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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wednesday Workout: Query Prep

One of the odd things about writing a 100,000 word novel is that the query letter is almost as hard to write. All 500 words of it.


Watching my friends write their query letters (with great success I might add) has been a learning experience. Query letters are hard. In 500 words you need to pack in your story, your life experience, and a few kind words about whichever agent or publisher you are trying to contact.


Last night I sat down to write bone tired. I put 400 miles on the car yesterday, driving to out-of-town doctor's and running errands. All the driving gave my hind-brain time to play and several new plot lines were now demanding attention.

I figured I'd pin them down, save the file, and open at a later date if I ever needed ideas. The pinned down stories looked something like this:

The Smallest Sun

Sun Li is a Terran of Mongolian descent, she’s a little over 5’ tall and often passes for male in a feminist future where males are second-class citizens on many planets. Sun Li gets around space by hitching rides on the outsides of space freighters. She also does “resume building” – murder “social networking” – blackmail and “gift finding” – theft for “discerning clients”.

Sun Li doesn’t start with a whole set of morals but she’s equal opportunity, she doesn’t see anyone as good or bad, and she isn’t attached to any thing, except her spacesuit, until something goes wrong on a job.

Mirror in the Grave/ Jane Doe

Sam Rose is against cloning and clone rights. She’s a recovering Catholic from Canada (say that three times fast) working for the North American Territory Investigations Division as the Alabama’s Divisions chief gopher. She wants a crack at the real crimes, but her boss keeps tossing her the bad ones. When a Jane Doe shows up on the slab that matches Sam’s stats she realizes that she, or her estranged family, could wind up in jail for identity theft. And she’s really be out of a job.

Making an executive decision to save her life, Sam buries the evidence six feet under, paperwork and all. But a new case opens a new way of thinking for Sam. If time travel is possible, could the woman on the slab be a warning?

Looking at those I went... Wait, that looks like the start of a query letter! Ka-ching!!!

I have a way to write the start of a query letter. Those vague ideas that snuck into my brain while I was driving all over the tri-state area are story seeds, basic ideas that I'll expand on later.

That simplicity is what you need in a query letter. But deconstructing a story is hard.

Could deconstructing a seed be a little easier?

Today's workout is to look at query letters that work, look at story seeds that are coherent, and see if you can pick out the main themes that need to be there. If you need examples of good query letters look up Query Shark or Miss Snark.

You can leave notes in the comment box (or sample query letters), and I'll share what I find tomorrow. :o)


  1. My ideas never come out that well-formed when I first get the spark of an idea. I'm amazed at both ideas. Mine generally come as a single thought, an inkling of an idea, etc. Then I have to sit and stew on it and do a lot of writing down of thoughts. Then I sit and look at it all in the light of a fresh day and start putting it together into something that's workable.

    I think though that using the original seeds of ideas to catch the essence of the story is definitely something worth considering. Fun post!

  2. I usually have an idea for the first few chapters, a sense of the character's personality, and then I need an actual complication to keep the world alive.

    I will admit, for the sake of transparency, that Mirror in the Grave is something that's been niggling at the edges of thought for a long time now. I know the characters, their issues, and the world very well already. But I haven't started writing. No time!

    I know the query for TM will be difficult, that's why I'm starting now. I can't sum it up in a sentence, by January I need to have that ability.

  3. Great post! Thanks for sharing! :D

  4. There's also some successful query letters at Guide to Literary AGents that I found extremely helpful! Good luck with yours!