Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Oh, the Query

I'm not having fun writing the query. Feedback from crit partners, writing groups, high school students and everyone who has read the YA manuscript has been great. But the damn query... the voice of the novel isn't there. The query is too dry, formal, businessy... So this week I'm getting back in the head of the main character.

Zeph is a high school cross-country runner who, in the words of his coach, needs to learn to keep his eyes on the prize. For me, the writer, the prize right now is a killer query. So I'm trying to channel Zeph. I'm rereading the manuscript. Listening to my "Zeph" iTunes playlist. Instead of running (because now I'd see Pacific Northwest mountians rather than small-town Indiana) I'm swimming in order to feel a similar focus and exhaustion. (And swimming clears my head.)

Before Kinda Going with the Flow, I would have churned out draft after draft of the query. Well, I am doing that. The difference is that at the moment I'm not forcing what simply isn't working. It's time for a break, to commune with main character Zeph. And in a few days it'll be back to churning.

Any ideas on how to find that query magic?


  1. I followed Elana process in her four part blog posts. That helped. It's a link on her blog. And I think I wrote and tweaked it like 25 times. You'll know when you get there. Strong verbs all the way! Good luck! Not fun.

  2. Just pretend that you're telling what the story is to someone you just met on the street. Keep it formal, but simple. Not an easy combination, but this may also help when you're trying to pitch your book out in public, too.

    Main things to remember in a query. What is the story about? Who is the main character? What does the MC want? What obstacles get in the way of the MC's desire?

    Every query letter is different, but answering those questions in paragraph one might help. Giving the book's name, word count, and intended target audience might belong in paragraph 2. Paragraph 3 can include publication history, if any, along with a very quick bio. Last paragraph ought to thank agent or editor for their consideration.

    Good luck with your quest!

  3. You're on the right track I'd say. I HATE queries. I've struggled with mine and it's seen more reincarnations than Budda himself. The one I'm using now is one that I must say, is the one I wrote with a 'F*@# it, what would Evernow (the MC of the novel) say if she were describing her own story?' attitude.

    I had a list of the 'facts' that I needed to state but I tried to ignore the impulse to present myself as someone who wanted to make writing my business, and instead went with the goal of showing the prospective agent WHY I WAS someone who COULD making writing a profitable business. Something somewhere must have nabbed a little of Evernow's voice because I got two requests for fulls. Just keep at it is all I can tell you. And remember: If you can write the novel you can write the query :)

  4. God, I hate query letters. My first drafts were very business-y and dry. The best help I got was reading the Query Shark blog. If you don't read it, go.

  5. ...what is it about the damn query being so unresponsive?
    It's ridiculous if you think about it. I can bust out a 100,000 word novel with little angst...but shoulder me with a one page query letter and the skies darken.
    Us writers are an odd brew:)

  6. Queries are tough. I tinker and tinker until it feels right, and then let my friends rip them apart (on Querytracker forums, usually)
    That helps a lot!

  7. Elana Johnson has the perfect solutions for many queries... she is filled with awesome query dust! It's awesome... it's like special fairy dust!

    A friend of mine told me to write like my character. Step into their shoes and write the query letter in first person (it won't stay that way, but it allows you to see the voice of your character) from there you should form it to third person and viola!

    Easier said than done right? Good luck!

  8. Go Zeph!

    All of this is so smart. I will have to return to this post for the advice when I am query writing. It will be really easy for me to over-think this.

  9. Thank you everyone. The blogosphere rocks. Many resources. A lot more work. But THANK YOU! This feels right.

    Laura - I'll check out Elana.

    Jeffrey - "talking to someone you just met on the street" - a great way to think about it.

    Jon - Thanks!

    A.Grey - very interesting about "WHY I WAS someone who COULD making writing a profitable business". Those thoughts arose for me before, but I didn't think they fit. Thank you! I'm going to go w/it.

    Alicia - Query Shark blog. Okay, I'm on it.

    Elliot - I'd choose 100,000 words over a query any day.

    Lydia - Querytracker forums; more resources!

    Jen - Next step, I'm writing the query as Zeph. Thank you!

    Tina - Yup, over-thinking is an enemy.

  10. Milo Fowler - Welcome & thanks for following!

  11. My query has evolved over the past couple years. Yep, took that long. I finally had my editor look at it and giveit a makeover. Now it looks great. Very professional. He even added a one-line opening sentence,

    "A scientific breakthrough of such magnitude it could radically alter the future of humanity—for better or worse—is in the wrong hands."

    If you'd like his email address to talk to him, contact me at golionssss@yahoo.com

    Stephen Tremp

  12. Good luck with the query!! This is exciting!!

  13. well over at my blogroll you have a blog of my friend Matthew Rush which is mostly dedicated to describing good and bad queries, light and dark experiences in making and sending them ... You might wanna check it out:


  14. Query letters are tough! I'm realizing the old phrase "practice makes perfect" really applies here. Testing out different styles and seeing which one fits you best... only time will tell. Until then GO YOU!

  15. Stephen - You're very generous. Thank you! I'll be in touch as I get closer.

    Paul - Thank you!

    Desmond - Excellent resource. Thanks!

    Jen - "Testing out different styles", the flexibility in that is very helpful.

  16. Al, Ellie, Mohamed & Cruella - Welcome & thank you for following!