Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When Should You Write Your Query Letter?

I don't know about you folks out there, but I didn't learn what a query letter was until after I wrote my first book and revised it a few times. Somehow I got it in my head that a query letter could only be written in the weeks before you sent your book out to agents or publishers. If your book wasn't written, polished, and ready to go, you couldn't write that query letter.

How wrong I was...

Earlier this year, I won a query critique from an agent in a random Twitter giveaway. I was a couple weeks away from finishing the first draft of my MS, so of course I hadn't already written my query letter.

Commence scrambling.

Now, to be fair, I've gotten a lot better at query letters over the past few years, so writing this particular query letter wasn't as soul-crushing as previous ones have been. I came up with a rough draft, workshopped it with my Facebook writing group, polished it up, sent it to a CP with notoriously quick turnaround time, then sent it on to the agent who gave me a thumbs up and a request for pages. I let her know (sheepishly) that the book wasn't finished yet, but that I'd send the pages on eventually.

The thing that astonished me most, however, was that in the process of writing the query letter, I discovered that the conflict and stakes of my manuscript were weak. So I made something up that my writing group agreed was much stronger. Then, when I went back to do my first revision on my novel, I was able to add the key scenes that I needed to increase the conflict and therefore the stakes.

Now I recommend to everyone that they write a query letter for their novels somewhere between the beginning of the first draft and the start of the first revision. That way, if the query letter reveals that an aspect of the book needs work, you are in the perfect position to fix it.

When do you write your query letter? Have you tried this before? Let me know in the comments!

5 comments:

  1. With the first manuscript I queried, I think (it was a long time ago now, and it's hard to remember!) I wrote it after the completion of whatever draft where I first thought it was finished. I'm fortunate in that I signed with an agent after my second manuscript--I don't remember at all when I wrote that query letter.

    My third manuscript, which is out on submission now, I started writing loglines and query type copy around the time I sent my agent my draft, and I revised that when I sent her my revisions for the novel, which has now become the basis of her submission letter.

    I do agree with you, Kara, writing the query before you've finished can be a huge help when it comes to spotting holes, deficiencies in stakes, character, etc.

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  2. I got the same impression about querying, Kara. It was the "don't query until your MS is as polished as it can be". I took that to mean don't write the query LETTER until after multiple revisions. I only found out there were bigger problems with my MS when I shared the query for crit on a writing forum (though, admittedly, I'd suspected it). I could've prevented querying a book that wasn't ready if I'd written the query letter sooner.

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  3. I had the same experience, Kara. I only wrote my query after penning the last chapter, and it was only then that I understood that I hadn't laid out clear goals and stakes for my protagonist, must less the solutions and resolutions. Next time, I write the query first!

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  4. I revised my very first query letter over and over again; I couldn't figure out what was wrong with it. Eventually, after enough rejections, I realized I couldn't write a good query letter because the book behind it didn't have strong enough conflict or stakes. If I ever decide to revise that book, I'll write a query letter for it first!

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  5. Boy, I don't remember when I wrote the first query for my MS, but as I revised and resubb'ed for YEARS before I found an agent, it was definitely before the book was finished (even if I didn't know that at the time!)
    I would suggest writing a query, or even perhaps a blurb, whenever you get a little bit stuck. It helps me refocus the stakes, and the important events or action of the story, if I happen to be rambling. And I often ramble.

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