Thursday, October 14, 2010

Query Quest I: A Query Letter for the Trashcan

Bob Ghent is a member of the weekly Writing Practicum that I facilitate.  He's an engineer at heart, so he's our go-to guy for spotting things in our writing that don't add up or that don't make sequential sense.

He has recently finished "DRAGOOLEND," a fantasy for middle grade readers.  Now he is heavily involved in the umpteenth edit.  He is also researching how to write a query letter -- a daunting task for nearly all writers, but especially so for first-timers.

Bob has done his research.  He's been studying the Query Shark website and applying the advice he found there.  For three weeks, he brought only his query letter to our Tuesday night Writer's Practicum so we could critique it and help him polish it. But all the work he did was his own.

I asked Bob if he would share his query writing process here.  He has graciously agreed to.  In today's installment, Query Quest begins:


My first query letter turned out to be more of a synopsis and way too long so I didn’t include it in this blog post. This starts with version 2.

I read several Query Shark critiques to help me get some ideas. Anyone writing fiction should visit that site and carefully read the good, the bad and the ugly query letters.I made a list of a little over 30 tips from the critiques.

After I completed each version, I used the tips to critique my work. It was an eye opener!

I sent version number 5 to Query Shark and only five minutes after I hit the send button, I found more changes I wish I had made.

My final, number six, is the one I wish I had sent. Well, it’s spilled milk and all of that. It’s a waiting game now.

The query letter versions are below. Needed changes are underlined, w/ comments I expect The Shark might make in blue.

Version 2 – 258 words

A youngling dragon named Tonk falls from a magical world into the modern lives of thirteen year old twins, Cira and Jace. Tonk’s wings are too small to return him home and he will die if he stays. Cira is quick to help but Jace sees the impossible side. The portal to return Tonk is at the top of the sky.It will close in twenty four hours.

  • “Youngling” takes up space and it seems more specific than a query letter needs.  It is also redundant for “wings are too small” in line two. 
  • “Is at the top of the sky” is vague.
  • “Close in twenty-four hours” Conveys little more than a mild problem and does not show any consequence.

As often happens, Jace yields to his sister and their quest reveals the existence of a mysterious handwritten book about dragons and magic. Their search for it uncovers others who know about dragons; a vengeful sheriff and Kade, a seven-foot felon.

  • “Others who know” – So what?  Where’s the danger?  Why should we care?

The sheriff closes in and Cira must leave to hide Tonk. Jace continues the search and discovers how to return Tonk but Kade kidnaps him before he delivers the answer. A daring last minute escape leads Jace to certain death and Kade to Tonk.

  •  The sheriff closes in – Specific detail not necessary in a query letter.
  •  “Certain death” implies Jace dies and I did not want that.
The wild card is a lone dragon that arrives with a dangerous agenda. It murders the sheriff’s wife and a mile above Cira’s hometown it springs a surprise attack against her. Astride her dragon and with magical sword in hand, she battles the powerful dragon but the battle proves unwinnable. Gathering courage for her last seconds of life, she encounters a magical being that knows how to defeat the dragon. However, he is upset with her and is willing to let her die.

  • “The wild card” – Not needed.
  •  “Gathering courage” – This involves two lines that lengthen the query letter and seems to have specific detail not needed in a query letter.
To defeat their enemies and return Tonk, the twins must do something they have never done.They must trust each other.
  •  “Something they have never done” – Weak.

That was Bob's first pass. This query letter was relegated to the trashcan & an edit commenced.  Tomorrow, he'll share the next incarnation of his query letter as he continued in his quest for the Perfect Query -- one that results in "send me pages."

Does the thought of writing a query letter fill you with trepidation? Would you rather have oral surgery than try to attract an agent's attention?  Why not try Bob's approach?  Write a letter knowing that you're going to trash it.  Then edit it relentlessly.  Do you have any experience with writing a "trashy" query letter? Comment below & let me know.


RedHeadedQuilter said...

Thanks for letting me know about this post. I look forward to reading Bob's other letters.

By the way - is Tonk back to being male now? :)

I miss you all!


Ami Hendrickson said...


Tonk's gender was the least of the early query issues. :P

Bob was so good at researching the process, self-editing, and making the rationale for changes transparent -- and his final query is, IMHO, excellent -- that I'm thrilled he gave me permission to post them.

We miss you terribly, too (though it's nice to name-drop our Big-Time Editor friend). Tune in tomorrow for Query II...

RedHeadedQuilter said...

I figured all the real issues had been addressed, but it's hilarious how he still refers to Tonk as "he" after all this time. I just wondered if he'd decided to switch Tonk's gender once and for all.