Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Honest Query Letters: How do you really feel about your novel?

Recently, encouraged by the success of The Martian[1], and the (outrageously optimistic) possibility of a groundswell in hard science fiction, I tried to craft my first query letter[2], pitching my second novel.  

I failed to take the exercise seriously.  

Here are some of my favorite lines:

Katabatic Winds includes 80,000 words, mostly really big science-y words, polysyllabic, Latin-root monstrosities, concatenated with the occasional puzzling verb, like, for example, ‘concatenate.’ 

Katabatic Winds aspired to hard, literary, Science Fiction, but as a coming of age quest story about two brothers in their early twenties, it landed much closer to ‘new adult fiction,’ a genre I didn’t even know existed…and I’m still not sure does.  Yet I somehow wrote ‘new adult fiction’ without appreciable sex, which is as incongruous as an echidna.  And yes, I realize that by writing a ‘new adult’ book, I somehow managed to target the only market less viable than hard science fiction.  By the way, ‘incongruous as an echidna,’ a comparison that requires readers to identify echidnas as monotremes, is the kind of evocative metaphor that litters the pages of this novel.  

Katabatic Winds capitalizes on the market The Martian uncovered for long descriptions of physical processes and the contemporary reader’s apparent appetite for math.  Did you love The Martian, but thought ‘this would be perfect with 38% more math?’ You’re in luck.  ‘Do the math,’ is the new ‘Show don’t tell.’  It’s not ‘telling’ if you use numbers. 

Do you love intestinal metaphors for glacial processes?  What about complicated plot structures based on Macarthurian island biogeography?  Are you hungry for love stories which overcome actual genetic isolation? Does co-authoring journal papers make your imagination bubble with sexual tension?  Have you ever wondered how Mark Twain’s Mississippi reflections might have read during a glacial maximum?  Then you are going to love Katabatic Winds.

I realize you probably don’t receive many letters like this.  Your mail is probably full of requests for love potions and Balrog banishments.  But I decided to send this to you instead of a literary agent because it will take a literal wizard to sell this book.

This post was written while listening to the brilliant new mewithoutYou Pale Horses

[1] Which I read…and loved.  Hard Science Fiction needs a snarky, light hearted protagonist to balance the math and science.  That’s why The Martian worked.  The characters were lovable nerds.   The math and engineering and geology were natural extensions of their likable personas.  Still, here’s how marketable HSF is…no one published The Martian.  Andy Weir couldn’t find an agent and self published it…until it blew up on amazon.
[2] I’ve never crafted a query letter because I always assumed at least my first three novels would be un-readable…and I’ve written two.  But The Martian represents the first commercial success for the sort of stuff I write since…well…ever.  I figure that ‘trend’ is ephemeral as a California clouds, and entertained the idea of floating my manuscripts during the four month window that agents think HSF matters.