odds, ends & query letters

courtneycracked up to be, writing

I was looking through old back-up emails and found a notepad file full of notes and some deleted scenes from my Cracked Up to Be days. That always freaks me out and amuses me a little because it’s a bit trippy to see the scenes you were considering writing, didn’t, did or changed your mind about… or those little lines that became a scene you hadn’t yet written. Like this line:

Jake and Parker go out on a date and Parker tells him she wasn’t raped.

Which turned into this scene from the book (pg. 88):

I scramble for napkins and sop up the golden-brown liquid even though a janitor will clean it up.
“Were you raped?”
I stare at him. “What? Is that some kind of come on?”

I found this quote:

Forgive many things in others; nothing in yourself – Ausonius

Which I know I saved when I was seeking title inspiration.

The Cracked Up to Be playlist, which I was 99% sure I lost when my old laptop died earlier this year, was also preserved (yay!). Here are some selections from that:

Cat Power – Metal Heart
Damien Rice – Rootless Tree
Elliott Smith – Between the Bars
Golden Palominos – Little Suicides
Matthew Good Band – Anti-Pop
Moby – When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die
Placebo – Running Up That Hill
Rilo Kiley – The Good That Won’t Come Out
Violent Femmes – Kiss Off


Once I realized Parker was going to have a dog, I made these “extensive” dog notes:

Jack Russell Terrier
Treeing Walker Coonhound

Bailey turned out to be a Harrier. This is a Harrier:

image courtesy Wikipedia

I also found these little lines (this is exactly how they look in the notepad file):

Finding herself under the constant surveillance of her parents, teachers, ex-boyfriend and former cheerleading captain, Parker must find a new path

Finding herself under the constant supervision of her parents, teachers, ex-boyfriend and former cheerleading captain, Parker must

It’s not as easy as you’d think to get rid of everyone in your life.

After that disasterous party at the end of junior year, Parker Fadley

since that disasterous party before

A disasterous party before the start of senior year causes Parker Fadley to re

These lines eventually became my query letter. Please note that I realized I’d spelled ‘disastrous’ wrong about… haflway through my querying process. EMBARRASSMENT. Anyway, after I saw these lines, I went into my inbox to find the query letter that I sent my agent and happily noted I’d spelled ‘disastrous’ correctly in the one I sent her to her. PHEW.

Now there are LOTS of good blogs out there that break down how to write an effective query letter (Query Shark, anyone?), so I am not going to turn this into a tutorial, but here is the query letter I sent out to agents (specifcally the one I sent out to my agent):

Dear Amy Tipton,

I read in your agent profile that you’re interested in young adult fiction and am querying you regarding my novel, Cracked Up to Be, an edgy, upper YA, complete at about 59,000 words.

After a disastrous party at the end of junior year, Perfect Parker Fadley decides the popular scene is stupid at best, boring at worst and senior year is an ideal time to call it quits. Never one to give less than 100% of herself in any situation, Parker goes from ‘the girl who has everything’ to ‘that chick with nothing’ in spectacular fashion–and life couldn’t be better.

But try explaining that to everyone else. When will people finally get it that yes, Parker meant to quit the cheerleading squad and relinquish captaining duties to her considerably less talented rival, Becky Halprin? And of course she wanted to end her relationship with Chris Ellory, the hottest guy in school. Falling so far behind in her homework that not graduating has since become a very real possibility? Well… everything except the Possibly Not Graduating part was totally on purpose.

When her wilder antics are misinterpreted as a cry for help, Parker finds herself under the constant supervision of her parents, teachers and peers. Forced to toe the line between the life she knew and the life she wants, Parker must convince them she’s back on track without jeopardizing everything she’s worked so hard to give up. It takes a little ingenuity, but it’s nothing she can’t handle.

… That is until Jake Gardner, Mr. Painfully Sincere of Senior Year, takes a disconcerting interest in Parker and her past. It’s not that his intentions aren’t good–they could’ve made a great couple in another lifetime–but his innocent questions (like who in their right mind gives up the perks of being popular?) threaten to reveal a secret Parker doesn’t want anyone to find out. Like what really happened at that party last year vs. what everyone thinks happened–and how her new approach to life isn’t so much a choice as it is a punishment.

To keep the truth from surfacing, Parker has to scramble to maintain her carefully orchestrated downfall while doing her best to avoid a real one.

My name is Courtney Summers and [bio stuff]. While Cracked Up to Be has not been sent to any houses, I am currently querying other agents at this time. A full manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration!

Courtney Summers

DUM DUM DUM. Doesn’t that look alarmingly long all blockquoted and formatted in this blog? It looks more reasonable in my inbox. Some guidelines might say it is about 10 paragraphs too long, but oh well. Regardless, that is the query that worked for me. And looking at it now, I truly believe it is important for every query letter to close with an exclamation mark. After I sent this, Amy requested the full and the rest is history!