Episode 189: Those Query Pages Suck

On June 25, 2022, Kasie and Rex went back to the rejection well looking at how to adjust those query pages. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Rejection sucks and so do your first three chapters

Agenda

  • Following up on last week’s rejection conversation
  • A public apology (sort of)
  • SCWA’s Annual Conference and Virtual Conference are open for registration
  • What could be wrong with your opening sequence?
Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Last week we talked about rejection. We’ve all been there. Felt it. Had visceral emotional responses to it. We did not, repeat NOT email those who rejected us with stupid arrogant vitriol about how sorry they’d be someday. We didn’t trash them on social media or lose our fucking minds about their industry, practices, or personal hygeine. Be a grown up.

No, we did what professionals do. We moved on. And revised the crappy out of our stories. What did that revision process look like? That’s the topic of today’s episode: Rejection sucks and so does your story.

A couple of critical takeaways from last week (ICYMI):

  • Some of the reasons your work was rejected aren’t your fault.
  • But most of them are.
  • Getting rejected is part of the process and the only way to get better.
  • So submit, even when it’s not ready, and take that feedback right on the chin.

Finishing our conversation, Rex sent me (Kasie) the first three chapters of a story that keeps getting rejected and wanted to know, simply, “what the fuck is wrong with it?”

I’m not a genius storyteller or anything, but I found a few sore thumb things that might be what’s dragging down others’ submissions as well. So, listeners (readers), are you:

  • Not quite sure where the story starts?
  • Adding exposition that we need to care about the characters but don’t need to follow the story?
  • Building a whole new world of magic that needs some explanation but…
  • You’re bogging us down with too much of the world building or
  • You’re not giving us the right world building to both keep us interested, provide backstory, and move the plot forward.

See how hard it is? Opening a fantasy novel is not for sissies.

Segment 2

It’s that time! Time to register for SCWA’s Annual Conference if you haven’t already done so. The price goes up on July 1. What do you get at the Fall Conference? Keynotes from the youngest and first black female poet laureate in Alabama history, Ashley M. Jones and author, cultural critic and book editor Leigh Stein whose Twitter account is on fire as she examines exactly what social media is doing to us as individuals and collectively. Not one, but TWO literary agents will give keynotes as well so all those “How do I get an agent?” questions will be answered.

The conference is at Pawley’s Island at the beach so that might be reason enough. It’s October 21-23 and more faculty and details can be found here.

For those of you who are travel shy or just prefer to learn from the comfort of your own home, SCWA is offering a virtual option as well. It’s not the same conference, but it does feature some of our faculty from the IRL version. Check out the virtual conference – it’s a cheaper option. October 7-9 featuring Hub City’s Meg Reid, agent Michaela Whatnall, editor Katoya Ellis Fleming, and many more.

Here’s that public apology:

I continue to reject Rex’s suggestion (nay, assertion) that Near Dark is the best vampire movie ever made. But this blog has it ranked quite high on its list of 36 best vampire films. Above Nosferatu, Dracula, and Ethan Hawke’s Daybreakers.

And buzzfeed isn’t exactly a seminal source and this dude isn’t likely anything resembling a film expert, but I did read the list on the morning show yesterday (while subbing for Kev) and, lo and behold, Near Dark comes in at number 2. 

So, I (Kasie) apologize to Rex for my open rejection of what is, apparently, according to some unknown internet self-proclaimed expert, a very good film. Not as good as The Lost Boys, which is how I know this source is legit, but still quite tolerable. No, Twilight is not ranked.

Back to the topic at hand. The opening scenes of your novel and why they keep getting rejected. 

Let’s start with the opening being “slow.” This blog has some analysis and advice on a slow opening.

  • An unrelated framing device – this could be a prologue, right? You know how we feel about those.
  • An uninteresting POV character – uninteresting why? What’s wrong with the POV character?
  • An info dump of exposition – or a series of flashbacks that make us wonder if the story started in the right place if all that exposition is needed
  • A buildup to a plot that doesn’t take off soon enough – this is Kasie’s problem in Being Blue; we might love the people, the prose, and the potential, but with no plot, we’re riding along a little bit bored by what’s happening.

Some other things that might be plaguing your opening sequence (7 common mistakes):

  • Generic or cliched openings – dream sequence, character wakes up, character ruminates on his problems, description of the weath, looking-glass self examination, any other character description, premonition or overt foreshadowing
  • Overwritten prose – that first chapter has so.much.pressure. But don’t overthink it, or overwrite it.
  • Too much description and not enough conflict.
  • Backstory or infodumping
  • False beginnings or bait-and-switch
  • Unnecessary prologue

Segment 4

This would normally be for what to do about it but I’d like to talk about Inside/Out happening later today.

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