Agent, Fiction, Novel, Query, Writing

Query writing, such a simple thing … mwahahaha

The term “dreaded query letter” is almost cliché. Obviously, there must be reasons why most writers, who are capable of writing a three hundred page novel, find writing this one page a daunting task. I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you why I tremble at the thought.

I’ve read numerous articles, blog posts, and book chapters on how to write a query. Often the same thought was expressed: If you’re having trouble writing your query letter, it’s because you don’t know what your book is about. Aaaand … every doubt I had while writing the book stands up and salutes that statement.

How can I argue with that logic? Can I tell you how to play cricket, where to find the best meal in Antwerp, how the diatonic scale differs from the chromatic? Of course, not. I don’t know any of those things. Therefore, if I can’t write a scintillating description of my book, it must be because I haven’t a clue what it’s about.

I sit paralyzed at the keyboard and that evil editor starts yapping. If you, the one who wrote the book, don’t know what it’s about, how could any reader follow it? Why would they even bother? It’s obviously nothing but a blob on paper. And evidently a putrid one. How could you possibly sell an agent on this mess?

But wait! Here’s an article that says, “You’re not actually selling the book.” Whew! That was close. Uh … wait a minute. Then, what am I supposed to do in the query letter? “All you’re doing is seducing the agent.” Oh, gotcha.” Uh … wait a minute.

How do I entice an agent in a query for my quiet character-driven story? “Focus on drama and stakes.” Hmmm. No dark alley chases, no murders, no trial of the century, no corporate takeover, no evil emperors, no battles, no magic, no vampires, no demons, no angels, not even a thing to go bump in the night. I have no mystery, no heart-stopping action, no cliffhanger to intrigue an agent.

I must “seduce the agent” by conveying the inner struggles of my characters, with their fears, and doubts, and longings in language too beautiful to behold. I must present the subtle drama and stakes of my story in a way that will astound the agent into making a frantic request for the full manuscript.

Easy as pie. Piece of cake. Not.

Please pass the Tums.

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28 thoughts on “Query writing, such a simple thing … mwahahaha”

  1. I read that article the last time someone presented a link. I bookmarked it for when I write my query. I like it better than many others I’ve read. Hope it works for US. I will be engaging in the query project SOMEDAY. I hope it will be soon. You will figure it out and write a great query. Say that ten times a day. 🙂


  2. I love the idea of tucking in a subliminal message. Maybe as a watermark on the paper? Brilliant idea!

    Have you offered your query for your critique group to hack apart? My people always point out those hidden things that only an agent (or a critique group) would see. Enormous help.


    1. Absolutely. My critique group has hacked apart every version of my query. 🙂 I have two writer friends looking at my latest attempt. They both said “not quite” to the last one. And it just occurred to me I need to revise my synopsis too! Will it ever end?


  3. Not that I know about such things, but it sounds to me like you’re just too close to it. Someone I know recently had to write some thank you notes that were to be published in the newspaper and in church bulletins, and while she writes beautifully, those particular notes just overwhelmed her, the circumstances she’d been through and for which she owed thanks, were just too personal. So I helped her, and it was easier for me because I was one step removed, but I was able to say exactly what she wanted to express (and if I’d not, she’d have been WAY down the road with something to edit to her tastes). Why don’t you find a writer you trust and get him/her to write the query for you?


    1. I’ve had a couple friends help like that, Brett, but the query is supposed to reflect your voice, so you can’t really take verbatim what someone else suggests. It’s interesting to see what they picked out of the book, though. You’re right, it’s hard to be objective, and even harder to distill 89,000 words down to 250. Writing a successful query is closer to writing advertising copy than to writing fiction. I’ve never been good at telling someone succinctly what any book or movie is about. Even if I loved it, I manage to drain the life out of it when I describe it. Unfortunately, I’m doing the same thing with my own book.


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