Saturday, March 15, 2008

Query Theory

I've been wracking my brains for about 13 hours now (including six hours of sleep) on a pronoun. Not just any pronoun, mind. Oh, no. This is a non-English, gender-angel, third person singular pronoun. I think I've got it worked out. I just need to let it simmer. And possibly go out for sushi later today.

Anyway. To let my brain relax a little, I'm going to put my Query Theory into a form usable to anyone other than me. This theory and a lot of work--a lot of work--got me an agent and has resulted in partial requests from editors, so I know it's good.


A query fits on one typed page. That's 8.5x11 or A4, standard margins, single spaced, carriage returns between paragraphs rather than indentations, 12pt. font. No, 11pt. won't cut it. I typically use Times New Roman, though anything from Arial to Garamond to whatever is readable will work. Now, twelve lines will automatically go to things like date, agent's name and address, and salutation. In fact, your query will begin:



Dear Agent's Name,

That's one line for date, one blank, five for address information, three blank, salutation, and one more blank line following that. THIS LOOKS PROFESSIONAL. DO NOT BALK AT THE BLANK SPACE. Blank space goes back to a time when paper was expensive and respect was shown by wasting it. Your potential agent or editor deserves respect, so waste your bloody inexpensive paper.

Now, I've seen many ways of going into the bulk of things. Some people recommend a personal introduction, and this works sometimes. In fact, if the agent or editor specifically requested a query, say at a writers' convention, then you always want to start with a brief introduction. For general use, I prefer going straight to the hook. Agent Query has a good article on hooks here.

The thing to remember here, though, is that a hook is a punch to the gut. You want in and out as quickly as possible. Fifty words, tops. "Scarlett O'Hara, a ruthless Southern Belle, loses everything in the Civil War and vows to regain wealth, love, and power--at the cost of her own humanity." Gone With the Wind, 28 words. I've written it in as few as 17. If you need practise, take someone else's famous work and break it down as far as it can go.

Your next paragraph will be your mini-synopsis. This needs to be 150 words, tops, though I broke that rule: mine was 160 and broken into two paragraphs. One was the book condensed, and the next was the series description. If you're selling a series, say so. Supertitle, number of books, genre, overall theme. Boom, 30 words. Up to 35 if your titles are reeeeally long, like mine.

"When antebellum Georgia is plunged into war, Scarlett O'Hara joins her fellow Confederates to stand against the hated Yankees. A spoiled and demanding girl, the war turns Scarlett into a scheming and ruthless woman--determined to take revenge for her family's downfall, and steal Ashley Wilkes, her cousin's devoted husband, for herself. However, she--and her steely ways--catch the eye of Rhett Butler, a rogue from Charleston. To further her gains and Ashley's jealousy, Scarlett becomes Mrs. Rhett Butler, only for her own ambitions to imperil everything she has fought to gain. Gone With the Wind is an epic tale of struggle, love, and the lengths to which people will go to come out on top, and the consequences of forgetting one's fellow man."

That? Was 125 words. In my eyes, it's a pretty functional breakdown of the story. That should be your second paragraph and, for a stand-alone book, your final word on the story itself.

Your next paragraph will be your biography. "My name is Margaret Mitchell. My work has appeared in/through.... Gone With the Wind is complete at eleventy billion words. A partial is available on request."

Always, always thank the agent/editor for his/her/er time. "Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you." Skip one line, and close with, "Yours truly."

After that, type your name, give four carriage returns (three blank lines), and give your address, email address, and phone number. Two lines for address within the US (usually), one for email, phone number always goes last unless otherwise specified. Sign your name in the blank space under your name.

And that's my query theory. Discuss amongst yourselves, I'm goin' to the library.

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