Wednesday, January 23, 2013

One More Word on Queries

I realized today that while I told you how query writing can be frustrating, and what makes a good query, I forgot to tell you the most helpful thing I've discovered about them. If you use the Character, Conflict, Choice formula, it helps you define your book in your head.

When I first wrote my query for my first book, From Halvmane's Shore, I had a really hard time doing it. Not because queries are particularly hard to get right (though they are), because feedback and revision can cure that quickly enough. The main problem I had was that my book was flawed in its plot arch, giving a fake climax (yes, haha) before the real one at the end. And the characters didn't know the main problem until after the fake climax. They spent half the book not knowing about the real, main, issue, and this made it nigh impossible for me to go from the hook at the beginning of the book to the main conflict in the three paragraphs of my query.

I tried to cut the book in two, and have the first part be a novella and expand the second part into a full story, but I realized I'd dug myself a big, stinking hole. And after having worked this story for so long, to realize the monumental effort I'd have to put into vast rewrites, how I'd barely put any effort into it that would survive to the final was crushing. I decided to (finally) shelve it and work on something new.

All this, my personal sob story, to say the query can save you from this. I've now decided on a new personal practice that I would recommend to any other writer: write your query's first draft immediately after writing your book's first draft.

This practice cements in your head the most important elements of your novel: Character, Conflict, Choice. And it will draw your attention to any problem with these elements now, early on in the process, when it won't make you cry to think of a revision. Because you were going to do that anyway.

The other benefit to writing your initial query draft now is you can edit it between every edit of your book, when you're waiting on feedback or to let the book sit. Many authors don't like queries because of the time they add after writing your book before you can send them out. So don't let it add time! Do them between the cracks.

I did something rare and finished my Friday post before the day of (yay me), and I'm excited to share it with you. Until then: When during your process do you usually work on your query letter?


  1. You know you learned a ton from that first, shelved novel, right? It might not have felt like it when you were giving up on it, but it was a course in writing by itself.
    I've been wondering what happened with your query after seeing it on Matt's blog.
    I think you're smart to write the query early. And the synopsis teaches a lot too.
    (Note to self-work on synopsis of WIP.)

    1. I know I learned a lot. A part of me still wishes that I could fix it, though. It's my baby. But I've decided I have to work on other things for at least five years before letting myself get sucked back into that mess again.

      I will be querying as soon as I get this current edit done (which means waiting on my betas) and then do one more quick check for grammar. I'll be posting my success/failure here.

      Right, synopsis. *Groans.* I guess I should get started on that, too...

  2. That's a great point on how a query should work if the basic story structure works. If one's off then there's a good chance the other is, too.

    I had a little of that with my current WIP - the climax just wasn't complete enough. But I had planned a book two and realized if I combined them then the conflict worked through both parts and the climax at the end was actually appropriate for the hook at the beginning. The end of what was book one became a fine mid-climax while leaving the larger issue still hanging til the end. Putting together a query probably would have helped me see it sooner.

    1. Exactly! Sorry to hear about your structure issues. It all gets easier with time. :)