Monday, March 18, 2013

QUERY... The five letter expletive

I have written dozens of queries and only one has ever made it to the editor and resulted in publication. That said you're probably wondering why I'm qualified to give advice on how to write a query. I'm not. I've attended a lot of classes, asked advice of acquisitions editors and published authors, read websites and magazines, and I still haven't written that perfect query that has agents slavering for my work.

But the nightmare process has helped me come up with a simpler way to brainstorm the query. I've taken the compendium of advice I've found on the subject of queries and compiled it into sections and checklists to make the process easier for me. If it helps one of you out there suffering through the pain of the five letter expletive (q-u-e-r-y), then I'm happy:).

Whether you are an aspiring author, a published author, or just someone looking for a job, you understand the pain of the query letter. Writing a query is like writing a resume, and before you write a resume you do your homework, right?

Right.

You are not going to apply for a job without first researching the job requirements, including the specific things the prospective employer wants to see on your resume. 

A query needs to be treated in the same way. You can write a standard format for a query with all the basic things most queries need, but be prepared to tweak it to exactly what each specific agent/editor wants to see. So, before you even begin, DO YOUR HOMEWORK, even the most perfectly written query won't get you anywhere if you've sent it to someone who only represents children's books and you're trying to sell them your 100,000 word Horror novel...

Most agents/editors do not want a query longer than a single page. So how do you cram all your awesomeness into one page?

You focus on what's most important.

*Hook!! This has got to be good! If you don't hook them in that first sentence, chances are they won't bother finishing the rest of the letter. They're busy people and they base a lot on that first sentence.
*1-2 paragraph description of your book(single space your letter but put a space before and after each paragraph)
*1 paragraph pitching yourself  
*Final thank you  

Let's go through each step:
  
THE HOOK  

     1. What are the most important points of my story?
         2. Out of this list which is the MOST important point? 
        (This will be the point you will work with to create the perfect "Hook". Read book jacket blurbs in your genre for ideas how to summarize the most important point of the book into one catching sentence. It needs to be a sentence that has them eagerly reading on. You can have your "hook" stand as its own paragraph, but if possible try and blend it right into your descriptive paragraphs.)

DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPHS

A paragraph is generally 3-5 sentences long. Question's 3, 6, 8, 10 and/or 11, and 12, can be turned into a sentence or two that you can then combine to create your descriptive paragraph(s).

         3. Who are my main characters?
         4. Which character's POV do I use the most? (If you switch points of view. If you only have one character POV then your description should be in their POV.)
         5. What are the main goals in my story?
         6. Out of these goals which are the most important/exciting? (These will be the elements used in the description)
         7. What stands in the way of my characters success?
         8. Which of the above is their greatest challenge? (Include in paragraph)
         9. What will happen if your protagonist fails? (Be emotionally specific)
        10. Out of the above, which is the worst that could happen? (Use this as the end of your paragraph description)
        OR
        11. What elements in my story's climax are the most exciting? (Choose one of these or something from 10. to end your description, tying all the sentences you created using questions 3, 6, 8, 10/11, together.)
        12. What is your Genre, book title, and word count? (example: Your final sentence can read....My 90,000 word YA Fantasy, BOOK TITLE, draws the reader into a world where... fill in however you want. End the paragraph(s) and move on. 

INTRODUCING YOU

        13(a). IF you have writing experience. 
                  What are my greatest writing accomplishments, sales, publications, awards, etc.
        13(b). If you have NO writing experience...yet. 
                  What are some interesting points about me that make me sound qualified to write in the genre chosen? And/or... Who does my writing compare to and why?          14. What books have I read that they represent that may compare to my writing style?
        15. What is my ...?
                  *Genre?
                  *Word Count?
                  *Book Title?
(Be careful with this paragraph and make sure to read your agents specific guidelines.  Some agents don't want to hear anything other than your publishing credits and some get really annoyed when you compare yourself to other authors, especially if you are brazen enough to say you think you are the next Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling. When in doubt skip this paragraph all together, and move onto the thank you paragraph.)

FINAL SENTENCE 

         16. THANK THEM FOR THEIR TIME! Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.  
   Follow with a "Sincerely", "Yours truly", or whatever floats your boat.   

Now that you have your list, you can take all the elements from your breakdown and start writing. Remember to try and keep it down to a single page, and format it according to the guidelines of the agent/editor. There will usually be different formats for email and snail mail submissions.

If the agent/editor wants you to include chapter or synopsis with your query you can type at the bottom of your query...
(For snail mail) ENC: Synopsis and first three chapters as per your guidlines. 
(For email)  INC: Synopsis and first three chapters as per your guidelines.

Once you've typed your query don't jump the gun and send it right off. Wait a few days and go back and look it over with fresh eyes. Check for mistakes. Then loan it to your good pal who's great with grammar and have them look it over. Then if you can afford it, hire a freelance editor to look it over. Some aren't too bad in price and it just might be the difference between a sale or not. I'll have a link on my Aspiring Authors page to the freelance editor I use as soon as its available. She's fabulous and fair priced. I don't know where I'd be without her. My grammar is terrible! I also have a checklist for writing a synopsis--I really hate those. I'll try to get that one posted soon!

Good luck!!! May your next query bring you the success you desire!!