Query writing as a skill

After writing, for my query letter, a description for my novel that I was pretty happy with, I didn’t quite get the feedback I was hoping for from my critique group. The general feeling was that the paragraph was fine, but nothing special. Well, if you’ve been reading this blog over the past couple weeks, you’ll see that my research has shown that a query can’t be just fine. It must be special.

I went to bed feeling frustrated and a little dejected, which is probably why I woke up 1:45 with weird dreams about blocks of text moving around a page. Hmmm.  After unsuccessfully trying to fall back asleep, I decided to just get up and write, which I did until about 4 a.m.

Wide awake in the dark, inspiration still wasn’t striking me, though. So, I figured I’d just procrastinate with a little blog reading. The first post I clicked on seemed to have been written just for me (although, I know lots of other people are sharing this same problem).

Jessica Faust, a literary agent at BookEnds, LLC, wrote a post simply titled Query Letters. But it could have been titled: Stop Pouting & Get On With It.

I started reading this post, and by the time I finished the second paragraph, I felt like I had been given a good kick in the butt — a kick I definitely needed.

Here’s the second paragraph:

Let’s cut off the excuses now (this is the year of no excuses if you remember), you can whine and complain all you want about how hard a query is to write and how you are not a salesperson, or you can decide that you’re a writer and as a writer your job is to learn and grow and that might mean learning how to really sell your book. Do you love your book? Do you feel passion for it? Do you know that you have an amazing idea that should sell? Well then, you need to learn how to convey that because it doesn’t end with the query. How do you think you’re going to pitch or sell your book to readers if you can’t even sell it to agents? Because I’ll tell you right now, readers make agents look easy.

Here’s the reason this spoke to me so much: I whine about how difficult it is to write query letters. It’s true. I admit it. But I’m trying to recover.

To me, writing a query letter — or at least that little blurb about my book in the query letter, because that’s what I’m having difficult with — is like writing ad copy. I have great admiration for those people who can take all the attributes of a bottle of shampoo and condense it down to one pithy phrase of two to five words. That’s a skill, and one I don’t naturally possess.

I’m more of a big-picture, tell the whole story kind of gal. When I was a kid, I used to frustrate my mother every time I had a story to tell her because, instead of getting to the meat of the issue, I’d leasurely recite every detail of whatever happened from beginning to end, building the suspense for the climactic ending. “Get to the point,” my mom would sigh. What can I say? I wanted to be a novelist way back then.

For me, telling a story in 65,000 words is a lot easier than 150 words.

But, as Faust says, so what? If it’s not easy, keep doing it. Keep working on it until you get it right. My novel wasn’t perfect the first draft, nor the second, nor the third. So, why do I expect my query blurb to be? Adveritising copy writers don’t just come up with a Just Do It campaign in an afternoon (at least, I’m pretty sure they don’t).

So, after I read Faust’s blog post, I decided to change my strategy: Go in stages by writing the synopsis then the query blurb. By around 3:30, I had the synopsis done, and by 4, I had a new version of the query blurb. It’s still not perfect, but I think it’s going in a good direction.

But now, I’m not putting pressure on myself. Query writing is a skill that’s very different from other types of writing. That doesn’t mean I can’t do it; it just means I have to keep trying, practicing, until I get it right. Fingers crossed it’ll be soon.

What’s the hardest part of query writing for you?

Write On!

5 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    I liked Jessica Faust’s blog entry too. I’ll stop whining. I’ll try to quell the anxiety and just write it! Over and over, as many times as it takes. Good luck on yours.

  2. I felt like whining again today, Linda, but I held it in. 🙂

    Hope you’re doing well on yours.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Whining? Is that just a woman/girl thing? I do it too and it’s not attractive…so I will stop. STOP I will tell that inner negative voice and WRITE! Get on with it! Thanks for this article…I needed it.

  4. hahaha Glad it helped you, Bonnie. Writing query letters is tough. But actually, as I’ve been tweaking and tweaking mine, I think it’s making me a better writer, i.e. concise writing, really finding the right words and bringing out the voice in every sentence. So, the work is worth it.

  5. mand says:

    Sorry for my recent silence. I’m striving to catch up with everyone after a tough 3-4 months.

    Twitter is giving me a lot of practice in conciseness. hth

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