WoT pumpkins, a good query

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 8, 2010 -- 2:50 p.m.

Love these Wheel of Time pumpkins by LynnKitty (from Brandon Sanderson's Tweet page). Very well carved!

In other news, it's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I'm not participating because I'm in the middle of the book which is the trickiest part so I don't mind if it goes a little slowly. But maybe I will next year.

There was a bit of a comment flurry on Evil Editor's page about writing query letters before your work is done. Personally, I always write my query before I'm done, sometimes before I start writing the book. It's a way of giving myself direction and nailing down the book's selling points/voice.

NOTE: I didn't say I sent the queries before I finished writing. I just have one for personal reference so every time I get yanked off on a subplot that doesn't matter, I can go back to the query and say, okay, am I taking away from these promises I've made in the query? Or does this entertaining tangent add and make the story better?

While query letter writing comes naturally to me--it involves the same skills I learned in journalism school--hook, summarize, explore consequences. In newspaper writing, we have a thing called "inverted pyramid" which means you have to pick the most important/interesting issue in whatever you're exploring and put that first, then sort all the other facts out also based on their importance/interest, with the goal being to NOT let the reader stop reading until they reach the end of the article (the least interesting part). But I think most people don't have that summarizing/sorting training, so that's why they have a hard time figuring out how to write a good query letter. Wow, I used far too many /'s in that paragraph.

Anyway, the best example I think I've ever seen of turning a bad query into a stunningly good query is HERE. The transformation is incredible--one of these books sounds boring, and one of them I would yank off the shelf in a heartbeat. And she points out exactly what she did wrong at first--create a laundry list of plot points, without making them interesting to us. Most authors tell you that interest comes from conflict, which is true, but it also comes from caring about a character. As far as I've been able to see, most bad queries fall into two categories: Too much information about a character's background, and not enough about what they're doing, and too much information about plot, and nothing about why it should matter to us. I'm not going to link to examples of horrible queries because they might end up as big name authors and ridicule me one day, but I think if you go to Evil Editor's site, or read through the listings at Query Shark, you'll quickly see what I mean.

I had a dream three nights ago that I needed to make a change to my query for my fantasy novel. That it was crucial for me to add a third paragraph containing more plot information. And I knew exactly how to word it and everything. Unfortunately, when I woke up, I forgot everything. Since my query rate is 25% positive responses, I'm not sure if I should mess with a winning formula or not, but my subconscious insists on it, so perhaps I'll pull it out and look at it again.

Anyway, I'm not going to have a writing prompt, but you might want to try writing a query for your current project and see if it doesn't give you a clearer picture of your work. Plus, then you can sit on it for awhile and perfect it, while you're perfecting your manuscript. My query for Skin Farm was pretty stinky at first, but now I like it...even if it's probably too short on details. Because I'm definitely trying not to fall into the third query trap I didn't mention: Too much world background--a disease that strikes almost every fantasy writer at some time in their lives. Pity these poor creatures, for they know not the boredom they cause.


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