Ernest Hemingway:

As Ernest Hemingway once said...
'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'

Thursday, September 20, 2012

query. say it. now wash your mouth out with soap.

Ugh. Go ahead. Say it like a bad word - I do. Query, query, query. I've read so many how-tos, so many sample queries, I've even spent quite a bit of time critiquing them. And still, I have no idea how to write them. I honestly wonder if I'll ever know. I think one day I'm just going to get lucky, and that's it. I won't print out the query and hang it up as an shining example of what's good and right. No, not at all. Because on that day the worlds  will just happen to line up the right way and that's it.

I've submitted queries to a handful of sites, and come back with none of the same comments. In fact, most of the time the comments are in direct contradiction. I've had my writing chewed up and spit out and stomped on, sometimes in a helpful manner, and sometimes not. And let me tell you - nothing gets me more than a bunch of know-it-alls sitting around and tearing the hell out of a query just for sport. Yes, those sites exist. It's nauseating to think at one point I actually thought they were helpful.

This is my conclusion on the nasty, abhorrent query. If the novel is written well and the story is enticing, then assuming the query is written in the same vein, it'll be fine. You'll get some rejections, yes, but you'll also get some interest. Because if the story is good, and the query reflects that, then a fantastic hook won't matter. If you end it with a question, that's okay. If it's a bit too long or too short, again, you're fine. Do those things help? Sure. But I'm a big believer in the idea that if an agent refuses to read my query because I end it with a question, or because it's fifty words too long, then I don't want that agent anyway. What a miserable SOB.

Stay within the general guidelines of course. Don't write a five hundred word query. But I've written enough to know that if the query gets no bites, then it's not the query. It's the novel. Too many times I've sent out queries to no avail only to realize it's my manuscript that needs major work, and the query reflects that.

Bottom line? Don't stress about the query. Worry about the manuscript. Have people read it and really give you helpful critique. Don't be afraid to ask. This is your baby. Don't take a chance on sending queries on a manuscript that hasn't been critiqued only to change it and realize you've used up all of the agents on the top of your wishlist. Spend your energy making sure your manuscript is fantastic, well-written, and formatted properly. I guarantee if you succeed at this your query will be just fine.

And if no one wants your baby? Well, then go indie. But if you do that make damn sure it's ready. Because even worse than sending out a query for a manuscript that needs work is actually publishing it. Yikes.

Of course, this all comes from a woman who hasn't published anything. So as usual take it with a grain of salt.


cheisserer said...

I completely agree. I've spent over a year writing and rewriting both the query and the manuscript, and I don't know which one I've spent more time on.

I even wrote my query in first person MC, once, because someone recommended it online. No. Bad recommendation.

Andrea said...

Very useful information, plus now I think I have an idea what a query is!

Jo Michaels said...

Nothing wrong with going indie. Make it bigger, make it badder, make it awesome :) WRITE ON!

Rissa Snepp said...

Awesome post, very encouraging. ;-)