Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Query: Sell Your Story Part 3

The consensus, I think, is that queries are tough to write, but make all the difference in garnering a request.

In my opinion, the blurb is everything. Of course make the other parts of your query polite and professional, but what sells your story is not how many contests you've won, not how long you've been writing, the classes you've taken, the theme of your story, etc.

Eventually we sell ourselves. But for first glance, it's all about the story.

So how do you go about writing a great blurb? And what should be in it?

A Plot Catalyst: This is super important. Agent Kristen Nelson did an in-depth series on this. Your blurb should start with the plot catalyst and cover what happens in the first 30-50 pages. Then you end on a hook.

The Hook: What is the danger (emotional or physical) that your character is going to face? The major decision he or she has to make?
In the words of Miss Snark, a good query contains the following formula:

Who is the protaganist?
What dilemma does he face?
How does it get resolved?

Answer each question in less than 25 words. That's the skeleton for a good query letter. It may not be your finished version, but it will give you the bone structure you need.


Another helpful post quoting Miss Snark is HERE.

What do you think of all this? How strong is your blurb? Have you been able to boil your plot down to its bare essentials? Have you studied the backs of books lately? Any advice to add? (since I'm still learning and working on this, just like you)

33 comments:

Terri Tiffany said...

I like that you added some really good links as help for us. I've only written a few queries and I know they need to be better. When I finish this book, I hope I can write my best yet. I'll be back then to follow your advice.

Jessica said...

Terri, I thought yours was pretty good for the other book. :-) You'll do a great job, I'm sure.

Sarah Forgrave said...

I'm currently taking an online class about writing a synopsis, and our first assignment was coming up with a one-sentence summary. My biggest challenge was avoiding generalities and being specific enough to make it clear and unique.

Jeanette Levellie said...

I recently changed the first line of my blub to read, "Nutty with a dash of meat describes Jeanette Levellie's style..."

I hate bragging on me, but if I believe in the gift God has given me, I think of it as bragging on Him.

What do you think?

Linda Kage said...

I think you're probably right; the blurb and story is what initially catches an editor's attention. I bet they just look at everything else AFTER the story hook has made them curious.

Jessica said...

Oooh, Sarah, is it Camy Tang's class? I took hers and it was awesome. Really, really helpful and I credit it with helping me create one of my strongest stories yet. I hope you enjoy!

Jeanette, I kind of think you should be meaty with a sprinkling of nut! LOL But yes, I like it. I think it's cute. :-)

I think so too Linda.

Marybeth Poppins said...

I'm taking a query writing course right now. And so far so good. Let's hope it yields positive results!

Did you know I detest query writing?!?!

Natalie said...

Yes! I think you've nailed it. The best queries I've seen all focus on conflict. Without conflict you have no story.

Robyn Campbell said...

I'm trying. I think it is. Waaaaa I query this month and I'm not sure. Plus I'm writing the synopsis too. Waaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!

Thanks for this help Jessica. May I copy and paste? *grin*

And I had forgotten about your condo in the Keys. Do you ski? On Lake Surprise? Those are my ol' stomping grounds. I miss my Keys. I hope to have a summer home down there soon. I know the place I want. It will soon be up for grabs. YAY!

Tamika: said...

Thanks for the links Jessica! I'm still working on this myself so there isn't anything for me to add. I'm learning to do a lot of research!

Julie Dao said...

Wow! Thank you for all the helpful links and advice. I haven't even begun thinking about querying yet but when I do, I'll have to check these out. :)

Elana Johnson said...

I think the blurb is uber-important. I liked Casey McCormick's post yesterday about the one-liner. I commented that you can also find the whole plot of a book boiled down in the PM deal. That was helpful to me when writing pitches.

Deb Shucka said...

I found this more challenging even than the query letter. For memoir it's a bit different, but not as much as you'd think.

The Rejection Queen said...

I think I almost sold my book today lol.

Nancy said...

You always give such good advice. I love to read the backs of books. I can see why the blurb has to be so good.

Jessica said...

Rejection Queen, really???? That would be awesome. :-)

Thanks Nancy, but it's only stuff I'm parroting. :-) I like reading the backs of books too. I like previews too! LOL

Hi Deb, it's very challenging. You know the blurb is part of the query, right?

Jessica said...

MaryBeth, awesome idea to take a course! I hope you blog about what you learned.

Natalie, conflict is so fun! :-)

Robyn, you're going to query this month? I think I might too. I have one out but I think it's time to send more. And no, I don't see. I tried, with hilarious, nose-clogging results. LOL But my husband use to be really good at it. Let me know if you buy a place! You never know, we might be able to meet sometime. :-) And since you have so much practice with six boys you can give me tips. LOL

patti said...

Great lesson as I am just now preparing Natasha's proposal packet for book four and she's HUGE on the back cover copy section--in fact the first agent that's had me write one pre-sale!

And it's been like level 7 on my exercise bike--very hard, very intense, but I know there will be a reward.

Love this blog!
Patti

Jessica said...

You're welcome Tamika! Research is a great help.

Hey Julie, the internet/blogs are great resources.

Elana, I actually haven't read that blog a lot so I'll go check out the post. Thanks for the info! One liners....they're great if you think of them before you write the book. LOL Afterwards, they're killer, at least for me. But you like queries so I guess you like one liners. :-P

Patti, I had no clue Natasha liked proposals done. That almost scares me off of querying her! LOL

Karen Lange said...

Thank you for these links and all this info. I don't care much for queries, so I'll take all the help I can get!
Blessings,
Karen

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh gosh, I just hate even thinking of all this stuff LOL though I know I will need to before the year is up. Queries are HARD H.A.R.D!

Jess of All Trades said...

I'm getting closer and closer to Querying, so this is great stuff for me!

Saw you on Elana's blog and not only do you have a fabulous name ;) I decided to follow you because you're one of the few people who suggested she just dive into Work instead of taking a break. Very coold :D

Anyhoo, so that's that.

anita said...

WOW! Thanks for the info, Jessie! This is great stuff. And that Miss Snark link had so many other links that extended to other elements of writing. Like three steps to salvage a scene. That one was WAY helpful to me...

Great post!

Jennifer Shirk said...

I've been reading a lot of backs of books lately. :)
But all afternoon, I worked on a blurb and am finally satisfied with it.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I've used Ingermanson's SnowFlake theory to boil mine down before. It's not easy, but so necessary!

Linda Glaz said...

Are you kidding? A few words? I'm lucky to keep it to a paragraph, but I keep trying. Yikes! As you know Jess, I tend to be wordy. There was a good class on this online with ACFW from April??? last year, April or May taught by Terry Burns about pitches, etc. Very good with lots of great info.
You can find it in the archives.

Debra E Marvin said...

I'm sorry about your sinus infection and happy about your query postings.
Good stuff!

I'll have to remember this is the place to go back to when the time comes.

MUST
FINISH
BOOK

THanks Jessica!

Warren Baldwin said...

Great post Jessica, with good suggestions.

T. Anne said...

I have a middle grade YA-ish query that I get partial requests for like crazy. Unfortunately I've decided to halt that project and dust off a query from a WIP I really want to see the light of day. I'll have to check out your links, I'll need all the help I can get.

Jessica said...

T. Anne, getting partial requests is great! But you gotta do what you gotta do! Have fun dusting. :-)

Thanks Warren!

Debra, I hope you race me then! Tomorrow's post explains it all. *wink*

Linday, I remember you telling me about that class and I'm pretty sure I went looking for it. I actually don't think you're very wordy, so there!

Jessica said...

Karen, me neither! Thank goodness for cyberspace!

Tabitha, it's good to be prepared though. :-)

Jess, thanks for stopping by! LOL I know, I was afraid I sounded cold so then I left another comment saying she might need a break. Heehee! I never thought my name was glamorous, but I'm beginning to see your point! LOL

Jessica said...

Hey Anita, I missed the three steps part. I should go back because it sounds good!

Good for you Jennifer! I saw your post. Those are hard work but well worth the effort.

Eileen, I'm in awe that you can do a snowflake! I find those SO overwhelming. You should post about your experience sometime. :-)

Angie Muresan said...

These posts on the query letter are my favorite. I have copied all into a file, just incase something were to happen.