Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Queries (Drafting Your Query While Drafting Your MS)

As much as I hate it, I know. All writers seeking traditional publication must write a query. I know. 

I'm not about to ignore the advice of sage individuals like Peggy Eddleman who instruct us to work on our query letters for almost as long as we work on our manuscripts - seriously, months and months. (Listen, a few months ago I would have conveniently ignored her but considering that this was one of the things that helped get her her rockstar agent and all....well...yeah. I'd better listen to Peggy.)

Anyway. Yesterday I was all whining about how, now that the first draft was done and I'm hoping to query in April, I should probably get to work writing that first query draft. It was making my stomach twist and drop and my heart race and my head feel light for all the reasons I've already told you. ONE is my baby! She's the only thing that helped me get over my first MS! How can I just condense her into a couple of paragraphs and send her out into the world? People might misunderstand her! People might most certainly will (God forbid) REJECT her! It's all too much.

But then, Jessica shook some sense into me, all the way from the West Coast.
Not to mention she was seriously enthusiastic about critiquing whatever hot mess of a query draft I managed to put together. By some strange miracle.

So, after I'd finished weeping over Chessie's NaNo novel a second time (read: finished my in-line crits, and now I can finally start to emotionally recover until the next time I pick up the wonderful heartwrenching blasted thing) I sat down and got to work.

First move - head over to query-writing guru Elana Johnson's website and her collection of blog posts on the topic. 

Got it. No problem.

I mean, I KNOW all these things about ONE. I should be able to write a goshdarn 250-word letter summing them up, right?  So, I spent a good two hours breaking my head over the letter. Here's what I came up with for the first couple lines:

All Merrin Grey has ever wanted is to be able to fly like a real Super. At sixteen years old, the entire Super world is conviced that she'll always be a sad floating freak.

Merrin’s betting on a transfer to Nelson “Normal” High to let her fly under the radar while she gets good enough at Organic Chemistry to wrangle a job at the Supers’ Biotech Hub. 

*YAWN* In case you couldn't tell, this freaking sucks. This makes EVEN ME want to chuck ONE in the trash. And it just got worse and worse.

But if I'm anything, you guys, I'm a trooper. So I kept at it and got together about 250 words with the Hook, Setup, Conflict, and Consequences. Knowing it was full of too many details and emdashes, among other things, I sighed a heavy sigh as I prepared to send the whole horrid thing to Jess and watch her tear it limb from limb.  All I needed was the wording for the last line, and since my brain was fried, I figured I'd just lift it from my last query letter for drafting purposes.

I punched "query" into the search field of Evernote and guess what popped up, like an oasis in the middle of a freaking writer's desert?
A query I wrote for ONE back in August. Two weeks after I started drafting.
See, at one point, I had been a righteous follower of Guru Elana Johnson, who gently advises us to write the query before we write the manuscript.
But August-me got frustrated, reasoned that, since I'm a pantser, this advice didn't apply to me, and abandoned the query to concentrate on drafting.

Anyway. Here were the first few lines I found in that blessed File from the Past:

Sixteen-year-old Merrin Gray can float, but she can't make herself fly. When almost everyone else is a Super, with at least two powers, or a Normal, with none, being a One is the worst kind of in-between.

The rest of that letter was equally hook-y and voice-y and simple, and made my heart jump. "Yep! THAT's what ONE is about," I said to myself. After a few tweaks, it was off to Jess's inbox, and here's what she said:

Then, yeah, she sent me detailed crit in my inbox. But I'll be darned - she hardly hated it at all. 

Lessons: Query Guru Elana Johnson is always right. You know more about the bones and basic themes about your book when you first start drafting. You're probably also way less tired of it, emotionally attached to it, and mired in its details then. So just spend a bit of time drafting one up. Stick in in your files or notes. Who knows? It might do you a LOT of good later.

Also, no matter what stage your MS is in, buck up and write your damn query.

And in case you're wondering, I did send Jess the last deleted (kissing plus) scene from ONE in thanks. Because that kick in the bottom was exactly what I needed.


  1. HA I said line 1 and 3, but there's only two lines. I can count really well <3 and "hardly hate" is such and overestimation of my hatred. since there is no hatred at all.

    not only do I get kisses in my inbox, I also get a tag on your blog. obviously I need to crit more queries.

  2. Another moment where I miss screenwriting... and log lines! BLARGH!

  3. @Jessica Silva I only tag people who I know are going to be famous. That way, I get to say I was one of hte first to do it.

    Seriously, thank you. (And you are one of the only people who will EVERRR read that scene ;))

  4. @Jean Holy S**T Jean...don't even get me started. I just...I don't I have to do the synopsis. Kill me now.

  5. Who thinks the synopsis is worse than the query? *raises hand*

    Endless sympathy for you there. Oh but wait, I have to do that, too... Guh.

    I can't wait to read ONE's query about as much as I couldn't wait to read ONE.

  6. Wow - ONE sounds SO fantastic, I may have to finagle an exchange :)

    Queries are SO hard - getting the facts down, but in a voice that will actually make someone want to read it. It sounds like you nailed it! Congrats!

  7. Yay! Queries are hard, and I'm glad you found the ONE that worked for ONE. See what I did there? lolol *sigh* It's much too early in the morning for jokes.

  8. @Francesca Zappia You know? Somehow I remember almost weeping over the synopsis. So...yeah. Not looking forward to to that.

    And...ONE's query as it stands is in the ONE tab. And I put a book cover there too! Wheee! (Just for funsies.)

    @Jamie - I seriously hyperventilated when I read this. You know how badly I want to read your book. Don't tease me.

    @Elana - Hiiiiii! You are my Query Guru, even if you don't rock early morning jokes. So, all things considered, you're pretty awesome.

    Thanks for the comment love, ladies! <3

  9. Thank you SO F-ING MUCH for this column, Leigh Ann! I'd been having a hell of a time drafting a yawn-less query for my YA Sci-Fi novel!!! But after reading your insights, I went back to my original (n' very dusty) notes....n' lo and behold to my wonder there was a WAY BETTER, WAY HOOK-IER LOGLINE written nearly 2 years ago, before I'd composed one word of the book!!! So thank you for rescuing me, n' thank you for F-ING ROCKING MY WORLD!!! ㋡


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