Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Is It So Hard to Write A Query?

When I'm writing my novel, I rarely spend a whole morning on one sentence (a paragraph, maybe). But I often do when I'm writing a query. It's so hard to get it right.

For me, one of the most frustrating parts of writing a query is thinking that I need to pare the whole novel down to its bare bones and sum it up in a few exciting sentences. Guess what? That's not necessarily true. The key is to remember that the purpose of the query is to include enough about the novel to catch an agent's or editor's interest so they want to read more. Agent Kristin Nelson's two quick tips about querying really helped ease my mind.
Writing a query also brings so much pressure. It's like the whole fate of whether I'll ever get my novel published rests on how well I can write these two paragraphs. Which is ridiculous. Of course I know I have to interest an editor or agent in my story to get a chance, but it's really the novel itself that matters. If I've written 48,000 words, surely I can write two pages.
What do you find most challenging about writing a query?
By the way, in case you're struggling too, last week one of my followers Brooke Favero had a great post listing some good resources for writing queries.


  1. They do seem just about impossible. For me, it's very tempting to include details that I think are cool but don't belong in a query b/c there isn't enough room to explain them. I'm always cutting it down to the basic premise and the inciting incident. Good luck!

  2. I agree with Laura above--it's tempting to include cool, eye-catching elements that might catch an agent's attention, but occasionally it takes too long to explain them (or they don't really have a big role in the story). It's a process, that's for sure, and it hasn't gotten much easier. I've heard advice from K.N. that says you should just talk about your first thirty pages...well, that leaves out the choices and stakes for my character, so...I don't know. I try to cater each one to the agent, which just leads to more work/confusion on my part sometimes :)

  3. Good luck with the query writing!!

  4. I have a hard time figuring out which characters to include with the protag. I always put too many characters in my query!

    Thanks for the link! I'm going to check it out.

    Good luck on your query letter. :)

  5. I think we panic about queries because they're something new and unknown and strange - I mean, who of us had ever even heard the term before we started writing seriously? But all writers have read a million books - and thus back flap copy. We know what that looks like. So for me the trick is just to imagine it as that.

    (And then get someone who *hasn't* read your novel to crit it to make sure they understand what's going on in the story)

  6. Girl Friday, I love your tip about getting someone who hasn't read your novel to read it!

    Jess, I'm not sure it ever will get easier, since each novel I write is so different.

    Laura, it is hard to cut out those cool details. Deciding which characters to include is a challenge for me too, Karen. Aside from the "bad guy".

  7. uggh. I hate writing the query. The hardest for me: the hook. I just sent my query and decided to skip the hook in the traditional sense because I couldn't write one with enough voice which probably means I have a weak voice. Good luck.

  8. I tried KN's advice about writing your query based on the first 30-50 pages. I then on got feedback from another agent. Don't listen to the advice . . . that's my advice. ;)

    I find it helpful when other writers crit your query. But there are two kinds of helpers. The ones who help you make your query shiny. And the ones who help make it into a bigger mess because they want you to add and explain more than you should. Having someone who's read the book crit the query is really helpful. They know what is important and what should be kept in.

  9. I must be weird - I love writing queries. Well, maybe not love, but I enjoy the challenge. I think that my years as a freelance writer gave me plenty of practice getting an idea down to a concise, intriguing paragraph. Then again, what do I know? I haven't sold a novel yet. :-)

  10. Car, you'll sell one eventually! I do think that writing non-fiction or magazine style articles can help with a query, since you have to have that hook and organize the writing to make a point.

    Stina, great points! It's good to have the perspective of those who know what is important in the novel, and sometimes when you're the writer you're too close to see it easily.

    Brooke, I find it challenging enough to summarize the novel, let alone capture some of the voice of my main character in a query. I don't think voice in your query letter necessarily means your novel has no voice, but I guess it doesn't hurt to have it in your query too.

  11. I totally agree with you about the pressure in those two paragraphs. What I found helpful with my second book is that I wrote the query while I was writing the book.

  12. I loved Kristin Nelson's tips! Thanks for sharing them, and good luck with your query!


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