Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Query Writing Troubles? It Might Be The Story, NOT The Query

Time and time again we hear the same thing from writers. "Query letters are a bad thing." "I can never writer a good query letter." "Why do we even have to write these things?"

The deal is, query letters are necessary. The query is simply one more way to advertise your story to a potential buyer. For this reason, as a writer, you have to be able to write a great query letter to make me, as the agent, say "Dang, I need to get this book now!" Yes, it will still come down to the writing, but you have to hook me and do so early in the game.

Now, to hook an agent or an editor, you have to somehow demonstrate that your story that you want to send me a full of, is the next best thing out there. You have to show me that the story is unique and you have what it takes to be a professional writer. This is where that "high concept" comes into play. Not only do you have to demonstrate a high concept in the query, but the story should also be a high concept story. In other words, it needs to stand out amid all of the other writers out there trying for the same position you are.

But here is where the problem comes up for far too many writers. The story itself is nothing special. There is no wow in the story. There aren't characters that we want to make our friends. It's just words.

I was at a writing group meeting a while back and we were working on high concepts in the hopes to get to that great query letter. After a period of time of struggling one writer just threw up her hands. When I asked the problem, she had to admit that her story was far from original. It was well written, but in the end, it was just like a lot of other stories out there. Different setting and different name but same story.


So, what can be done about this? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! The story is written. You just spent months on a story that never had it in the first place. This is something, however, that could have been fixed BEFORE you started writing.

Before you even start planning a book, think of that high concept. Find that unique twist and spin to it. THEN start writing the story.

If you are into a story right now, stop before you go any further and make sure that high concept is there. You might still have time to fix it.

But for those of you with a completed story, before you start blaming the query letter, examine your writing. It might be the story.



  1. I wish there was more advice like this out there. 18 months ago when I started writing my manuscript much of the advice I received was: just write the thing.

  2. When I tried writing my query letter the first time around I couldn't summerize the plot at all. And I found out the issue was exactly what you're describing - the plot.

    Great advice ^_^

  3. I think this over all other tips and writing advice is something to pass on to beginner writers.

  4. So true. Plot does help write the query. (Go fig eh?) Once I figured out the plot to my story I wrote up a summary that flowed pretty easy. Now I have to hack it down and make it a query and not a summary.

  5. This is fantastic advice. I, like (Florida) Girl, have only received the strong-fisted directive to "just write the damn thing." I've been sitting on a manuscript that, for months now, has felt fairly stale, and this post has been the push I needed to admit that it is probably stale for a reason. If I'm not excited about the story and characters, how can I expect my readers to be?

  6. It took me longer to write my first query letter than my first story. It takes practice. Shrinking a whole book into one paragraph was like gasping for air. The worst part of the query is where you're suppose to add a little bit extra about yourself. Brilliant! Never been published, but darn it, look at it anyway. (That's what I could say.) Great post.

  7. Can we see some sample querry letters so we know what to shoot for? It's like writing a cover letter for a job you've never done before but are certain you are capable of doing. How do you sell your own story? What are publishers looking for in a querry? What do I say? My tale rocks you should read it! Right?

  8. @ Laila Knight -

    "Shrinking a whole book into one paragraph was like gasping for air."

    I think that's why so many writers hit a brick wall. They think the whole book is supposed to be condensed into one paragraph.

    A query is meant to entice, to hook, to whet the agent/editor's appetite, but not to completely summarize the whole manuscript.

  9. Excellent and not often said advice. Thanks

  10. Thank you, Miss Sharp. You're absolutely right. I figured that one out after a while of gasping. Right now I'm satisfied with my pretty blurb. Scott, can't wait to read the blog tomorrow. Have a great evening.

  11. Good post and healthy food for thought. I write kidlit for early readers and I'm still relatively new. There's always room for improvement. I appreciate my good friend, ANT, for pointing me to this post! I plan to share this tid bit with my blogging audience.