5.05.2011

how to avoid writing "the pizza query" and other query related advice

(fyi, for more query help, check out the auction being held for southern storm relief and see if you can win a critique!) (don't forget to read our post first!)

now that i'm only posting once per week the pressure is on.  i feel like i have to be really brilliant and/or helpful, like the whole week of writing, reading, and thinking should amount in my fingertips spewing all sorts of wonderful at you.

um, here goes spews.

in the past month it seems everyone decided to hunker down and write, write, write not only their wips but their queries.  apparently it must be query season.  am i wrong?  writing a query for some few is an easy peasy task.  for others most, it's daunting and nearly impossible.  maybe i can try to help.

your query:

write your query with only the first 50 pages of your story in mind.

i'd been told this prior to writing 87 versions of my own query.  i didn't listen, which is probably why my query was recently compared (by a (very nice) agent) to pizza.  i mentioned this in a blog post a week or two ago, but i didn't explain why at the time.  (you may have thought, "wow!  pizza is delish.  your query must be saucy/spicy/savory/a wower!") 

well...let me begin by telling you it wasn't because the agent loved pizza. 

(though to be honest it is one of my favorite meals.)  no, the agent's remark referred to the overabundance of plot in my query.  AND not only an overabundance of plot, but also a confusing amount of apparent genre jumping in my query.  (it seems my query makes my book out to be contemporary/dystopian/fantasy/sci-fi/romance...and of course the paranormal that i classified it as in the final paragraph.

so:

only include the MOST important, MOST pressing plot points.

(see the explanation above.  avoid writing "the pizza query")

also, this makes sense.  think of all that should be revealed in the first 50 pages: 
  • the main character (age)
  • the setting
  • the event that changed his/her life from "ordinary world" to "just not anymore"
  • his/her goal
  • the antagonist and/or the "thing" keeping the protag from attaining his/her goal
  • an ally/love interest
  • and THE STAKES (you know, what will happen if the character's goal(s) are not attained.  why do they need to bother trying to overcome the obstacle(s)
put it all together in a hooky, well-written way to sell your story.

take those seven "items" of your amazing ms and sell it.  (to get inspired, listen to the radio for movie/tv trailers.  the reason i say radio and not tv is because sometimes flashy pictures get in the way of really hearing.  get the feel for how stories are sold.  mostly, doing this will help with your "hook", your "elevator pitch", something you may choose to use to start this "plot portion" of your query.)

decide how you'll organize your query. 

last summer, after visiting agent blogs and researching query writing, i thought that most (of the few agents i knew about at the time) seemed to like the writer to jump right into the "plot selling" (right after the salutation).  BUT, lately i've been thinking, "why?".  that's seems so informal and...wrong. (totally okay if you disagree with me!)

 i teach second grade (for the moment) and we teach how to write friendly letters.  whether it's a friendly letter or a business letter, shouldn't the writer always (after the salutation of course) begin with WHY they are writing the letter in the  first place?  i suppose MOST agents realize (especially when QUERY: TITLE is in the subject of the email) that it's a query for representation, BUT it still seems polite to let them know.  ESPECIALLY when a writer should begin by stating WHY they are querying THAT PARTICULAR AGENT (as opposed to the 97 other agents they truly plan to submit to afterward). 

in case this (WHY) part is hard for you, here are a few of the reasons you might like to highlight in the opening para of your query: 
  • you recently met them at a conference or heard them speak (and felt a connection to them because yadda yadda yadda),
  • you read an interview they did and especially liked their philosophy on blah blah, you frequent their blog and find them helpful, witty, enlightening, friendly, a go-getter, etc (especially in their post blah blah blah),
  • and you feel they would be a perfect fit for you because they are a) a hands-on editorial agent b) a hands-off agent c) familiar with/has connections to such and such publishing houses d) they rep books x,y and z which are similar to your project, e) interested in/knowlegeable about blah blah, etc.
refrain from telling them they will love your book.  let them decide that for themselves.  refrain from telling them readers will love your book.  what they want to know from your query and pages is CAN THEY SELL YOUR BOOK.  they may like your book.  BUT if they don't think it's marketable, they'll turn you down.  also, don't tell them it's marketable.  it's like telling them you know their job better than they do.  JUST tell them about your book.

also mention the title, word count, genre, audience, that it's complete and ready for them if they'd like to see it (debatable...some agents think this is a "no duh" and doesn't need to be included-if they want to see it, they'll ask), if it's a multiple submission, or if you've already been offered representation by someone else (if so, give them one week to decide if they'd like to offer you representation).

and on to the most important part, selling your story.

start with the "hook" (if you so choose) or a really strong sentence.  then INPUT the seven story items mentioned before (in that creative and unique and voicy way you have) and voila!  other than your "I look forward to hearing from you" and closing YOU'RE DONE!

see?  i told you it was totally not easy peasy!!!!

be confident.  no worries.  okay?  strong writing will result in the agent looking at the sample pages if you included them (BECAUSE THEY ASKED, otherwise just don't!) as long as they rep the genre you wrote.  the query will not make or break you (although it IS a strong foot in the door, even moreso if they met you at a conference).

sometimes an agent will LOVE your story and your writing, but just doesn't feel they can sell this particular story or maybe he/she doesn't think that you and he/she connect on a personal/professional level.  Think about it, if you want an editorial agent who gives input on plot and pacing and is excited beyond imagination to flesh out your newest wip idea, but the agent you've queried just wants your work to be impeccable without their help, then do you really, really want them to rep you?  or if the story you are querying is a contemporary romance, but your newest wip is sci-fi and the agent you're querying doesn't want anything to do with sci-fi...do you really want to make a change (either in representation or your own genre interest) down the road?

i know in the beginning, some of us might think just getting any agent, ANY agent sounds so much better than writing for just ourselves and our cps, BUT down the road YOU WILL CARE.  getting it right the first time may take more time and lots and lots of waiting, but it will be SO worth it in the end.  don't you think???? 

keep it to a cheese only pizza...save the smorasboard of ingredients (no matter how much you LOVE and are proud of your pepperoni, anchovies, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and bacon) for the pages of your novel. a pizza query will only overwhelm the agent and result in a "pass to slush pile".

*sigh*

go on.  put your query together and send out 101 of them.  BEST OF LUCK WRITERS!

17 comments:

  1. I've definitely written the pizza query.

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  2. LOL! You're so funny... send out 101 of them. I found that doing that whole "logline" exercise NB, RG and now NF have described (summarizing your book in 1-2 sentences) went miles toward helping me w/my query. And now I even try to do it before I start writing. Crazy, huh?

    so... once a week. Interesting~ <3

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  3. Good stuff. Not. GREAT stuff and hilarious too. You're so funny. Good luck with your writing!

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  4. I try to come up with a logline right from the beginning too, because it helps focus your plot. Great post, Christy! I'm so glad I'm not querying right now, though, with everybody else. But I am anxious to finish this revision and move forward.

    Thanks for the advice!

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  5. I just trashed my very pizza-ish query yesterday. My new one is much better (I think, anyway). It had been that way for so long because a well-respected blogger/editor had told me it was golden. :( Not so much....

    Great...now I'm hungry for pizza......and I have no way of getting any.

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  6. Great post and I really like your blog. The thing about the first 50 pages is very interesting. Will definitely think about that more. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. This really is awesome advice! And echoes a LOT of what I heard at a recent writing conf. I went to. I, too, was guilty of the super-size combo pizza query!! But, I think I've got it down to cheese...maybe a pepperoni here and there. Best of luck with your querying!

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  8. I'm going to be to the querying stage in just a couple of months. This really helps!

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  9. Thanks, Christy,

    This is helpful since I just received another rejection today. My query does have all the right elements, but they passed anyway.... my motto....
    'NEXT!"

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  10. Great post, Christy - definitely up to par for your once a week :) Actually, in addition to writing a query letter, your 7 points are very helpful in just thinking about your WIP - whether you really know where you're going and have a handle on your idea.

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  11. Don't worry, some of us have used a "white bread" (booorrriiinnng) query - oops.

    During the summer's WriteOnCon, Natalie Fischer answered some questions on a live chat and said your query should reflect what's in your partial (with, I'm assuming, a hint at the climax/resolution).

    We'll get there!
    erica

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  12. You had me at pizza...

    I'm querying again now, so this is very relevant!

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  13. Very useful tips. Thank you!! I'm not querying yet but I hope I don't write a pizza query! ;-)

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  14. Brilliant. I'm taking very careful notes, in case my WiP ever becomes query-able.

    And now I'm craving pizza.

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  15. Nice post. Love the pizza thing. Yes, it is tricky but also, there are lots of resources out there. Keep trucking.

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  16. The pizza query, *snickers* awesome! I love that comparison. Well said!

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  17. That's a nice metaphor... of course, I don't tend to load my pizza down with the works, so maybe a Chris-style pizza query would go over okay. ;)

    To me, it makes sense that a query should largely be about the plot hook and the stuff that happens in the first 50 pages, but if something from later is key, then it's okay to hint at it, right? Just don't go into much detail. :)

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