The questions in the query

So now that I’ve talked some about why I stopped putting away my query and novel for a bit let’s talk about the opposite:

Getting back out there and querying again. Today I want to write a bit about something that seems to come up a lot when querying. Questions in the query. There seems to be a consensus among agents and editors that you should not start your query  with a rhetorical question.

By that I mean something like: “Have you ever wondered why people walk on their feet, not on their hands?” Most of the time the answer to these sorts of questions is “No”. No is not the word you want the agent to have in their heads while reading your query. Now, but what about other questions in the query?

I recently worked on mine and I had something like this in mind: “Was action x despicable?” “Sure.” “Was it selfish?” “You bet.” “But did it cause y and z?”

These aren’t rhetorical questions, but they are questions. After getting some feedback on the idea I decided against it. Just to be on the save side.

But, if you’re not supposed to start with a question, what DO you start with? Well, I’ve seen it recommended many times over to start with a log line. Mine is still evolving but here is some information on how to create a good log line:

10 Tips for Writing Loglines

So, now we’ve covered the start of the query, what about the end? Can it end on a question?

From what I’ve read and heard there seems to be no exact answer to this. When I participated in a workshop last year this was one of the topics. During the workshop it was recommended to end with a conflict, and not a question. Later on though, during the Q and A section with each agent, at least two agents implied that they do not mind queries to end with a question. As so often it just depends on the person.

Erring on the side of caution I try to now end my query with a conflict, rather than a question, unless I know the agent specifically prefers queries to end that way. That’ s just me personally though.

The tricky thing with querying agents is that they are individuals, one query does not fit all agents, unfortunately. Some prefer you to tell them why you are querying them and then start the letter. Others like it when you dive right into the query at the start, leaving the pleasantries for later. Same with the questions at the end. I try to go with what seems to be the ‘standard’ as much as there is such a thing, which is personalized salutation, log line, query, end query with conflict, comps, bio –SEND AND HOPE FOR THE BEST.

Sometimes you just need to step back

 

Unless you are planning to self-publish you will need to query at one point or another. I have yet to meet a writer who enjoys this process but it will (hopefully) pay off in the end. I say hopefully because I am still looking for an agent, but you have to stay optimistic.

That’s easier said than done of course. Last year I got so frustrated with my experience that I shut down my blog for a while and stopped querying altogether. I’d had some success with partial (and even a full) requests, but nothing turned into an offer. It was time to walk away and take a breath.

Sometimes that’s what you need to do. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and relax, focus on other things. I was in a bit of a funk but then I started beta reading projects for two of my friends. It was nice to get away from my own projects as well as the ups and downs of querying, but still be involved in the creative process. I really loved reading the projects and commenting on them. It helped clear my mind while helping out other writers make their novels the best they can be.

Now I feel as though I am a bit refreshed and I took another look at my query, as well as the novel, after some time off. I feel that this really helped me improve both, the query in particular.

I’ve started another round of querying now and hope for good results.

As you can tell, I’ve also reopened my website and this blog. I’ve also decided to include more personalization in this round of querying. Rather than just writing “Dear Agent,” (Do use the agents real name here!) “I’m querying you with my project…” I try to include some information about WHY I’m querying this particular agent with my project. It may be because they like cross-genre fiction, or because they like to see a male protagonist in a women’s fiction style setting, and so forth. Either way, I’m trying this approach now, rather than the generic ones I previously employed. I’ll report back on the success of this once there’s something to report.

So, I feel that the best thing I could do for myself and my project was step away and then start over with new energy, and new ideas.

The advantages of ‘putting it away’

One of the things I read most often when it comes to book editing is to put it away for a month or more and then come back to it sometime later. Then, after a while, go over it again and you will have more distance and be able to spot errors easier. Me, being overly keen on sending my work out, never used to follow this advice when I first queried a novel. This was years ago and I’ve gotten wiser (and unfortunately also older!)

Now I can see the value in this. I’ve actually put my book away a couple of times now, once during the first editing, and then again when I took a break from querying earlier in the year. I recently picked it up again and found a couple more errors I had missed. Even after many rounds of editing, test reading, and editing again. There aren’t any typos or grammatical errors, but little things that still slipped through the cracks:

  • A character points out that you can’t bring meat on a plane only to board with some Italian sausage in their carry on in the next scene.
  • A previously unmentioned car that’s suddenly being driven around.
  • A phone call the MC urgently needs to make but then never refers to again.

Things of this nature. While editing I tend to pay close attention to spelling, grammar, the way characters speak, the pace and plot of the novel, so small things can slip past without being noticed.

By putting the book away for a few months it gave me the distance to read it again with fresh eyes and I was able to pick up on little things that were missed. I recommend this to anyone who’s working on a novel. Editing truly is never finished!

To NaNo or not to NaNo

To NaNo or not to NaNo…

Well, it is almost November again, another 5 weeks, and I cannot make up my mind about doing NaNoWriMo.

I did it last year and finished a first draft of 50 000 words, and then I did Camp NaNo in April, also finishing with 50 000 words for another first draft.

I’m just not sure what to do this time around. The two I did were ideas I’d had in my mind for a long time and outlined pretty well, mentally at least.

The first was a time-travel/ woman’s fiction novel involving two things I’ve loved for ages, the 1920s, and Rudolph Valentino. It was great fun writing it. The second, was another book I’ve had in my head for ages, since 2002 actually. I’d written drafts of it previously but thrown them all out and started over for NaNo. This time I got a good first draft done. Alas, both projects need major work. I am also re-writing another book I wrote years ago, and querying my novel In Absentia.

Still, I am tempted to try NaNo again this November.

I seem to on occasion suffer from ‘head fullness’, when I get different ideas for different projects. It makes it hard to concentrate on what I’m working on, because other stories are in there too, demanding to be written down.

That’s not really the case right now, because of the two previous projects, so maybe now would be a good time to concentrate on working on those, and save the vague ideas for other books for Camp NaNo in April.

Well, looks like I answered my own question!

Thanks blog! They do say writing clears the head!