Monday, October 17, 2011

Query Minded

I spent the past week roughing out a query for Franken-novel*, and I needed some focus, sooo today I’m blogging about queries: why I’m writing one NOW and my “offensive” mindset with it. Enjoy the rant, my inner repartee. Scattered side benefits.

If You've Never Written a Query...

Some Dos and Don’ts, courtesy of the Write Brained Network conference, Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency, and Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary.

General Things to Include:

1) Word Count

2) Genre

3) Personalization (DO THIS!!! TRUST ME!!!)—Personalizing your query says you’ve done your homework (researched the agency, know what kinds of books the queried agent represents,…) and just might be the extra edge in getting a request. Plus, it’s just nice. Agents get a kazillion queries a week—make yours stand out.

4) Short Bio—any previous publications, writing credits, professional writing organizations,…

5) Pitch (Hook)

6) Mini-synopsis (2 to 3 paragraphs) to include the Four Cs

a) Character
b) Care
c) Conflict
d) Consequences

7) Voice

8) And all of this should happen in 250 words

250 words.

It’s possible. And it’s a great exercise in answering the question What’s my book really about?

Here’s what the lovely wonderful agents said you should NOT include:

1) “This is what my cover should look like!”

2) Opinions

3) Age (yours)

4) How long you wanted to be a writer

5) Crazy fonts

6) Your picture

7) Not more than one project at a time

All super sound advice coming from two fabulous agents. And as I sat down to rough out my own query, I also turned to some truly spectacular advice I received last year through Writeoncon from Author Jodi Meadows.

Jodi enjoys queries, and her post gets you focused on your own query writing with four essential questions

1. Who is the protagonist and what is their goal? (Motivation.)

2. What is keeping the protag from achieving that goal? (Conflict.)

3. How will the protagonist overcome this problem? (Plot.)

4. What happens if the protagonist fails/what choice does the protagonist have to make? (Stakes, and why the reader should care.)

Then (love this), she pretty much sums up what should be in each sentence in each paragraph of your query. Seriously. SO HELPFUL.

And then she gives even more pointers, like Focus. Your story may be filled with lots of subplots and secondary characters with their own agendas, and that’s cool, but focus. Main character, main plot, and tells you what your query should reveal about your story.

Whatever level of experience you have with query writing, you’ll gain A LOT from Jodi’s advice.

So Why Am I Writing A Query?

Yeah. Why AM I writing a query? I am months away from sending one off. Franken-novel is FAR from being done. Actually, it’s in super early revision stage.

Writing my query helps me to focus on my story. I have a lot of subplots weaving throughout my novel, but the query helps me to focus on that main plot thread. And I NEED that. What is the main goal of my protagonist, what is standing in his way, and what the heck will happen if he doesn’t achieve his goals?

I tend to get caught up in all my little storylines, and sometimes I lose focus of what my story’s really about. The query helps me put that in perspective. And then all the teensy little subplots work to align themselves with my protagonists goals.

Offensive Player or an Offensive Player

As seen above, there are certain dos and don’ts with querying. Rules to play by. And you want to play it safe.

But sometimes you want to take some risks too.

That’s where I’m at right now with mine. If you’ve been around my blog long enough, you know my protagonist is an eighteen year old recovering manwhore with a er,…special super awesome supernatural power. He’s a quarterback with a long-standing bromance with his left tackle (football speak for blindside) and has an offensive-laden circle of friends. And when they hit the field, they pretty much have to have an offensive mindset: attack, play aggressively, take some risks to get the job done.

Some of his friends transfer said offensive mode to life, girls, drinking, um...other guy stuff.

And sometimes the offense gets a little offensive—ya know what I mean?

And I felt the exact same way when I planted my butt in a chair, opened a new doc, and started typing THE QUERY.

Here’s the mini-synopsis of the first hour:

Typed first line.

Deleted it.

Wrote the same thing again.

Deleted and rewrote it a few more times.

Why? Because my first line** of my query, my hook, my lead in to my pitch…

It just might be a little offensive. It might piss some people off.


Bu-ut that first line SCREAMS my character, the story, voice,…EVERYTHING. It’s so freaking perfect and I love it and I really don't want to cut it, but I don't know if I should keep it in my query because someone's going to tell me You do not want to go there and...


However - and maybe this is wishful thinking - my first line might just turn some people on too.

My point (and yes, I do have one) is that you’re never going to please everyone. Not everyone is going to like your story and some people might even be “turned off” by it. Gosh, I used to live my life by the try to please EVERYBODY motto. It’s exhausting. It’s depressing. And it does. Not. Work.

Bottom line, peeps—you have to do what’s right for your story. You have to stand by your man (or woman). Play by the rules, but take some chances too. It’s okay to take RISKS. To stand out. As long as you’re true to your story. To your characters. And to yourself.

Be an offensive player.

And sometimes be an offensive player.

As my boys find out in my story, some people like that. And some people don’t.

But the payoffs could be monumental.

* Franken-novel is not the title of my book. If you're curious, click here.

**I kept that first line. And no, I’m not revealing what it is here (I’M SUCH A TEASE). If you absopositively cannot make it through your day without knowing, inbox or email me (alisonmiller20(at)gmail(dot)com). I’ll share.

Are YOU querying? What risks have YOU taken lately?


  1. I've spent over 40 hours trying to get my query right. And my first paragraph is still not right. Elana Johnson has a free downloadable book FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL which I found helpful and also Guide to Literary Agents often posts queries that work.

    Good luck with yours and good idea to write it before you're ready to query to focus your story.

  2. Oh man I don't feel like I'm ready to query yet, but I need to know all about it. And, there have been a lot of posts about queries today so I wonder if I'm supposed to be working on something...

  3. Query shark just had something recently about this very problem! Sometimes the language you have to use to avoid politically correct phrases are "Impolitic to be sure, but useful." If you need to say it to get the tone across (short of cussing I think) then it probably will make that query stronger.

  4. I swear, it doesn't matter how many queries I've written or revised or read, I feel like I never get better at it. :-P

  5. I'm so jealous of people who can write queries BEFORE they're done with a first draft. I tried that once, to no avail. I have enough trouble writing queries with an entire draft :) Thanks for the tips!

  6. I'm terrified at this point of the query letter, so my take on finding focus was attempting to write a fake 'back of the book' synopsis. It turned out alright, but it does reveal certain things that need more fleshing out.

    My interest is definitely piqued with your little Franken-novel tease!

  7. Oh good luck writing the query!
    I sort of do that too, writing the query before starting the book...or when I'm beginning. As you said, it makes me stay focused.
    And it's a nice summary you got there! Thanks :D

  8. I posted my most recent query attempt on AW and got some helpful feedback, but also a lot of "liked this, but not this"--and few suggestions as to why it's not working.

    I had a query/pitch that was tight and compelling, but was not an entirely accurate reflection of the book as a whole (especially after some manuscript revisions). So I got a lot of requests that ended in personalized rejections saying the writing was strong, but they expected the book to be about A, when it was actually about B.


  9. Very curious about that first line- I hope we get to see it eventually.
    I like working on queries while I write. They change, for sure, but it gives me focus.

  10. I LOVE writing queries! I write mine before I even start my book. Then I tweek it if I end up making any big changes along the way. Good luck with yours! And great info, btw!

  11. I write premature queries/pitches, too! I figure if I am 3/4 of the way through a first draft, and I can't sum up the conflict in a few sentences--then Houston, we have a problem.

  12. Great post, Alison. Glad you stopped by my blog because now I've found yours!

  13. Fantabulous post! In the book, You Can write a Novel, he suggests writing a 35 word blurb to keep you on track.

  14. I'm at the very early stages of querying, still trying to feel out how good my query is. Such a frustrating time. But thanks for this post. I'll check out Jodi Meadows's advice and see if it changes my query at all.

    Good luck with your query and the revisions of the Franken-novel!

  15. With my NaNo project, I have the query written already even though I haven't typed a single word of the draft. Getting that query perfected helped me figure out what the stakes were for my character and make sure they were drastic enough. It was so helpful to write it before hand!

  16. This, by the way, does not go away once you are agented. You still have to write pitches for them. Perfect the query. You will use it over and over.

  17. I did a series on querying on my blog really just so I could data-dump all that I had read on the subject. For all the rules, the dos-and-don'ts, and good advice, the bottom line is this (and I've heard this from Janet Reid and many others): Write a query that makes the agent want to read your ms. Sometimes that means the query will break the "rules." But if the query makes the agent drool for more, it doesn't matter.

    Yeah, it's as easy as that! (Says the guy who is still querying his novel...)

  18. Wait... I *wasn't* supposed to send a photo of myself out with my query letters?! :)

    Such fabulous advice here, Alison, I don't even know where to begin... I will say that I've gotten into the habit of writing a query letter before I ever start a first draft. It really helps me to focus the story, the MC's wants, and the overall hook.

    Also, I say take the risk and be OFFENSIVE. Better to have someone raising their eyebrow than to have them bored out of their minds. The first line of my POPPIES MS is a definite attention grabber, and was probably sort of polarizing within the agenting bunch, but several told me specifically that they loved it. So, yay!

    Fabulous post, lady, as usual. :)

  19. Um, yes, email me the first line please and thank you!I need to know what it is.

    Def take risks. I worried I took too many with Tangled Tides, but now I have a story that's written the way I wanted and a publisher who loves it too. Risks do pay off. :)

    Great post!

  20. I *definitely* want to know what your first line is :) You ARE such a tease!

    This is one of the best query posts I've seen (and I've seen lots). What a great bunch of information and so easily navigable. Now I'm tempted to write the query for my WIP. Which is something I've been SO putting off.

  21. This is a great query post, Alison. Go for it and good luck! p.s. let us see that line before the end of the year :)

  22. I try and write my query before the first draft, updating it as I go along. Mainly to keep my focused, flesh out any glaring plot holes, and having something to work with when it's time to refine it. Great post!

  23. I completely agree with you about sticking with your novel. I am currently in the query stage and I have to admit I have submitted various queries, non has worked well for me so far. Thanks so much for the great post and the great tips.

  24. Queries are hard. Thanks for these tips. Glad to hear you stuck with your first line. I think voice is important in a query and it sounds from your post like your first line probably conveys the voice of your novel. Glad you decided to keep it.

  25. I'm almost ready to start writing my query and this is such a great post that I'm going to save it for reference later :)

  26. I wrote my query before I finished my MS, bc I needed to know if my hook was marketable. It helped a LOT bc I had so much time for Q revision. I've just started querying and so far, that approach seems to be working.


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