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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!