What’s more difficult than coming up with a plot, creating complex characters, controlling pacing and dialogue, and actually stringing together 80,000 words? You guessed it—writing a 250-word query.
We’ve all been told we need one. A good query distills your book to its essence, helps ensure your story stays on track, provides an answer to the ever-present-and-dreaded, “what’s your book about?” And, of course, it will get you an agent.
Even accomplished authors struggle with writing queries. It’s telling, not showing. It’s sales copy. Each word must be perfect, and all 250 of them must intrigue the reader enough to want to read more—while illustrating your story, writing style, and voice.
It’s an intimidating task. There are hundreds of books and websites and seminars—and opinions—about what you should include and in what order. Some want one-sentence log lines at the beginning; some tell you that your query will be thrown out if you start out that way. Some want the word count and bio in the first paragraph, others want it tacked on at the end. All agree that it’s imperative your query is compelling.
I recommend QueryShark.com, Janet Reid’s blog devoted to analyzing and critiquing queries. She posts queries online and works with queriers, providing feedback and suggestions. Readers can comment. It’s brutal, but effective. I know. I was lucky enough to have my query chosen, to become one of her “chum,” as she calls it. I put my ego quietly aside as she mauled the query I’d worked on for days into bits. It was a condensed exercise in rejection, editing, wordsmithing, and perseverance—all things that writers confront daily.
Although soul-shattering, it was effective. After incorporating her comments and ignoring anonymous critics, I had a query I was proud of. A query that landed me an agent—and a publishing offer.
Exciting times. After working with my agent, the incredible Marisa Corvisiero, I suddenly understood the importance the query. Agents are some of the busiest folk out there, and they’re committed to selling your book to beleaguered editors. They don’t have time to create a blurb to pitch your book; they want something that’s ready to go. It’s a win-win-win combination: You know your book better than anyone, so you write the damn query. They use it to get your book in front of editors, which is what they do best.
So, spend time on your query. Draft it when you begin your book. Visit QueryShark and other query-writing websites, read books, analyze online samples. Be the query. Your query will help you leap over one more hurdle on your way to publishing your baby.
But—don’t forget the synopsis. Sigh.