Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Joy of Query Writing

Heaving a sigh of relief, you look at the last page of your manuscript and proclaim your baby ready for submission. The toughest part of the battle is over.


Anyone who has written a query letter knows how painful and difficult it is. I’ve written three chapters in the length of time it has taken me to write one measly little letter. But it gets easier.

The query letter I’ve been using for the ms out in submission hell has had about a 70% success rate, meaning I’ve either had a request for a partial or full based on the letter 70% of the time. At first I thought it was a fluke (the genre I wrote the story for is hot) or maybe luck. But when I helped Melissa revise hers, she sent it out to three agents and immediately received three requests. So I thought I would share what I have gleaned and maybe my ideas will help everyone else.

First, I need to explain. I am a person that likes to see things in order. Everything has an equation. This includes a query letter. For me, the query letter has five parts: the opening, body paragraph one, body paragraph 2, body paragraph 3 and a closer. I also like to keep my queries to one page.

I should add that the queries I’m discussing are for single title romances. I know category queries are different and I’m not the gal to follow on that topic. I’m not promoting this as a guide for any other genre.

Okay, so where to begin. I’m sure most writers have heard of the TV Guide method, a simple, one sentence blurb about the story. I like this as a starting point. The sentence does not have to be brilliant, it is not going to go into your query, but it will serve as a guide. Here’s an example:

“A Manhattan woman falls in love with the 19th-century Duke of Albany who has stepped through a time portal.”


“A veterinarian tries to make a woman who has short-term memory loss fall in love with him.”

Yeah, I snagged these from the cable guide, but you get the idea of what you want to do with your own story.

Looking at my sentence, I start with a character and write a sentence about him or her. This is my first paragraph. I give a detail about them, basically where they are at for the beginning of the story. Next, I look at the second character and do the same thing as I did for the first. This is my second paragraph.

The third paragraph is the beef of the conflict. You aren’t telling the story but cutting to the heart of the matter. In the example of “50 First Dates” the third paragraph would be about his attempts at “dating” her. And it could be left open. Will he succeed in winning her heart? That question doesn’t need to be answered at this point. For “Kate & Leopold,” the third paragraph would deal with the difficulties inherent in the situation and how they will resolve it. Will he return? Will she give up all to be with him? You get the picture.

At this point, you aren’t worried about the hook. Get the basics down and feel good about what you have written. Once you are there, now is the time to punch it up, show how unique this story is. Let your voice shine through. Too often writers try to get the hook in before solidifying the body of the query. It’s like decorating a cake. You can’t put the plastic animals and frosting roses on until the whole cake has a basic layer of icing. It will look funny if the cake is covered with decoration but no frosting. Queries are the same way. You might think you have a really clever hook, but if it doesn’t have a solid base, it falls flat. Here’s an example from my own query. It had this line:

“Her job and her boyfriend are boring. But it changes when she finds a strange vampire in her house.”

Dull but it gives me something solid to work with. In the real query, it reads like this:

“Life holds little excitement, her job is routine and so is her boyfriend, but things change one dark dawn when she comes home to find a sexy vampire named Lucas reclining in her La-Z-Boy.”

So write down the basics then make it interesting.

Now to the rest. For the opening paragraph, keep it simple. I state the name of the ms, the fact that it is finished, the word count, the genre and the setting. No more. No hook. The agent/editor can see exactly what they are reading. The last paragraph is the credentials. Give only specifics. Contest wins, publishing credits, that sort of thing. If you think your education really has an impact, go ahead and add it. But if it doesn’t, don’t. Remember, the less filler you have at the top and the bottom, the more room you have in the middle to strut your stuff. I usually mention that I’m working on another project, but I don’t get detailed. I want the agent/editor to know I am writing and not sitting around eating bon bons. I also do not specify how many books I’ve written. An agent doesn’t want to read how you’ve written 20 books, none of them published. I always thank them for their time and if you are including a partial, you should mention it.

I hope this is helpful to some of you out there. DO NOT be looking for the sequel “The Joy of Synopsis Writing” any time soon from me. I hate those little buggers.


Blogger Dana Pollard said...

I have a wonderful synopsis writer, aka my best friend. Works out great because I may write the whole story, but summing it up is hard work in under 5 pages.

8:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home