Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Query Letter Writing - The Dreaded Middle

First we interrupt this blog to say "Holy brown cows, Batman!! Over 100 comments yesterday?"

There will be prizes for that. Like 100 prizes, don't you think? There's a couple problems with this idea. 1. I'm not what you would call a millionaire. 2. What could I give away to say I love you with all my heart without landing me in the poor house? Thoughts? Cuz you guys so deserve something.

And onto the real post for today.

Okay, so we've gone over the first and last sentence. The first and last paragraphs. Now all you need to do is flesh out the middle.

This is where some of you wedge yourself in a swamp, so take heed. I mean, nobody wants more fat in their middle, right? Right.

Some tips to keep your query lean and mean.

1. Limit the number of characters you name. I think a good number is 1-2 more, if necessary. You've got your MC, and probably a secondary MC. I name both of those in mine. I might or might not name the villain and that's it. We don't need the full cast, it simply takes up too much room and weighs us down with unneeded proper nouns.

2. Get to the conflict and the consequence. Don't bog us down in the unnecessary. We don't need to know everything in the query. Just the bare bones, the main plot to the major consequence (which is why I recommend writing the query before the book). So stick with that.

Use a sentence or two for the setup. Then lay out the major conflict. Note how I said major. What does your MC have to lose? Give me that, and really give it to me.

Then answer: What happens if your MC doesn't overcome the conflict? That's called a consequence. Leave me hanging off a cliff, salivating to read more. Oh yeah. Like that. (Some of you don't ever get to the consequence. It's omitted for some reason. What that reason is, I have no idea. You've got to lay out the consequence, okay? Okay.)

3. I swear I had three bullet points when I was in the shower, but now I can't think of it. Like, at all. Dangitall.

Here's my full query blurb (181 words - Janet Reid would be proud). I made the middle bold.
In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.

After committing her eighth crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands—until she demonstrates her brainwashing abilities. That earns her a one-way trip to appear before the Association of Directors.

Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen. She busts out of prison with sexy Bad boy Jag Barque, who also has no intention of fulfilling his lame sentence.

Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes.
When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.

Next week: Capturing the voice in your query. Seriously, if you can craft a good first and last sentence, nail your opening and closing paragraphs, and keep the middle slim, all you need is the voice and your query will be a winner!

54 comments:

lynnrush said...

Fantastic.

Nisa said...

This is so good and oh so helpful. What if your MC is your villian? Yes, seriously.

Scott said...

Thanks!! I've been struggling with the middle. Yes, I have your book. Yes, it's helped. I'm still struggling. I'm taking a day this weekend to totally devote to my query. Arrrrgghhhh!

Marybeth Poppins said...

I'm ready to read your book now!

Kim said...

Elana,

First off I want to say thanks for doing this. I'm a logical thinker and I appreciate your approach to query letters. Second, I think your blog rocks. I look forward to reading your funnies.

Take care and thanks again,

Kim
P.S. Shower epiphanies are the best, except when you can't remember them. To bad computers aren't waterproof. I'd do all my writing in the shower.

Tess said...

This is a great set of posts, Elana. You're so fantastic.

but, aren't you glad to be past the query phase? Lord almighty, I am. Hopefully my agent will never kick me to the curb and I'll never have to write another.

mostly cuz I suck rocks at them

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post, Elana! Yeah, I was one of the 'what about the consequence' kind of writers. I mean sure it's in the book, but getting it in the query was the hardest part. But that really is the part that sells the book. The part where I forget the rest of the query and think, "Dang, I so want to read this." Oh yeah, that and the voice. ;)

Cassandra Frear said...

This is really interesting. And you give so many specific details. I'll bet this is just the thing that someone needs.

And the 100 comments. You deserve them. Every one.

Kristi said...

I love these posts and combined with your book, I'm hoping to have my query in shape soon. Also, congrats on 100 comments - I think saying 'I love you with all my heart' is a great gift!

Tiffany Neal said...

Dude, have I told you lately that you are a ROCKSTAR??

103 comments
Badass Query
A book I want to read
And you're helping me write mine!

Plus, you're an elementary school teacher, like me.

If I could, I would kiss you right now. (You should be glad I can't reach you physically right now.)

Jessica said...

Awesome advice! And you break it all down so well. :-)
Congrats on the comments!!!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Elana, seriously you are making this look easy with your GREAT breakdown! Thanks a million!

I'm with you on writing the query before the book...actually totally convinced it keeps you focused! You go girl!

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Great post Elana--as usual!! Your book sounds awesome, can't wait to read it and thanks for linking to the article I wrote with Donna on Janet Reid!

Kelly said...

Your book sounds awesome!
Thanks again for all of your query tips!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I agree with you totally that the middle is the hardest part of the query to write. I really recommend Elana's book. It dissects the heart of the query like in her blog posts with more details and more examples that she comments on. It really helped me get a handle on my query. Well, maybe I'd better wait on the last statement to see what Elana thinks when she critiques my query.

Janet Johnson said...

More homework! I'm sweating already. But awesome advice. I'm glad I got your book, too. Can't wait to soak it all in. But these little blurbs are great.

Thanks!

Christine Fonseca said...

such a great series...and I'm with Tess; I SO hope I don't have to query anytime soon!

Jen said...

Good advice. I'm soaking it all in.

Yesterday I broke down and signed up for Twitter. I blame you for this. :)

Once Upon a Time on a Fast Sunday

Emily Ann Benedict said...

You could give away a hundred pennies...hopefully that wouldn't break the bank. ;)

Thanks for the post. I'm the middle of writing the synopsis of my next novel for a contest entry and it's not the easiest thing in the world to do. How do you put 200 pages into 1. :?

Oh, btw, I've started a "share you link" board on my Face Book fan page. It's a great place to share all your websites.
(all details on my blog :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

You're right about the voice, Elana. It was the voice that hooked me and sucked me under in that query. I want the book and I want it now! :-)

Catherine Denton said...

I've never considered how many characters to name. Good thoughts! Thank you so much!
Winged Writer

Kayeleen said...

Thanks for the advice. I think having the query written will help me in my rewrites. I need a focus on where to go with it. I keep getting derailed with thoughts of "what next."

Carolyn V. said...

Oh man, I'm not even to the query phase yet. Almost....almost! Thanks for the awesome advice!

Jill Kemerer said...

Your query instantly brought to mind a book I'd read a few years ago by Ayn Rand, "Anthem." Gripping! I want to read yours!

Jamie D. said...

So...I don't read YA. I don't have anything against it, I just tend to be more attracted to other genres.

That said, your query hooked me - your book sounds fascinating, especially the voice you've captured in your letter.

Thanks for laying this all out for us. I have yet to write a query, but will be doing my first soon, and this makes me think it won't be nearly as difficult as it first appears. :-)

Jen said...

Wow I am so hoooked!!! I need to practice doing a query! That was really inspiring, I can't wait to take a stab at it!!!

I'll keep the tips in mind when writing one! Thanks!

Mistress of Fantasy said...

Seriously, I have to say the part of writing that stresses me out the most is the query. I really do have to say I am SO glad I found your blog!! This makes me feel like I can accomplish it, no sweat. Thanks Elana!

Southern Princess said...

Wonderful! I had been told by many that you definitely were the Query Master for sure!
Your site does not disappoint!

Thank you for popping over to mine the other week when Gnick the Gnome was traveling around... ;o)

on a totally different note - I love Mistress of Fantasy's avatar above! too cute


VisitMyKingdomAnytime

Lisa and Laura said...

You infuse so much voice into this query--I think that's hard to do! Can't wait to hear how you did it :)

Erica said...

Another great post - your posts are so helpful! Thank you for sharing what you know. Sounds like an interesting book ;o)

Sarah Jensen said...

Elana, the girls at If You Give a Girl a Pen have awarded you with the Sunshine Award.

Helen Ginger said...

Your voice most definitely comes through in that query. Great job.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Icy Roses said...

I can see why they call you the Query Queen now. That was amazing, seriously. I'd pick that book up in a heartbeat!

bclement412 said...

Awesome!

Christina Lee said...

umm can I read your book now please?? :) These query posts are so rockin'!!

How are you with first lines/paragraphs?

I suck at both it seems, just thought I'd ask!

No prizes neded BTW, these killer posts are enough!

Jemi Fraser said...

You make it seem so bloody easy! I'm working on it...

BTW - can't wait until your book is out. No wonder an agent snapped you up - awesome!

Heather said...

These query posts are not only helpful but I pretty much need to read your book now, so...good job.

lbdiamond said...

100 posts? Woo-hoo! Bravo!

Giving FANTASTIC query writing tips? Woo-hoo! Bravo!

Having a novel on submission? Woo-hoo! Priceless!

:) Congrats!

Sliding on the Edge said...

Very helpful. Those queries take me longer to write than the novel.

CJ Gosling said...

Ahh, that dreaded middle ground. Sometimes I think it's harder than writing the whole dang book!

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

You are the bestest at query writing, so I was wondering:

Do you have any suggestions for querying a ms that spans several years of one character's life?

Kimberly Franklin said...

I dread the querying process. But I'm so happy to read about your tips. : )

Jennifer Shirk said...

This is great stuff. Keep it coming! :)

ali said...

Hmm, a signed ARC for each of us when your book comes out? Or you could personally write our queries for us? ROFL

Thanks for the excellent advice on queries ~ once again!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

This is such a great a great series, Elana! Thank you!

Tabitha Bird said...

Thanks heaps for being opened about this process and sharing. I am book marking your posts!

So, you won my comp girl! Congrats! Can you shoot me your address and I'll put the book in the mail?

Email me at tab[at]zaeya[dot] com

Thanks heaps :)

L.T. Elliot said...

Elana, you're AMAZING! Way to rock that query!

Anissa said...

I have to admit I love writing queries. Love it!

Deb Salisbury said...

Great post, great series! Thanks!

Ryan said...

I think I popped in in the middle of that. Lol. Anyway, I for one am not very good when it comes to queries, and I have to thank you Lady Elana for your awesome ninja like skills when it comes to queries. I will even do this in my blog post on Friday (I can tell the future!). If you want to stop by my blog and take a look at my query for RKDG on Friday please do so. It is the one I did right after the changes you suggested. Thanks again.

VR Barkowski said...

This is such a fabulous series. Thank you! Can't wait for capturing the voice installment.

Bish Denham said...

Thanks Elana for this step-by-step process. Makes it much less intimidating.

Christina Farley said...

So great!!!!! I loved your book. I've digested it word for word. Thank you!

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
Lucy
http://dataentryjob-s.com

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