Query Letters

Last week I skipped my blogging exercise to focus on finishing the review of Matchbox Girls. Then I launched into writing the query letter! Originally my plan was to spend a couple of days on writing the letter and the synopsis, send it out, and move onto some vacation writing before starting my next serious project.

But I did some research and I got  sucked into reading the lovely Query Shark. She suggested that at the very least, I ought to wait a week before doing a query revision, just as I would for a novel. After reading some of the queries she loved, and some of the ‘this works’ ones, I was convinced. So I’ve spent the last few days reading the site voraciously and poking at my query. I had something that seemed to do the basic job, and it turned out to not be nearly as hard as I thought (I spent the first night after finishing my novel review freaking out over the awfulness of queries).

What made the query less scary to write? I accepted that I’d be lying about the details of the story, or at least eliding them so much that it would feel a little deceptive to me. As soon as I stopped trying to figure out how to properly explain my setting and story to an agent and instead focused on what I’d tell a stranger to interest them in my book, writing a query pitch became a lot easier. And it turned out not to bother me as much as I thought, because the query was fun and interesting.

The other thing that was useful was approaching the query as short form writing, like poetry, where word choice matters, and extra words diluted the meaning. Cliches are really irritating because it turns out they’ve become cliches because they say something. But they often aren’t concise, and because they’re such common phrases they become hard to really see– they’re like ‘He said’ in dialog. Trying to replace cliches with more meaningful words, and replace important adjective-noun combos with single evocative nouns are both ways of tightening up the query so that it packs as much punch as possible. Apparently keeping sentences simple also helps. You can see that I need some conscious effort to accomplish that.

Mind, I don’t know if what I’ve done will work. I hope so but I’m trying to keep my expectations low. If I do get hits on one of them, I’ll post it and talk about what I did.

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