reveals what your story is about very briefly. Three lines, approximately. So the agent gets the idea this is a dark, edgy crime story, appealing to fans of the hardboiled genre. And that’s enough of that.

 

I haven’t formulated how I’d end your letter, but I’d probably talk you up a little more, maybe throw in a quote that a website editor, somebody of some stature like Anthony Neil Smith has said about you. It carries weight. Look, you’re saying to the agent, somebody who knows what they’re talking about likes my writing too. It’s worth your time to look at the pages I’ve attached. I’m serious, I’m working hard. All this is being communicated in three paragraphs by including the right information. The letter is saying much more than it’s actually saying. It’s got a subtext. Are you following me?

 

FB: So I’m not so much selling them on the story as I’m selling them on me. What makes this writer good?

 

EA: That’s why I would drop Anthony Neil Smith’s name in there, that you’ve worked with him as your editor on two issues. Any names that you can drop in there to vouch for you.

 

FB: I’ve always read the opposite. Don’t drop names or compare yourself to other authors or anything like that. I mean do you say Dear Sir, do you even announce your name? Or do you wait to give your name at the ending? Dear Sir, I’m Frank Bill, I’ve done this blah blah blah.

 

EA: Well, I would go back over the letter when I’m done because you want to take out as many extraneous words as you can. Short, action-packed paragraphs. You send me a new bio and I’ll mock up a sample query letter that we’ll publish on Ashedit to show the kind of query that will work for you. I think this will be educational for everybody looking on.

 

FB: If I ever make it as a writer I would probably educate a lot of people, and help writers who have talent and are struggling.

 

EA: You won’t have the time

 

FB. I studied martial arts since I was a kid. I studied traditional martial arts when I got older because the Chinese people didn’t want to teach young people because it’s a family system. It’s almost like writing because it’s an art form and something that you dedicate yourself to. When you see someone with initiative, and they work at it, you’ve got to offer them something. If I could help somebody I would.

 

EA: This query letter business is a course in itself. A novel is made or broken on the query letter, it’s life and death. So many writers get rejected, just based on the query. It’s the first sample of your writing. It reveals what you know or don’t know about the industry. When there are flaws in the query, an agent assumes the same thing about the story or novel you’re pitching.

 

I’m sure the query letter that I do for you will get a bit of controversy when it’s posted because the prevailing wisdom is not in the direction I lean.

 

FB: I’m always surprised at how much work it is to be a writer. To start out and find your flow, and find the mistakes, I had a big problem with that in the beginning. Revising is usually what makes the story. Revising is how you find your voice, because you find your rhythm and words, and how you want to craft them. So it’s laziness on my part, because I’ve seen through the glow of how I first saw things, that I was going to write something and send it out and somebody was going to pick it up right away and that’s not how it works. You’ve gotta work for it.

 

EA: Yes. And as you get your stuff out there, people have something to say about you—a readership, an editor. They have to have read you. Today it’s e-zines. In the old days it was print magazines. You can’t just write a story in the basement, have no credits at all to your name, and expect that you’ll send it out and it’ll get considered. The query letter is your cold sales call. The agent is looking for a sign that you understand his or her job enough to provide the right details in the letter. The agent has to sell you, the writer, right along with your book. Give him some pointers to sell you with.

 

-END-

 

HERE IS FRANK’S ORIGINAL QUERY LETTER…

My crime stories are published in award-winning e-zines such as Plots with Guns, Thuglit, Pulp Pusher, Talking River Review and many  more. Next week, Beat to a Pulp runs two of my stories in a feature they’re calling the “Frank Bill Double Bill,” a first for that publication.

Dear Name of Agent: 

 

   Threatened by a power pushing boss and a business partner who enjoys contact sports, Trent Vile, a new accountant with an addiction to pain, has two options, embezzle money for Liberty Chemical or end up like the last accountant; an episode on Unsolved Mysteries.

 

      Trent wants to build a resume not a criminal record. But the live-in girlfriend who helped him get the job believes embezzlement is a stepping stone. Choosing embezzlement over death introduces Trent to a black market prostitution ring ran by his boss Turnage and business partner Deacon. Whose value for human life is witnessed by Trent when he listens to their mock, beat and murder of a prostitute. Which pushes Trent into a sociopathic state of how to make them accountable for their crimes. Until an accident feeds his addiction to pain and reveals a resolution. A premeditated scheme. Where downloading pornography onto Deacon’s computer. Phoning the Electronic Crime Division to report a slave trade involving minors. And getting caught in Turnage’s office stealing incriminating documents, leads to a chase down into the company parking lot. Where a parade of bullets from a double-crossing live-in girlfriend and the Electronic Crime Division leaves everyone accountable for their criminal beliefs.

 

     Acting Out (58,000 words) is a dark humored crime novel where white collar crime ties into black market crime. Where two men’s addiction to flesh offer a new slant on the human condition. One man abuses his flesh to deal with life. The other abuses flesh for profit. Having researched the black market slave trade overseas. Case studies on self-mutilation. And big business embezzlement I found people overlooking their morals for personal gain. For freedom. And to deal with everyday life. I found common men and women without boundaries. People who suffered for their beliefs regardless of the outcome. With the readership of hardboiled crime novels growing, I hope you’ll find that my story offers a new slant into this genre as well as an entertaining one.

 

     Enclosed for your consideration are the first three chapters and a SASE for your reply. This is my first novel. 

 

Thanks for your consideration,

 

Frankie Bill

 

HERE IS A REVAMP OF FRANK’S QUERY LETTER…

 

 Dear Name of Agent:

 

My crime stories are published in award-winning e-zines such as Plots with Guns, Thuglit, Pulp Pusher, Talking River Review and many  more. Next week, Beat to a Pulp runs two of my stories in a feature they’re calling the “Frank Bill Double Bill,” a first for that publication.

 

I’m seeking representation for my fourth novel, Acting Out, a black-comic crime story about a disillusioned Gen X-er caught in an embezzlement scheme. The 81,000-word novel is told in the second person narrative, which conveys the sardonic tone enjoyed by  fans of transgressive fiction.

 

 Finally, Anthony Neil Smith, the editor of Plots with Guns and the author of four crime novels (Bleak House Books)  said this about me, “Frank Bill is a brutal writer. The stories slap you hard in the face with his unique voice. When he’s writing at full strength, wow…”

 

 If Acting Out is a good fit for your agency, I would look forward to a reply. My first ten pages are enclosed with a SASE.

 

 Thank you for your consideration.

 Sincerely,

Frank Bill

 

 

COMING SOON–A BREAKDOWN OF FRANK’S REVISED QUERY LETTER EXPLAINING WHY EVERY SENTENCE IS THE WAY IT IS…

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5 Comments »

  1. Too much info in the original it looks like. I’m following this eagerly.

    Comment by Charles Gramlich — April 6, 2009 @ 7:08 am

  2. Thanks Charles! Frank can’t use this query in all cases, but with small publishers and agents who do not have stringent rules, I would encourage him to mix it up and use this more customized approach that sells him as a writer as much as it sells his book. There’s no telling what will speak strongly to the reader of a query, and I think a writer’s chances are better if they use more than one type of query for the same material being sent to different individuals.

    I agree with you that the original query was TMI. I was lost by the second paragraph, no disrespect intended toward Frank, who did his best with the information available.
    EA

    Comment by ashedit — April 6, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  3. Wow, so simple. Why is it that so many writer’s/writing organizations/publications are pushing the elongated version of the query letter? It seems so pointless to have a young writer to waste so much time on the longer version?

    Comment by Keith Rawson — April 6, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

  4. I have my suspicions as to why they do this, but instead of speculating, let’s ask them! Any suggestions on who I should approach?
    EA

    Comment by ashedit — April 7, 2009 @ 3:55 am

  5. Elaine,

    How about Publisher’s weekly? How about writer’s digest?

    Comment by Keith Rawson — April 7, 2009 @ 3:43 pm


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