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Monday, April 15, 2013

Write the query before the novel

It's query week! I'll be posting about how to write queries and will have some interviews with acquisitions editors too! In addition, if I get some submissions, I'll post some query critiques with my posts. If you want me to publicly critique your query, send your submission to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com. Don't worry, I'm honest, but gentle. :)

For starters, I share my reasoning for why you should write your query before you write your novel.

Query writing is considered by many to be a necessary evil, and I have counted myself among those people. However, when you take all of the fear and frustration surrounding submitting your novel to agents and publishers, the query is actually an excellent plotting exercise.

After much query trauma with past works, I wrote my query for The Charge BEFORE I wrote the book. I wanted to know if I could pitch the plot well before I even started. Are books with compelling or "high concept" pitches always the best books? No, of course, not. But, ALL books, especially in the commercial genre, need a solid plot structure, and a clear, concise query shows that you have that.

These are the elements that should probably be in your query (loosely in order of how they should appear in your query):

1. Introduce your main character. Share a detail to give a taste of their character. If the setting is important, share a detail about that too.
2. Describe the inciting incident that changes the MC's life forever and sends them on their journey.
3. Outline the MC's primary goal.
4. Describe the obstacle getting in the way of the goal
5. Summarize stakes (what happens if they fail?)
6. Title, word count, genre, comps, & bio.

If you can clearly describe those aspects of your novel, your plot has a workable structure. This is why it's nice to write the query before the novel. These aren't just the elements of a good query, these are the elements of a good plot. If your novel is missing these things, you'll never be able to write a good query, no matter how hard you try.

If you like to read my successful query for The Charge, and get more tips on query writing, you can go here.

And on a completely unrelated note, you can win a copy of The Charge on my blog this week. Enter here.


Yolanda Renee said...

Never thought of it like that, I'd be willing to try though!

Great points!

C. Lee McKenzie said...

That is like doing your best thinking before writing the ideas down. Good idea.

Patchi said...

I didn't start writing my query before the novel because I didn't know such a thing existed back then. But writing the query did help me revise and figure out what I was missing in the book. Great post!

Sharon Bayliss said...

Thanks all! Yes, I think for the first novel most people don't research queries and such until after it's done, I know I didn't.

Liz said...

I agree. It's a great way to get the main ideas down before getting a novel started. Of course, I've never done this myself. Yet.