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Querying the impossible Query…

Yep, no hiding now. It’s on to a brief discussion on queries.  The query is a loathsome beast, not as dreaded as the Synopsis, but a close runner up. Now, you can go out and google all sorts of interesting information on creating the perfect query, or what goes into a query.  I’m not so sure there’s such an animal as “the perfect query”.  Regardless it is a very vital part of the whole getting yourself published process.

Let’s look at what this little nugget is suppose to do for you.  The main purpose of a query is to SNAG THE ATTENTION of the person reading it.  You want that editor/agent/pub house to gasp in delighted shock and think “OMG! I MUST HAVE THIS STORY!” After which, they rush to their phone/email and quickly demand more.  That’s a realistic expectation, right?  Um, yeah time to re-evaluate here.

No matter how great your story is, I can almost guarentee those you’re looking to impress have already seen it. Discouraging though that may sound, it’s truth. But here’s the good part of that.  From talking to agents/editors and reading numerous articles, you must not give up hope.  A unique voice,  a new twist on an old idea, an intriguing story…all of these are still in demand.

Now you have to get your query to stand out.  Don’t put it on tie-dye paper, drench it in some sweetly sick smelling perfume, have a singing stripper deliver it to the agent/editor’s office (though they may enjoy the show and remember you, they may also seek a restraining order).  Instead, make sure the very first line, aka your hook, sinks its barbed teeth in deep and won’t let them wiggle off your snare.  Make that first line exciting, intriguing, something that will leave whoever is reading it, wanting more.  Even more important, make sure it stays true to your writing and the story. If you’re doing a humorous mystery, it could be “Thanks to the dark and stormy night, there was no avoiding the vat of syrup that turned Millie’s life into a sticky situation.”

Yes, I’m highly aware of how corny that sounds, but you get the point. Besides, there is really no way to write a great hook in less than thirty seconds.  Although, now that I’ve written that, this story could go places…

Never mind, back to our point–query writing. As hard as it is to create, you need

  1. Hook
  2. Your blurb–this is how you keep your query quarry’s attention.  You tell them what your story is, who’s involved, what’s at stake and leave them wondering…will they succeed or not?
  3. Your book info–this means title, word count, genre, is it stand alone or one in a possibly series?
  4. Your publishing credentials.  Now, if you haven’t published before, have you been nominated for any awards, even if it’s in non-fiction writing, list it.  Won any contests? Tell them.  If you’re published, you know the drill–titles, publisher, and when.
  5. Something unique about you–think one line bio.  Set yourself apart, but don’t lie.  Everyone has that one thing that’s just them. For me–I live in a testosterone household with three Star Wars geeks and a 100 lb. lab–find yours and use it.
  6. Contact information–they need to get ahold of you to get more of your story, so make sure you give them every available chance–email, mailing address, phone number and your name.
  7. Be polite–thanking them for taking the time to review your request, not only is it nice (and my momma made sure I understood politeness) but think about it, aren’t you grateful they did take the time?

There you have, the basics of a query letter.  Now comes the fun part–hit that send button and get your story out there. No one will be able to appreciate your wonderfulness if you don’t share it.  Take a chance, risk a little and the rewards might be more than you hoped for!

Best of luck, guys!

–Wicked

Squishing it all together…

I promised last week to cover the dreaded synopsis challenge every writer is forced to endure once they’ve completed their novel.  As far as I’m concerned, writing a synopsis is a hell of a lot harder than writing the damn book.  Seriously, you’re expected to squish 350 pages into 5….3 5 0   down to  5.  Do you see the problem here? Besides the fact that 350 has three placeholders and 5, a lonely one?  Yeah, it’s enough to make you want to spike your coffee with cynanide.

As much as I highly dislike this part of the querying process, there is no escaping it.  Really.  Just go out and look at any submission policies from any publishing house or agency.  I guarentee somewhere in that long list of how to send in your stuff will be the word “synopsis”.

It sounds simple enough.  Tell us what your book is about in 2-5 pages.  Ummm, can’t you just read it? Please?  (The whine factor here is off the charts, by the way.)  The honest answer is–no.  Agents and acquiring editors are inundated with queries every hour of every day.  I think the synopsis is a test of sorts.  How well do you know your story? Do you know the most important, intriquing parts of the story? Enough to hook someone into joining your fictional world in 2-5 pages?  If you do, you’re ahead of the game.  If you don’t, you’re about to find out.

Granted queries are suppose to be the first step to snagging someone’s attention, but once you have it, you want to keep it on you.  We’re not greedy, but we do want them to read what we’ve written.  They’re not going to want to come on the journey unless you have a clear path laid out with lovely cakes and pasteries (versus Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs), so that before they realize it, they have completed the journey with you.   This is why your synopsis is so huge. 

How do you get it down? You have to mill down your story to the bones.  If you use Scrivner, it’s a bit easier. Just use the corkboard layout and if you’ve done it right you have a one to two sentence outline for each chapter.  If you’re Scrivner-less, you get to do the same thing.  Remember, high points here.  You don’t need to go into the fact your hero/heroine ate a blueberry muffin, spilled her coffe that made her late for work if what really happened was that by being late for work your hero/heroine walks into a robbery in progress. 

Remember, you’ve already written the story, now, you want to tell the major points.  Adjectives are not necessary, long descriptions are best kept in your manuscript, but you’re a writer so make sure your voice comes through.  Not every little event needs to be detailed, the big ones that impact the ending, those need to be shared.  Here’s the thing, a query doesn’t answer all the questions because you want them to go read your book.  A synopsis will set up the world, your characters, your overall plot and answer all the questions. And it does it, in a logical fashion–no jumping from scene to scene like a hyper Mexican jumping bean.

The best advice I can share: just sit down, write out your book as if someone asked you, “So what’s your book about.”  Don’t work about formatting, etc., just answer that question.  When you’re done, it won’t be pretty by all the necessary points should be there. Then you can go back and polish it up. 

Those who’ve survived the synopsis trials, please, please share how you managed to survive!

–Wicked

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