Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing Process VII: The Query

Secret: I actually like the query letter.

Composing the query letter and synopsis are great fun for me. Why? Because the first draft is quick and then I get to spend time revising and editing and making it beautiful.

I usually write the first draft of what later becomes the query letter very early on-- before I've started writing, after/during the outlining process. It helps me figure out my story.

For example, this is the pitch I wrote up for The Temper back when it was little more than an idea:

16-year-old Connor "The Temper" Thomas has a unique (albeit unimpressive) superpower-- he can heat or cool things with a touch of his hand. When he gets a sidekick job with the legendary superhero Captain Power, he thinks he'll be saving the world. He's less than pleased when he discovers his main responsibilities are keeping the coffee warm and acting as a human ice pack when the Captain's shoulders are sore.

When Captain Power dies during a self staged publicity act gone wrong, Connor feels pressured to assume his identity. The city needs a hero. Or at least the illusion of one. As Connor fumbles through a rescue and thwarts a heist or two, he has almost everyone fooled. Only Freezepop, another sidekick, suspects that there's something different about the Captain. But the villains believe that Captain Power still protects the city, and so they stay away.

When Freezepop discovers the truth she tries to convince Connor to go public- before he gets himself killed trying to keep up with the heroic persona. But identity theft becomes the least of Connor's worries when a super villain comes to town. Blaze Blitz is the real deal- ruthless, determined and diabolical. And he has his eyes set on Captain Power.

Connor knows he's no match for Blaze, but when Blaze kidnaps Freezepop and threatens the town, Connor knows what he must do: defeat the bad guy, rescue the girl, save the city. And hopefully survive long enough to see the sunrise.

Keeping coffee warm never seemed so preferable.

It was hard not to edit this, but I wanted to show you guys my original, untouched draft. Right away I see a lot I can change-- make some sentences snappier, maybe trim it down a bit (it's a little wordy). Also I have four characters in this version, and generally you want to keep it down to two or three. This could work though, because the names are pretty unique and each character is important enough to stand out.

When writing a query, I like to break it down. Most stories can be divided into three acts. The Temper is no different. The first act is the setup, Connor gets the job as a sidekick and we are introduced to his life and world. The first act ends with Captain Power's death. The second act is all about Connor pretending to be Power. And the third act begins when Blaze Blitz enters the picture. I try to cover all these acts-- briefly-- in my query.

Of course there are many more subplots and other things going on in my story. I don't even mention Connor's brother, who plays a very important role. So how do I know what to include and what to talk about? I refer to my log line-- the ONE sentence pitch of my story.

When reluctant sidekick Connor "The Temper" Thomas assumes the identity of his fallen superhero, he never expects an actual villain will come to town and put both his lie and his life in jeopardy.

So this is what my story is about. This is what I talk about in my query.

We have all the basics, protagonist (reluctant sidekick), inciting incident (assumes the identity of his fallen superhero), and what is at risk (his lie and his life).

For my query, I elaborate on this. The draft I have above will be edited many more times before I dare to send it out, but since I write my queries early, I have plenty of time to tool around with it.

In conclusion:

Keep queries brief-- aim for about 250 words. Cover the basics-- the protagonist, the choice he/she faces, and the consequences. Agents want to be able to answer questions like: Why should I care? What is at risk? Try condensing your story into a single sentence pitch, then build your query up from there.

Next up: Synopsis! (Eek!)

Have any query writing advice? Please share in the comments!
Do you love or hate composing a query letter?


  1. I too enjoy writing queries. There's just something about whittling the story into a couple tantalizing paragraphs that makes me happy. I should get a job writing back cover copy.

  2. I do the same thing. I write my first draft of the query usually before I've started writing and work on it throughout the writing/editing process, so that when I'm ready to query, I'm set.

    Awesome post, Kat!

  3. I've sort of written a blurb-like thing for one of my novels but I haven't really delved into the query stage. I'll be trying my hand at it after my rewrite is finished. I'm quite excited for it, really.

  4. I have a love/hate relationship with queries. At times I like writing them--there is pleasure in coming up with that perfect lines that describes your story. But usually I have to go through several drafts, which can be rather frustrating.

  5. Your story sounds hysterical I love it and that's a great log line. I finally have my query in a good place I think and it wasn't that rough--but the synopsis...that's scaring me to pieces right now even though I used the --write it before you write the book trick--eek!

  6. Well done! You've inspired me to work on my pitch, as well. LOL Thanks!

    Followed you from Query Ninja. :)

  7. I wrote one for Lost in a Heartbeat before I started to outline the book or do the charactizations. It really did help. But the new one is nothing like the old one. And that was nothing like the first one you saw on my blog.

    So far I only have a logline for my wip, but even that's helpful.

    Because I love your blog, I'm giving you The Sugar Doll Award. The info about it is on my blog.

    Have a great weekend!

  8. While perfecting a query letter is tough for me, I like writing them. Like you, I write them before I've even written the novel to help me hone the conflict.

  9. You've really captured a unique voice and a fun tone in the pitch, a good start!