Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing your Query Letter before your Novel

    One of the most painful things for a novel writer is the dreaded query letter. We hate it. We really do, but I shouldn’t have to tell you. You know, don’t you?
    I mean how do you condense a brilliant novel into just a couple paragraphs? It can’t be done. How can you get across your brilliant symbolism and genius characterization? How can you show the subtlety of your foreshadowing? How can you explain your fiendishly twisted plot?
    You can’t.
    And I’m not here to tell you how to write your query letter. But what I am here to tell you is that half of the pain is in distilling and sifting out the main idea from your novel. That is if you even have a main idea to distill...and if you don’t, this can be a SUPER painful process. And the one way to reduce this pain is to write your query letter before you even type “Chapter 1.” Yes that’s right, I said before.
    The reason is simple. If you have an idea for a novel, yes you can write it and make it interesting. But once you go to write that query letter, it’s easy to find out that you don’t have a hook, or a plot that can summarized to the point where an agent, editor, or more importantly, a reader, will want to hear more. If you write your query before hand, you are no longer handcuffed by your novel and if you realize that the plot just can’t be dressed up enough to make somebody drop everything and read your book, you can change it. No longer will you think, “I wish I could just change that death to a kidnapping. I could do A, B, and C and my book would be amazing!” You can just do it.
    Oh, and did I mention that you won’t have to go through the alchemy of finding your main point? Did I mention that you’ll have, sitting in front of your computer as you write, a guiding light to keep you on track? Did I also mention that when your friends, family, and other co-workers ask about that novel you’re writing, you can succinctly tell them what it’s about?!?!
    Yes, that’s right. You’ll never have to fumble around for 15min only to leave them wondering how anybody would ever make sense of the nonsense that was your plot!

    So yes, I know. Writing query letters can be painful, but if you do it as soon as you have an idea for a novel, it will not only make your life easier, but it will make your novel better. I wish somebody told me this years ago...


John Wiswell May 19, 2011 at 9:13 PM  

One of the things that led me to choose Nobody's House out of my bag of seven ideas was that its plot or hooks were most easily described to people. I have a habit of letting my characters go free and destroy my main points. But if it can at least have a premise then people will come in and see why it's worth their time. I've been tinkering with query letters for a month now. Devilish buggers.

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