Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Query first

The scariest word in the un-published author's vocabulary? Query. Today I wanted to show you a few ways in which you can refine this savage beast. And even make it work for you.

Welcome to the Query First Theory.

I know I'm not the first person to say it, but there's a benefit to writing the query before you write the novel. Especially for pantsers like me.


Many of us pantser-types resist having an outline or a synopsis before-hand because we feel that the level of detail will sap out all the creative juices. A query, on the other hand, is not really about details. It's more about generating interest in the concept behind the story.

By writing a query first, you can check back in periodically on ensure that the manuscript is staying in tune with the big picture. It helps keep your story about dealing with grief not turn into a story about auditioning for a reality tv show. (Fellow pantsers, you know this happens.)


Writing your query before the first draft can be a way to discover voice, especially in YA. Consider this example from the back cover of Twilight:

About three things I was absolutely positive.
First, Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was part of him — and I didn’t know how potent that part might be — that thirsted for my blood.
And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

I think this captures Bella's voice perfectly. It also fulfills the first requirement of directing the story- every part of the first book of the Twilight saga is concerned with the fact that Edward is a vampire, that he must resist the urge to have Bella a la Cullen, and that Bella is totally hooked.

Also, consider this excerpt from Karsten Knight's query for WILDEFIRE:

Ashline Wilde never received an instruction manual on how to be a 16-year-old Polynesian volcano goddess. If she had, it might have contained helpful warnings such as:

Dreaming about your (thankfully) mortal boyfriend may cause your bed to spontaneously combust
Oven mitts should be worn at all times during heavy make-out sessions

Wildefire hasn't been released yet, but the voice- even moreso than the story- makes it a must-read for me.


Much of the query-writing pressure is actually time pressure. You write a book, you want to get it out there, but you have to stop and boil down it's essence in a witty way. ARGH!

Writing a query beforehand means you can come back to it periodically through the whole process- first drafting, second-drafting, critiquing, editing, etc. It means you can tweak the query if you need to change your story. You've got months to find the perfect words to show your story. And when your manuscript is ready to go, your query's already chomping at the bit.

Any other reasons to write the query first?


Heather Hellmann said...

Thanks for the advice! I'm getting ready to write my query soon, so this will be helpful.

Sophia Richardson said...

Writing the logline and/or query first helps you to figure out whether you have a story worth telling, too. If you can't pinpoint the heart/core/whathaveyou of your story, if you're not sure who in your cast of thousands is the MC, if you waffle for ten pages before getting to the inciting incident then you may want to reconsider the story you've got on your hands.
- Sophia.

Gina said...

I am terrifed of queries. I'll look at excerpts from the backs of books, and read queries that published authors have posted on their blogs, and I just can't seem to duplicate the awesomeness of them. But this is a good start!

Michael Offutt said...

I've been pretty unsuccessful with the ole query.