Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Writing the Query First

One of the cool things about joining the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), aside from getting updates about all their cool conferences and being able to put it in a query letter, is that you get their magazine as part of the package. My first issue came yesterday and I was surprised at how much great information was in there, including a conference calendar that I will definitely be perusing throughout the year.

One of the articles that really caught my attention was "Query Letter First" by Karen Kincy. This go-round, I decided to try this method, which I'd never done before. Thanks to Sarah forcing me to outline, I knew enough of the story ahead of time to write a query before I'd even started Chapter One. I think a lot of people worry that their story won't end up anything like their query, because characters have a way of leading us in directions we hadn't even imagined, but as Kincy says, "Knowing where I might be going with the novel did not in any way distract me from seeing much better paths ahead. I simply tweaked my query letter as I went along, making sure it reflected the current manuscript."

Thanks to a wonderful agent I've known for some time, I was able to test out my original query before I'd even completed the manuscript. Guess what? It sucked. There was more red ink on that puppy than black when she returned it to me. And of course, she was totally right. I had dumped everything into that query, including about seven characters, every major plot twist, and all kinds of back story that was completely irrelevant. In the end, that query was really more of a synopsis than anything else. But it gave me focus and direction, and I enjoyed writing it. Plus, the agent pointed out several major issues I was able to remedy not only in the new query, but in the novel itself.

Of course, we don't all have extremely generous agents at our disposal, but we do have each other. And the query critiques I've gotten from all my new bloggy friends have been awesome. If you're in the early stages of your novel, I highly recommend this method. As Kincy points out, "Wouldn't you rather decide now instead of later to reconstruct your plot? Your revisions span only paragraphs, not pages." It's certainly worth a shot!


J. A. Bennett said...

I've never written a query, but I have thought about doing this. I really should give it a swing :)

Carrie Butler said...

Not a bad idea! I might try this for my next book. Great post, Mara! :)