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Analysis of the Query

            So I’ve been helping critique a lot of these things lately online and for some reason it made me really want to examine this thing. The Query.

            Okay, so we pretty much know what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to make the agent you’re proposing to want to read more. It’s that simple, but it’s so much more than that. DO we really know what these things do? How they actually work? What they can say about us and our writing without us meaning to do so?

            So let’s start with this. You write a query. You’re excited because you think your book is up to par and there’s just no way an agent can say no to this. It’s good. You can be the next J.K. Rowling and you already see you title in lights on the big screen in Hollywood. And now, with your fresh off the presses query, you’re so excited you just have to send it to an agent.

            I’m telling you don’t send it to an agent. I know. We’ve all made the rookie mistake of getting too excited and ahead of myself. I’m included. But let’s take a step back.  A query is like a skill test. You’ve got 250 words to summarize your novel. 250 words? That’s short. Exactly. Which means this, you’ve got no room for mistakes and typos in this. It takes exactly five minutes to edit 250 words and if you can’t send in a page with no mistakes, then what’s that say about the amount of errors in your novel?

            I’ll give you a typo or two, maybe even three. But things riddles with typos, basic spelling errors, grammar, and capitalization errors are going to turn an agent off because if the writer didn’t take the five minutes to clean up the query, then why in the world would they take the months it may take to clean up the novel? The assumption? The novel is filled with errors.

            So you clean up the grammar. Good to go? Wrong? Let it sit for two or three days and come back. In the case that you’re still in love with it, post it on a critique forum and see what some of them have to say. Nine times out of ten, there’s a clarity issue in the query? Why? Because we’re too close to our novels.

            We know the story, but we’re trying to sum up the story to someone who’s never read it before, just like the people who have never read it in a critique forum. Sure the summary makes perfect sense to us, but that’s because we read the novel. And I know some of you are like, well duh? Who better to know if it makes sense or not than the person who wrote the novel? Well, people who haven’t read the novel can spot confusing things, things that need to be clarified for the simple fact that they haven’t read the novel and are trying to get an idea through your query.

            But I know. Forums are intimidating. I won’t post mine either, but I frequent the query forums and critique other queries so that I can recognize it in my query. You won’t believe how many times I see something and then I go back to review my summary and I’m like, “Oh! That’s the same thing I just commented about in someone else’s query!” It takes practice though and a critical eye, a harsh critical eye for self that is. Not everyone can be honest with themselves though. So these forums help.

            Why do we want to make sure that things are clear in a query? Well a confusing summarization in a query can mean two things. Either the writer is too close to the novel or the query is revealing a glaring flaw in the novel, that being that the novel is confusing. There’s a difference between complex and confusing people. Complex we can do. Confusing? Not so much. So when an agent reads a confusing query or even just a confusing first sentence. The first thought is, “Is the novel and plot of the novel as confusing as this query?”

            The solution is to pick out your main conflict and explain why it’s a conflict and what may happen as a result if that conflict isn’t resolved using a few sub-conflicts and sub-plots that come directly out of the main conflict and main plot to help illustrate your point. Don’t stray from that. If the query has focus, that means the novel has focus.

            Okay so you think you’re ready to go? You’re not. Now go back in and look for receptiveness? Why? The readers aren’t stupid. You don’t have to say the same thing two of three times for us to get the picture and if you’re repeating stuff in your query, it makes me wonder how many repetitive scenes, conversations, issues, words, and phrases there are in a novel.

            I read a story like this. I understood that they were trying to make the point that the couple was willing to fight for their love. But damn it after the first ten times someone told them they shouldn’t be together and why it was wrong and they were still together, I got the damn point. And I mean it literally repeated like this in the story: someone didn’t like the relationship, someone tells them, the couple tells them off, the other someone tries to interfere, the couple servers ties. And it repeated like this and here’s the thing. You would think people who witnessed this would back off and get the point, but they didn’t and people kept doing it over and over.

            That’s redundancy people. It appears in phrases, scenes, words, dialogue, and even characters in the sense that two characters are playing the same role unneeded and redundancy in a query can mean redundancy in a novel.

            Now the query is tight. Can you send it off now? No! Now that the query is done, see if it interests you. The query can be solid and do its job. Portray clearly the story you’ve written. The question is this. Is the story interesting? Is the story solid and worth reading, because if not, that means you may want to rethink that novel. Someone in the forums I frequent had that problem. The query was solid. The story…not so much.

            Alright then. The story is worth reading you’ve determines. Time to send it off right? Sorry, but now that you’ve spent all this time on your query, go back and do a reread of the novel. Why? Because like I said, the query is a test of your skill and if you had to fix the above problems in your 250 word query, you may have to fix the above problems in that 75k plus word novel. I’ve seen it before, heard experiences of this happening. Some people faked some dynamic queries and what I mean when I say ‘faked’ is that they wrote stellar queries that weren’t an accurate portrayal of their skill and that can kill a writer’s chances. At least with query you can go back, revise it, wait six months and send it back out again, but once the agent gets that novel and their underwhelmed, that’s it. That’s the novel with all the typos and redundancies and all kinds of problems. Some may let you edit it. Some may not have the patience. Better safe than sorry though. Go back through the novel again please.

            Now you can send it. After all that you can send it. But do you see why the query is so important? The query is the first impressions and while we were probably all taught that everything is not what it appears, first impressions matter. No matter how good that novel is, if the agent doesn’t like the query, they’re going to assume they won’t like the novel.

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