The Surprising Use for Query Letters

The internet has pretty much decided that writing query letters is lame and hard.  Agents use their blogs to talk about all the query mistakes that turn them off and authors talk about how many rejections they’ve been getting–all in all, queries are getting a fearful reputation.

Until recently, I hadn’t actually drafted a query letter.  Partially because the internet rants about querying scared me, but also because I had yet to finish revisions on any of my manuscripts.  As I stared blankly at the story I was working on–one I’d drawered for a few months because it was starting to feel like just a mish-mash of scenes–I decided to sketch up a query letter just for practice.  Also, to procrastinate.  Further also, to see if I could sum up the story in a meaningful, compelling way.  And guess what.

I couldn’t.

I needed five or six paragraphs to get my story into that query letter.  There were Very Important Things that I didn’t want to leave out–I didn’t trust that my story made sense without them.  Secondary and tertiary characters began to make their appearances and complicate matters further.  The subplots were integral to the story–they HAD to be in there.

After cutting what little I felt I could cut, I was left with no less than four paragraphs.  Long paragraphs, all of them.  I read the paragraphs to my husband and he arched his brow and implied that it was crap (but in nicer words because he is supportive and awesome).  I knew it was crap.  What I couldn’t figure out was WHY it was crap.  But then, as my cat sprawled just so in the sunlight creeping in from our patio door and the microwave alerted me to the finished state of my chicken verde burrito, I realized the truth about writing query letters.

You have to know the story you’re telling to write a good query.

Sounds simplistic, but once I discovered this gem of insight, I went back to my story with a renewed zeal and a better idea of what I wanted the overarching narrative to convey.  Working through the pages with the query in mind has given the whole narrative a more cohesive feel.  Even the subplots, while still important, reflect information about the main plot and themes.  It’s starting to feel less like a group of ragtag scenes and more like a cohesive story.  As such, I’ve gotten a lot more excited about working on it.  I feel slightly less overwhelmed about the work ahead of me.  All thanks to drafting a query letter.

What have query letters done for you lately?


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