Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Samuel Park talks Querying & First Pages

Today I'm delighted to welcome Samuel Park, author of the gorgeous debut novel THIS BURNS MY HEART, back to my blog. His novel was just released in paperback and to celebrate, I thought it would be fun to pick his writing-brain about first pages and query letters. Samuel thought it would also be fun to give away a copy of his book, so check the end of this post for details on how to enter.

Me: What is the most important characteristic of a first page?

Samuel: Hi Amy! Thanks for having me on your blog again. Doing your WQI was one of the highlights of my pre-publication experience, so I'm delighted to be back. To answer your question, I would say that, far and away, it's the VOICE. Which, to me, is just another word for style, and how you use sentences and metaphors and language. In other words, it's the DNA of the writer, the way she sounds on the page. It is far more important than action, plot, or even character. If the voice captures the agent and/or the editor, that wins over the first gatekeepers you need to get past to get to your readers! In This Burns My Heart, the first page gives you the sense that this novel has a melancholy air, and the language describes longing, loss, and heartbreak--giving you a good sense of what is to come! 
Me: Yes! Come back for my full review of  This Burns My Heart next Wednesday, but let me tell my blog readers now, this novel definitely has a unique and beautiful voice.
How much did your first page change from querying to the final product?
Samuel: It didn't change a lot, because by then I had already worked on it for a while. The first chapter of the book had changed numerous times before, and it was really tricky to capture the narrator's voice. As it is, it's a third person point of view, mostly describing what the character does and sees. It's very visual, which I happen to like, since I'm a very visual person, but other people like having other senses emphasized. I have poor sense of smell, for instance, so my novel, one may notice, rarely describes what rooms smell like. The prose is also very quick and spare, giving you a sense of the character's thoughts and her environment, without dwelling too much on either.   
Me: What was querying like for you? Can you give us a brief timeline?
Samuel: Querying is not fun. Not fun at all. I'm amazed any writer doesn't just jump off a cliff during it. It was certainly the most stressful period in the entire process for me. Part of the reason is this: there's no standard procedure for it. Some agents ask for the first five pages, some ask for a full, some ask for 20 pages. Now, you'd think the agent who asks for a full is more interested than the one who asks for five, but that's not always true. So you essentially have to reinvent the wheel with every single interaction. It's like being in a crazy Indian market in the 1920s with everyone screaming at the same time, and no one can make any sense of it. From the time I finished the book to the time I found my agent Lisa, it took me about six months. Now, some people will say that's not a very long time, but when you're going through the process, it feels like forever.   
Me: Ha ha! I love the analogy. Any query letter wisdom you'd like to share with us?
Samuel: I would say to imagine that you're writing the description in the book jacket. But not one of those catchy one-sentence ones, but those that really describe the essential plot of the book. Also, focus on the thing that is unusual or different about your book. That process, by the way, can lead to real discoveries, and you figuring out what is the book that you really wrote, as opposed as to the one you meant to write. The interesting thing, though, is that people obsess so much about query letters, but the truth is that by the time you get to that stage, your book's fate has already been decided. You've already committed to a plot that may or may not be marketable; you've already amassed whatever other writing credits. It's a bit like writing up a CV. By the time you write it, you've already lived the life that shows up on it. So I've always felt that I wish we could write the queries first, and then the book! Finally, I would make sure the agent can get a sense of your voice, and how you put together sentences. A query letter is also a writing sample, and your style is just as important as the contents!

Thanks again for hosting me, Amy! 
Me: Thank you so much for being here and for your wonderful answers, Samuel! If you'd like to be entered in the drawing for a paperback copy of This Burns My Heart (US residents only, please), simply leave a comment in the section below. If you spread the word through your blog, Twitter or Facebook, I'll give you extra entries, so let me know in the comments section. 

This contest will run until next Wednesday (April 4) , when I'll review This Burns My Heart and announce the winner of the giveaway. Best of luck!


  1. Thanks for the interview, Amy and Samuel. The part that really stands out for me is: "Querying is not fun. Not fun at all. I'm amazed any writer doesn't just jump off a cliff during it."

    I've felt like it. :)

  2. I can totally agree with the 'querying' part and all the business aspects of writing! It's hard work, requires a different function of the brain and another empty hat to plant all the rejections in after! Sounds like an interesting read!! Great interview, Amy and Samuel!

  3. I've always heard the wisdom to work on a new project while you query. Supposedly this will keep your spirits up. And yet, I don't know anyone who actually has done it (perhaps because it takes a certain sense of playfulness to draft--something a lot of rejection can quash). I'm wondering what Samuel's perspective is on this.

  4. This is possibly one of my favorite books from last year. And I find him to be awesome and I'm psyched he is in my town (part time).

  5. Thanks for this interview, Samuel and Amy! It's refreshing to hear that querying was the most difficult part, since I'd like to think that the worst is behind me...

    Count me in the giveaway! I even tweeted about it:!/KristaVanDolzer/status/185146248045666304

  6. Great interview...and I'd only add to Samuel's Indian market analogy to querying (AWESOME) that writers are generally also blindfolded and trying to hit a moving target while walking through the market.
    Or at least, that's how it sometimes felt to me. :)
    Also, LOVE this cover.

  7. I love the description of querying. It's definitely crazy!

    Thanks for the interview!

  8. OOOH, ooh, pick me, pick me! I'd already wanted to put this book on my TBR list on Goodreads.

    But I LOVE Samuel's answers (and good questions, Amy!). That querying process is the most crazy-making part of the whole deal. And YES, it's so true that EVERY agent wants something different, in a different format, so you have to have numerous things ready to go at the drop of the hat (as well as that dreaded PROPOSAL...another thing that's kind of subjective and hard to nail).

    Loved this post! AND I'm definitely tweeting this!

  9. Oh wow, loved your description of the querying process, Samuel. SO true! It's crazy!

    Congratulations on your success!

  10. What a great interview! I just bought the Kindle version of this book, but would love to have a paperback, too! I've spread the love on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. I always enjoy hearing about how authors find agents, so thanks so much for sharing.

  11. Thanks, Amy and Samuel, for the interview. Samuel's answers are useful. Best wishes with the novel.

  12. Thanks for this interview. His description of querying made me laugh, and I agree that voice is the thing that pulls me into a good story.

  13. Mr. Park, I love your trailer so much. I love that it looks like a trailer for a book instead of a movie and it really makes me want to go out and buy it. Thanks for doing this, Amy!

  14. I agree with Mr. Park. Query letters are no fun. I'd rather get my teeth cleaned.
    Plaque Free

  15. Don't include me, I'm not an American girl, I just had to say how much I'm looking forward to getting hold of this book. I've been hearing some fantastic things about it.

  16. Sounds like a wonderful book! I had not heard of it before. I've tweeted about it today. Thanks.

  17. What a beautiful book cover! And fantastic interview. Great nuggets of info.

  18. Hi, Samuel! Congrats on the release of your book! :) The cover is beautiful. I like your description of voice, saying it's the DNA of the writer.

    Great interview. Thanks, Amy and Samuel, for sharing!

  19. Thanks to you both for this post. Very useful.

  20. Great interview! I think Samuel is right that your query has to look like the jacket flap of your potential book. I think the more you practice talking/explaining your book the better you get at writing that.