Query: to ask or inquire. It's a word most writers are very familiar with, but if you slip it into a conversation with an average Joe, you might get a strange look.
I've been giving thought to queries lately because I lost mine (see post below about flash drives) and now I need to write another one.
The how-to of writing a query clicked for me back in 2003 when chapter mate, Joanne Rock--in collaboration with Cathy Mann--wrote an article that appeared in the Romance Writers Review, otherwise known as the RWR. The article can still be seen on Joanne's web site. Included is a sample letter and I highly recommend to anyone who's thinking of submitting, print it and use it as your guide. Seriously.
Over the years, I've seen my share of queries, from judging contests and chapter mates who were preparing to submit. The most common mistake I've seen has to do with length. Trust me on this, most editors and agents want to see your query contained on one page.
The blurb should be kept to one brief paragraph. Do not write a mini-synopsis. At this point in the submission process, the editor cares nothing about your heroine's alluring looks or the color of your hero's eyes. Use the five W's as your guide: Where, When, Who, What, and Why. The What and Why will be your conflict in a nutshell. And that's all they're interested in at this point. Don't make the mistake of including details that aren't absolutely riveting and allow their attention to wander. If you do, you've lost them. But if you do snag their attention and your story sounds like the kind of thing they would publish, they'll ask to see more.
The second biggest mistake I've seen is including too much personal information. A query is not the place to write your autobiography. Nor do they want to hear a blow-by-blow of the trip you took down the Amazon while researching your story. Keep it brief. Name, writing affiliations, and any publishing credits you may have, that's all they want. Later, after you've gotten The Call, I'm sure the editor or agent will want to know some more of your personal details.
The most important thing to remember is to relax. Queries are fun, and once you have a winning one-pager in your publishing arsenal, you'll be surprised by how many requests turn up in your mailbox.
Okay, enough with the preachy stuff. I'm off my soapbox. For the past several days, I've been busy trying to breathe some life into an old manuscript. Each day my word count goes down. That's because I'm ripping out scenes like crazy. Wah! But that's okay. Once I've worked all the way through it, the gaps will be filled in and the story will be much improved (I hope). So, it's all good. I have high hopes for this story. It's long been one of my pet projects, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it'll see publication soon. Now, back to work...