Posted by: Jodi | January 26, 2011

Three Great Reasons to Write a Query Letter Early

Image credit: credica.co.uk

Query Letter…

The mere thought of those two words is enough to send many a novelist into cold sweats.  While most writers wait until they are ready to start seeking representation before tackling the beast, might I suggest a different approach?

Write one after you finish your first draft.

That’s right, write a query letter while your story is still in the jello stage, BEFORE it has set into concrete.  There are three great reasons to do this:

  1. You are forced to identify the single most important character or story arc in your writing. Ideally you should be able to sum up the story’s essence in one sentence. (The following two examples were created for this post and are not real.)
    • Wizard’s Stew is a YA fantasy about a girl who attempts to change her world with the help of a secret spell book.
    • My novel, Angie’s Dream, is a paranormal comedy about two lovers who can’t make their relationship work because one of them is dead.
  2. You will learn if your story is interesting or compelling enough at an early enough stage to make changes. If you were successful in summing up your novel in one sentence then you are ready to take the next step –  determining if that one sentence is as interesting as you had hoped.  Remember, this is the phrase that is supposed to catch an agent’s interest. If it doesn’t catch your interest first then now is a great time to make changes.
  3. You will have something to work from when the time comes to write a real query letter. You’ll also have an easy way to describe what you are working on to curious friends and family.  When you get to a point where you think your book is ready for submission, you will be grateful that you have a letter to start from.  It is much easier to find ways to make something already written better, than to have to start from nothing.

This past week I tried to write a trial query letter for my fantasy manuscript and found it a huge challenge.  I want to spill all the juicy details and cover all the major plot points because I have grown so close to them.  After all my efforts here is the one sentence teaser, drum roll please:

Stonebearer’s Betrayal is a fantasy novel about a wizard who, in the face of adversity, must choose between saving the love of his life or rescuing the girl he has sworn to protect.

If you were an agent, would it be enough?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Responses

  1. Good advice. Heck, I even wrote glowing reviews for my book while I was still working on the first draft. It’s all about the visualization! By the way, I like your teaser. It certainly makes me want to read the book!

    • Thanks – if it every goes anywhere my readers here will hear about it first!

  2. Hey, I did this just this past week! I agree, it forces you to think about those things while you still have time to change them (or the guts), and it also gives you way more time to work on your query!

    All good things.

    • Small world! Here’s to query letters !

  3. Good idea, Jodi. It is a daunting task for many of us. This may help.

    • Speaking of… have you done yours yet?

  4. queries and pitches are a huge challenge. Just remember not to tease without telling.

    • That goes without saying! – If this were a real query there would be statements to support the teaser. I just wanted to test the waters.

  5. Something to think about. The teaser sounds great!

    • Thanks!

  6. Gah! If I ever attempt another novel, I want to invent a way to get published without needing one of those dreaded monsters (and I don’t mean using a vanity press).

    It’s tempting to write a catchy query first and then compose a novel based on it. Because, no matter how hard I try, I can’t summarize the plots for the stuff I’ve already written in once sentence.

    I like your query so far, but I suggest giving a hint as to the nature of the adversity, so we get an idea why the stakes are so high.

    • That is the phrase that I fought about whether I should include it or not. By having it, I would have to support it. If this were real there would definitely be more information detailing the adversity part.

  7. this is helpful for your family to glimpse at what you have been doing. let’s explore it some more. interesting.

  8. Wonderful advice. Your teaser is compelling but . . . I would leave out “in the face of adversity” since that is implicit in the choice:

    Stonebearer’s Betrayal is a fantasy novel about a wizard who must choose between saving the love of his life or rescuing the girl he has sworn to protect.

    If you want to mention adversity, maybe give a specific example or two.

  9. The tough choice in the teaser is great, but I agree with nrhatch about the adversity phrase. I’d leave it out or identify the specific obstacle. Adversity is vague.

    I think saving and rescuing are similar enough that you could cut rescuing and be just fine. And ‘Must choose between’ implies a list, which would use ‘and.’ ‘Must choose either’ would better fit the ‘or’ you have now. Also, including the wizard’s name would help the reader get more attached to him.

    I started writing versions of my query letter after my first draft, and boy, did it force me to find the core of my story. Since then, I’ve revised it more than my MS. I totally agree that an early query letter is a helpful thing, both for your story and the letter itself.

  10. @nrhatch and eleveneleven – Thanks for the helps, there is so much to consider when trying to create a teaser line. Like I said to MPax and OldAncestor this was only the one phrase, had this been a real letter it would have been backed up with more of an explanation. One day, when I write an official query letter, I’ll let you all have at it, extra eyes to catch the things I miss are always welcome.

  11. This is exactly how I found (hopefully) all the holes in my ms! My query was un-writable! Now I plan on writing a “query” before I begin any new project. Great tool!

    • It seems like such a simple thing to do that many don’t even consider it. I’m glad I did because it forced me to figure out what the story was really about. Happy writing!

  12. Hope this helps:

    I’d want to know, if I was an agent, WHY the character has to choose between his love and his sworn duty. Agents often also want to know the answer to the posed situation, and how the novel ends. But don’t write or give away too much! I’d suggest doing all that in 3-4 sentences, max. But I would do this, because there are a lot of novels out there with the same conflict as yours. As an agent, I’d want to know what sets yours apart.

    If you’re really confident (or carefree), send your query to Janet Reid at her query site and maybe she’ll let you know what she thinks–on her site. Good luck!

    • Thanks for the advice and the contact – when I get to a point where I’m ready to submit she’ll be on my list for a query critique. I’ll never turn down good advice!

  13. I have been away and am now enjoying catching up on posts I have missed out on. The best reason I can think of for sending out query letters early is that it takes so long for anyone to reply!

    • Welcome back! – So true, it takes a world of patience waiting for responses to query letters. Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot sending out letters when the work is not done yet! Most agents won’t look at resubmitted queries, better get it right the first time.


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