The query and why I suck at it.

My wip is far from being ready to query.  But in my blog-catching-up-time, I read a lot of query related posts (see this amazing rule-breaking query here).  Part of my procrastination regime is to do things that are associated with my wip without actually writing it so I’ve written several queries over the months.  None of them were any good and I can see why so many writers talk about how they hate writing query letters.  It has that reputation for a reason.

They are hard.  You have to condense your voice, your plot, your MC, why it’s different and why anyone should care into 250 lonely words or less.  Who wants to do that to their baby?

Needless to say, mine suck.  I do like to think they are progressively getting better, though.  Maybe by the next fifty or so I’ll have a winner.  I sent the latest version that I thought might be, at least, okay into a crit group.  I’ve only gotten one crit so far and it confirmed that I still suck at it.  I only sent it a couple hours ago so there is still plenty of time for the other critters in the group to tell me how much it sucks.  The best part about being told you suck (no, the words are not actually said, no one is ever mean-spirited) is that you learn from it which is far more valuable than being told something crappy is good.

Most will tell you there is an art to query letters that is far different from novel writing and I would venture to say they are right.  Before sending out those queries, I would highly recommend you get feedback.  Lots and lots of feedback and don’t send out that query until everyone loves it.  You only get one shot per agent and you don’t want to send that query to your dream agent before it’s right.

Anyway, the reason why I think I suck at it is that I don’t think I have the confidence to “sell” my book.  I was asked what was unique abou it.  The honest answer is, I don’t know.  I’ve never sat down and thought about what makes it unique, I just write the story that’s in my head and hope it’s good enough.  I wonder if it’s something I just don’t want to look at for fear it’s not unique enough.  I never set out to write thinking in those terms.  I never set out to turn the literary world on its head. I simply set out to write.

I’m told it’s unique but it’s not like anyone ever explains to me what’s unique about it (and I never ask).  I can’t put its uniqueness into words unless I examine it, though.  That’s the catch twenty-two because if I set to examine it that closely, I’m terrified I’ll discover it’s not that great of a story.  I already had to rewrite what I had because the voice was all wrong.  What if there’s more to it that’s wrong?

All I can say is that I’m very glad I’m not even at the query stage yet.

I’m my own worst enemy in this matter.  I’m aware.  Feel free to send your condolences.  Flowers and chocolate are also accepted.


January 10, 2011 9:20 am

Humm, what is the difference between a query letter and a synopsis? Can't you send a rule breaking query with a synopsis attached? Are you sure you haven't thought about what makes your story different? Don't you ever play around with what you might write for the blurb on the back of your book…that's kind of what is going to grab your reader, and it doesn't have to be different, really. Does it? Is there a law? Just interest catching…and being as I am in the crit group, and read some of your story, I am thinking you have something interesting in this novel of yours, and something worthy. P.s. I've never written a formal query either, and I am sure I suck at it too. But hey, the church liked my little skit enough to let me do next year if I want! Or else no one else wants to do it…But I am thinking they picked me out of all the other volunteers…even if I don't know about them they must be there…from Jane Doe Nothing, writing as Dapoppins…

January 10, 2011 4:35 pm

A query letter sums up your book in about 250-300 words. It answers the basic questions of who is your MC and what does s/he want, what's the obstacle, what's the choice/decision that has to be made, and what are the stakes.A synopsis is a running narrative of the book and doesn't leave anyone in suspense. It's meant to basically tell the major plot points and events from beginning to middle to end, introduce the characters, the conflict, etc . Like a query, it should also capture the voice and tone. And it should do it in however many pages the agent asks for so a lot of writers have a separate 1, 2, 3, and 5 pages synopses written to send out at any given time. Since a synopsis usually gets more specific with the details, I haven't written any yet. And I dread the thought.And honestly, there's no law on anything. The basic idea, though, in my mind is to understand what's standard and professional so you can present it that way. Agents are human and have pet peeves. The less you can trigger pet peeves, the greater your chances of not getting thrown in the reject pile without them ever having looked beyond your first paragraph.And yes, I'm sure there are many things that make my story different. But I can't articulate them. At least not right now. To me, it just sounds like defensive posturing. :)Glad your skit went so well! It really was cute.

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