There’s been a lot of talk on the forums I frequent about queries, especially how to focus 300 pages of fiction into 250 words or less. I’m not fabulous at them myself, but it’s interesting to see just how many writers struggle to distill the essence of their story into a paragraph or two. It seems that we’re all trying to write a synopsis (ironic since we all loathe them), giving the agents back story and minor plot twists, explaining the characters’ motivations, etc., when all the query is supposed to is to intrique the agent to want to read more.
I think that some of this comes from us being fundamentally insecure in our talent. We feel we need to prove we’ve written a good book, by shoving in all these things that show how clever we are, because maybe we don’t believe it ourselves. A lot of folks who’ve posted their queries for critique will argue about the need for explanations or an info dump about the world, and with some of them it is amazingly difficult to convince them they’re not helping their cause. What it boils down to, though, is that we MUST focus and get out of synopsis mode. Agents get hundreds, if not thousands, of queries a week. We are just one more email filling their Inbox, one more person asking them for their time when too many people are already pulling on them in other directions. If we cannot write a 250 word blurb that is interesting, engaging, and TO THE POINT as far as what our story is about, why should they use what little time they have seeing if we’ve done better at getting to the point in our books?
Again, I am not good at queries. I have the same trouble that other writers do writing them. But I know this about myself, and I go to sites like QueryShark and Absolute Write and various agent blogs to learn how to get better. When my current WIP is ready for the query stage, I fully intend to put it up on the critique boards and let it get ripped to shreds. I will work it until my eyes are blurring and my fingers bleeding, so that I can give the agents the respect they deserve for their time when I put it in their Inbox. And even though the thought of writing a synopsis gives me the chills, I will do the same for that. I want to be a professional in this business and these are the dues I have to pay. It’s not just about writing a good story, but being able to function in the publishing world with publishing professionals, and that’s part of what being a “pro” in that world means.
If you’re struggling with this yourself, my first (and strongest!) suggestion is to go to Queryshark (www.queryshark.blogspot.com). Read ALL of the posts. See what works, and see what gets chomped to bits by the Shark. This woman knows what she’s talking about and she’s freaking brilliant at pointing out why things are bad. Listen to her. Learn. And then try it on your own and find your own sharks on writer’s boards to chomp it to bits. You only get one shot per novel with a given agent. Don’t waste it by falling into the common pitfalls and not doing the work.
K.I.S.S.: Keep it Simple, Stupid. Make it your mantra.