Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Dreaded Query

Throughout my writing career I have met scores of writers and not a single one of them likes querying. I keep waiting to find that solitary individual who just loves curling up with a mug of hot cocoa and lovingly crafting that query letter, but so far I feel like I'm stalking Sasquatch.

Early in my career I studied a lot of queries and read a lot about them. In the end, I decided that each agent has what they say they like, and then what they actually choose. This was best illustrated by a book on querying I once read. It was written by a literary agent, in which the author went step-by-step through the makings of a great query letter and also listed things to avoid. At the end of the book were examples of queries that had caught the agent's eye over the years. None of them followed the structure the author had just outlined and most of them broke other rules.

The same thing happened at a conference, when a well-known agent based in L.A. (who amazingly, looks FAR younger in her publicity photo) went through her litany only to pass out a sample query letter that had no relationship to anything she'd just told us. I had the temerity to ask her what was up and she explained how, in this case, because of the story, what the querying author had done was appropriate. Er... right. This is why writers hate querying. We spend years crafting our manuscripts and then toss them into a randomizer.

The reason I bring this up is because I'm about to re-enter the query lottery. I am in the final stages of a dystopian, nominally YA manuscript that is, in my opinion, my best work to date. It is the fifth novel I have written and I have had two of those published by an independent press. While they've not sold thousands of copies, they do continue to sell and have generated a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

While querying is always a high risk endeavor I am hoping that I have a few things going for me this time that I didn't have in the past. For one thing, as Clive stated in his last post, characters are important, and these are the best characters I've written. In modern fiction, as we all know, character is king whether that is right or not. In addition, despite the fact that I'm indie published I can cite that The Silla Project is a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Awards, Montaigne Medal. The Eric Hoffer Awards are 100% legit and represent an objective evaluation of my work. Should I actually win it will be that much better.

However, there is one factor that I am hoping will outweigh the others. All my previous novels were L-O-N-G. The Silla Project, while an adult novel, is over 140K words. Multiplayer is shorter than that but is YA and is over 100K. Sure, long debut novels do get published from time to time, and some authors say don't worry about length, but when I was querying those other novels, I always cringed when I wrote down the word count. For this novel I will be more than proud to write "85K words" even if it feels to me like a pamphlet.

So as I put the finishing touches on this manuscript I will be sharing my thoughts on queries and I'd love to hear yours. What structure do you think is best? Three paragraphs? Four? Does it make sense to tell the agent you're looking for representation or do I lead with a hook? How much do I say about my previously published works? What kind of synopsis do I include? Lots of questions to ask and to answer.

In the end, as I have learned previously, the structure of the query doesn't matter at all. But then again, as I also know to be true, it means everything.

Until next time,

John C. Brewer is the author of Multiplayer an MMOG YA SF novel, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance that is a finalist for the 2013 Eric Hoffer Awards, Montaigne Medal. You can learn more about him and what he is doing at his website,

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