“Dying is easy. Comedy is hard”—attributed to Edmund Kean.
Writing a novel is easy. Writing a query letter is hard.
Okay, easy isn’t perhaps accurate in describing writing fiction. But it’s sure as hell less effort, and much more rewarding and pleasurable, than writing query letters designed to interest agents in your book.
Having met my self-imposed deadline to have my work in progress, tentatively titled 100 Days, ready for submission to agents by New Year’s, I’m now struggling with the query letter. This is the sixth book for which I’ve written a query, so you’d think I'd be somewhat nonchalant about the task. But while I did have an agent for my first three novels, the two I wrote subsequently, some two decades later, were never picked up. I received requests for pages and full manuscripts, so I guess my queries weren’t complete failures. But all the same, summarizing a 30-chapter novel into 250 enticing, alluring words is, for me, a minuet of self-doubt and angst.
When writing 100 Days (and my other novels), I didn’t worry about pleasing anyone but me and of serving anyone but the characters. With the query letter, though, I have to home in on what will make a complete stranger, one who reads for a living with an eye for commercial prospects, want to try to sell my book to editors who read for a living with an eye for commercial prospects. And in the past, the lack of commercial prospects was the primary reason agents and editors gave for not taking on my books.
I should take consolation that the agents and editors who rejected by books never denigrated, and usually praised, my writing. But the book I recently self-published, Beyond Billicombe, was to my mind commercial: It could be considered a genre (mystery); it had as a protagonist a young Hollywood actress; it took place primarily in a setting that was somewhat off the beaten track (north Devon, England) but not disorientingly foreign; it was compact (73,000 words).
100 Days, on the other hand… Well, here’s where my query stands so far:
After slicing his wrists and overdosing on pills and vodka, 27-year-old schizophrenic Steve finds himself in hell—or is it a hospital? Yes, it’s a hospital, but as far as Steve’s concerned, it might as well be hell. So once he realizes that his latest suicide attempt failed, he persuades his friend and guardian, Cat, to kill him in 100 days unless he changes his mind. But does she actually agree to this, or is it just another of Steve’s delusions? And will Steve recover enough to decide he doesn’t want to die after all?
My 68,000-word novel 100 Days recounts Steve’s breakdown, the events leading up to it, and his unsteady steps toward functionality, in sometimes conflicting first-person narratives from both Steve and Cat that combine fear and sadness with surprising humor. While committed to a London hospital and struggling to differentiate reality from psychosis, past from present, Steve recalls his relationship with his girlfriend Diandra and its sudden end. At the same time, Cat races to help Steve become the fully functioning, engaging man he had been prior to this latest breakdown even as he continues counting down to the day when he expects her to put an end to his life.
My own husband has already informed me that he won’t be reading it; he “doesn’t do” books about mental illness. (Given that it took him eight months to get around to finishing Beyond Billicombe, one could argue that he “doesn’t do” books written by wife, full stop.)
What do you think? Does the query grab you? Should I mention that it has a more-or-less happy ending? Is 100 Days something you’d like to read?