Q is for Query: an inquiry from a writer to an editor or agent regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea for an article or book, usually presented in the form of a letter that outlines or describes the projected piece. (Dictionary.com)
Excuse me but…queries are a total bitch. I mean, how in hell is a novelist supposed to simmer an entire 90,000 word document down into 150 words? It ain’t easy, I can tell you that, yet I’ve done a total of twenty-seven of them. Writing a good query became my obsession. I wrote my first one in January 2011 then sent out the first batch of ten via email and got a request for a full from a superstar agent within one hour. I thought, I got this. A solid query.
Mm yeah, not so much.
I worked on fine-tuning my query, even put it up for review on Deana Barnhart’s Gearin’ Up to Get an Agent Blogfest. That was fun. I had some outstanding input and modified my query, but while I learned a lot about getting down to the very heart of the conflict, it had become too bare. So I worked on it some more then entered a query critique contest at literary agent Suzie Townsend's blog. She gave me some great advice which I then incorporated before I had Matthew MacNish critique it on his blog, The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. By that point, I felt I had it down. It just needed a few tweaks. Afterwards though, I couldn’t face the whole querying process. I’d done it for three one-month-long periods early in the year, and while I had my fair share of requests, nothing had panned out. So my heart just wasn’t in it.
BUT…I decided to try one publisher and see what happened. And that’s all it took. After some back and forth, we struck a deal, and now I’m due for publication on October 18, 2012. Looking back though, I realize I did learn an awful lot about writing queries. I came up with a solid formula, one worth sharing. One thing you should know first: though you love your characters and their backstory, all that really matters in a query is the heart of the conflict. Zone in on that and you’ll have a great place to start. So here goes my formula:
First paragraph: First sentence (or two, at most,) introduce your main character and his normal world in as few words as possible, then for the hook, show how that world is irrevocably broken. Next sentence, show how this has changed your MC’s life and what he must do (his goal) to get back to normal.
Second paragraph: In two sentences, show the main complication and how it interferes with the MC getting back to normal. This usually requires a small bit of setup and the introduction of one, maybe two (at most) additional characters. Avoid throwing too many names into the mix. Try using their titles or positions instead. It’s less confusing.
Third paragraph: Show the choice the MC must make in order to achieve his goal. Lastly, show what is at stake, what the MC will lose if he doesn’t achieve that goal. And that’s it.
Last paragraph (the housekeeping): The book’s title (all in caps), the genre, and the word count first, then a little bio, but only if you have verifiable publishing credentials. Wrap it up very simply by explaining why you chose that agent (without kissing her ass,) then thank her for her time and consideration. The end. NOTHING ELSE! Sign off with your name, address, phone numbers, email address, and your website or blog.
So what do you think, could you write a solid query using this formula? Do you have an alternative method?