Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Query Letter to Cover Copy

Okay, so I teach some classes on writing query letters. It's kind of fun, because I have a powerpoint presentation, but I don't have a script. Which means the class is different every time I teach it, because you never know what's going to come out of my mouth. #beafraid

So I was teaching a couple of weeks ago, and I said something that I totally believe is true. I teach that the query letter has four parts, and that the author should be able to draw a box around each part, thus evaluating every word in their letter.

Then I said something like, "Every word needs to be boxed up." meaning that every single word in the query letter counts. Every single one has to either A) drive the reader through the letter or B) reveal character and/or plot.

Then I showed my cover.


At the top it says, "Control or be controlled."

Then I showed my query letter.


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.


How did it end? "Control or be controlled."

I wrote my cover copy.

In my query letter.

A very long time ago.

And that's why every single word in the query letter is crucial. You never know which ones are going to make it all the way through to the book.

So...how's your query letter writing going? What do you need help with in that regard? Trust me, no one understands query angst like I do. Remember, I sent a few. And by "a few," I mean "hundreds." Tomato, tomahto.

79 comments:

Jess said...

LOVE your query...I'm in the process of reworking my letter and think my biggest problem is showing voice (something that you do fabulotastically--yeah, I didn't think it was a word either until I made it up just now). You've just inspired me to take a few minutes this morning and try again, so thanks :)

kellyhashway said...

Wow, now I'm even more excited I won a query critique with you! I love your query letter. I've rewritten mine more times than I can count. I've had it critiqued by my critique group, the querying kick around group on YALITCHAT, and in the agent mailbox on YALITCHAT. I've entered query contests, which actually got me a request, so I guess I can't be that bad at writing queries. But I'm more inclined to think I've had a lot of good help! I can't wait to see what you think about it.

Renae said...

How cool is it that the last line in your letter made it onto the cover of your book? I love how you urge writers to make every word count. That's so true, sometimes you don't even have the entire letter to pull an agent in, so every word does count.

Great post as usual!

Christina Lee said...

I always love re-reading that. I bet your powerpoint presentation is awesome! I am actually sharing my successful query on Matt's blog this week and made sure to say it had been "Elana-fied" ;--)

The Golden Eagle said...

I love your query letter! It is awesome that the phrase made it on to the front cover of your book. I'm not, unfortunately, (or fortunately?) at query stage quite yet but you're right that every word should count.

Amy Laurens said...

Awesome post, Elana. Thanks. Congrats on your super shiny cover - and somehow, I totally missed the announcement when your book sold o.0 So a belated and excited CONGRATULATIONS!! :D

Natalie Aguirre said...

I love your book From the Query to the Call. It spells out the query letter so well and has such great examples.

But as you know, I'm still struggling with mine. But I won another critique with you and I'm smart. So eventually I'll get it. Hopefully before I start querying.

salarsenッ said...

Your query letter is fantastic! Read it a few times, now. I'm getting closer to that goal of making each word count. Not there quite yet, but almost...enough for an agent to say "Hey, this sounds interesting."

I've used your insightful advice from your blog and have applied it to my methods. Like I said...I'm almost there. When I get there, I'll let you know. Thanks for making me think. God knows someone has to make me. LOL.

Lydia Sharp said...

Totally agree. Very well said.

Matthew Rush said...

At first I thought your hashtag said beef raid, which was making me hungry. For bacon. For some reason.

You truly are the query Ninja Elana, and you freaking rock.

Please stop by my blog today if you have time. I am helping Creepy Query Girl with a new query of her's today and would appreciate your wisdom more than anything.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Okay, that's so fricking cool. Love the cover copy.

I'm looking forward to see how close your book blurb comes to you query. ;)

Christine Fonseca said...

Your query process helps me everything I think about it! And dude, CAN'T.GET.ENOUGH of your cover!

Bish Denham said...

What a great query letter! No wonder you got picked up. And wouldn't I just LOVE to take your query class....

Charmaine Clancy said...

Thanks so much for all your advice on queries.

Theresa Milstein said...

I love your query letter. And I love your advice in your query book. Somehow, no matter how much I read about queries, I'm never satisfied with mine.

I started querying in June. I sent out about ten queries. All rejections, so far. So I revamped it and sent out five more in the beginning of August. 2 rejections, but nothing on the other 3. Then I won a Mr. Snark contest and got a free query critique. Based on his suggestions, I revamped it again. I just posted it this morning:

http://theresamilstein2.blogspot.com/2010/09/mist-chasers-query-revised_29.html

Elizabeth May said...

Thanks to WriteOnCon (and, thus, YOUR help), Joanna Volpe gave me some feedback on my query that is totally spot on and awesome and will be implemented when I am ready to query.

But I actually wrote the query before I even finished the manuscript. I had about 5 chapters down, and wrote it to give me some direction. And then I continued with the manuscript, and tweaked the query more. And revised it again when I finished.

I was actually surprised that I found it much easier to compose a query while writing the manuscript than after I was done. Because by that point, so much has happened in the manuscript, I tend to find it hard to condense into 250 words. Meanwhile, while I was writing, I knew the essentials of what I wanted the book to be about, and was able to write the query accordingly.

But I do LOVE your query. I get such a good idea of your MC's voice just from reading it, and it's wonderful!

Liza said...

Great lesson. Do you think you could post it again, say, in a year or so? Just in case, I'm hitting "Favorites." Thank you.

Michelle McLean said...

So awesome that part of your query letter made it onto your cover...and just shows what a freakin awesome query writer you are :)

Mesmerix said...

My current issue with the query letter is a failure to clearly convey the plot sequence. It makes sense to me, but my critique partners don't get what's happening. The voice is strong, the words are there, but the plot clarity is lacking.

SusanneWrites said...

Love your query, especially "control or be controlled". :)

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Great post, great query letter, fantastic cover -- but you left something out of your presentation. And that something is why your query letter is such a huge success! Not only does every word drive the reader through the letter and reveal character and/or plot, but it does it in the voice in which you've written the book. More so than almost any other query letter I've ever read. It's brilliant, succinct, and well, you. Reading that, I know exactly what I'll find in the book. Which I can't wait to read. CAN'T. WAIT. Seriously, it sounds amazing.

Martina

Elaine AM Smith said...

I normally sweat blood over query letters at the end of the process. I've just been inspired. I wrote the query for my unplanned NaNo novel. Are you gifted, or what?!

storyqueen said...

Such a cool post!!

amazing letter, gorgeous cover.

Great way to start a day.

Shelley

Christi Goddard said...

Well, I've sent about 50 queries and 6 requests, some on the query letter alone, so the letter is sort of doing the job, I think. It's the writing that might be the deal breaker ;-)

Carolyn V. said...

Excellent info on the query! I've decided I still need to do a few more revisions before I can query, but soon I hope!

Kelly Bryson said...

That's so cool. I'll have to reevaluate my query letter, though it's gotten some good results thus far. Thanks for the tip.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great post, Elana...Thanks for giving us such a great model to look at. (smile) Your cover is awesome! Congrats!

Patti said...

Right now I'm struggling with whether I'm just telling the story or showing the voice. I've gone through many different versions of my query. It's been frustrating, especially because everyone gives you different advice. It's too long, too short. Take that out, leave that in. Eventually I need to trust myself or I need to take one of your classes.

Jennee said...

I've never written a query letter before, and it's on my list of things to do soon. I can only avoid it for so long, right? I just don't know anything about what to do next, so I just keep writing.

Krista said...

Awesome queery, Elana, I can't wait to get the book! I LOVED Paranormalcy BTW, and will review it soon.
Also, I LOVE the new photo. Totally you. I'm pretty sure. Though we've never met. It's PERFECT.

Meredith said...

That's so awesome! Definitely taking a more critical look at the words and phrases in my query now. Thanks for the advice!

Melanie said...

Oh my goodness, your timing couldn't be MORE PERFECT...

Let me put my thoughts together re: questions on queries, cause God knows even after tons and tons (and TONS) of research, I'm still so stumped. I've got what I think are good bones for my query, but I'm having a killer time with the last para. Also, I want to write a different version that has more voice to it like yours does, because my mc is a very tough and angry teen (on the outside), but very insecure and extremely vulnerable on the inside. I'm having a killer time getting her voice in plus the pertinent points of the novel in a 250 word count. It's very frustrating.

Jo Schaffer said...

You helped me make it more concise.
But I definitely have to spice it up. Meh. Curses.
Yours rocks, of course.

Jennie Englund said...

That's a lovely new pic! And a fabulous cover, and query -- all of it!!!

mshatch said...

Wow. Great query letter and what a beautiful cover! Yeah, I've written my fair share of queries, and even multiple versions of the same all in the name of getting it just right. I think I may be finally getting there. Thanks for the great post :)

Colene Murphy said...

What. An. Amazing. Query!! You just made me sneer at my own. SNEER! I just really truly can't wait to get your novel. It sounds incredible!

Bee said...

Such a cool post. I totally love your book cover. And your query's very succinct..gah, love it!

I was lucky to get a query critique from an agent intern and mostly I heard positives, but I think it'll have to be tweaked, since my manuscript is undergoing changes..hmph! :P

Pam Torres said...

Thanks for sharing your query letter. It is incredible and has such a strong voice. I really like your cover too!
When do you suggest writing a query, while you are working on the manuscript or after you have completed it?

Creepy Query Girl said...

This couldn't come at a better time for me. I'm working on my query right now (with Matt, the query guru:) and your tips will definitely help make it into something special. Thanks!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, dude! I think my query is there (thanks to you and a lot of help from Shannon #1), but I don't feel it in my bone marrow - ya know?! :-)

KatieO said...

Great letter - great cover - and SO COOL that the phrase is on the cover.

I struggle with queries so much - you've inspired me to attack it today.

(Can't wait to read your book!)

Tina Lynn said...

I LOVE my query letter. I don't know if it's really as good as I think it is. But I love it regardless. :D

Sara B. Larson said...

I still love that query, even though I've read it a few times. I can't wait to read the rest of the book! And yes, it is amazing how far some of the things we write in our queries, or synopsis, or whatever might keep making it throug!

Stephen Tremp said...

Oh heck, I'll paste mine in it entirety. Appreciate any feedback. Thanks in advance!

A scientific breakthrough of such magnitude it could radically alter the future of humanity—for better or worse—is in the wrong hands.

Stealing from renowned M.I.T. Professor of Physics, Nicholas Fischer, a group of graduate students has used his discovery to open and utilize Einstein-Rosen Bridges … wormholes. Their leader, Nick Fischer Jr., has convinced the group to assassinate a number of powerful politicians and World Bank executives, who were privy to the discovery, to prevent them from using it for their own New World Order agenda and egregious profits. Using wormholes for swift, traceless, attacks and exits, they execute the first mission. Fischer Sr. is arrested for the murders, having been framed by his son.

Chase Manhattan, man of danger, and part of a new breed of modern-day discovery seekers, desires to settle down. He’s met a beautiful woman he hadn’t seen since high school and seeks a long-lasting relationship. Ready to leave crime-solving behind, he’s taking a position as an associate professor of physics at UC Irvine. His idyllic plans are interrupted when he uncovers the diabolical scheme. He knows only he can prevent more murders and prove Professor Fischer’s innocence. The death toll mounts. Chase and friends must battle a skilled team of misguided zealots on both coasts in a desperate race to control or destroy that which threatens life as we know it. The M.I.T. group soon realizes Chase and his friends have the ability to thwart more killings. They put him directly in their crosshairs, on top of the target list of assassinations.

BREAKTHROUGH, an action, suspense-thriller set in Boston, MA, and Orange County, CA, weaves together cutting edge discoveries in physics and technology with greed, murder, and mayhem. This novel addresses potential larger social issues to address if Einstein-Rosen Bridges should move beyond the realm of mere possibility. BREAKTHROUGH will appeal to fans of Dean Koontz, Dan Brown, Stephen King, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

I have a BSB in Information Systems and an MBA in Global Management, and have worked for some of the world’s largest banking institutions such as General Electric, Deutsche Bank, and E*Trade Bank. This background enables me to impart a knowledgeable and particular complexity into this unique thriller.

I chose to submit my query to you because you have an established record of success with Publisher’s Marketplace. Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. I have included the first three chapters. I look forward to hearing from you

Stephen Tremp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ishta Mercurio said...

My biggest issue with query writing is infusing it with voice without making it sound like it was written like a crazy person. :-) It's really not too bad for me, though; my bigger issues revolve around writing the manuscript itself! Queries are my friends.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Your query totally kicks butt, by the way!

Susan R. Mills said...

That is so cool. Hmmm... still working on my query. You are so right; every word counts.

Elana Johnson said...

Hey, thanks everyone! Alas, it is another email day. I'm going to try to get to some blogs today, but yeah. One of those days. *hugs*

Jessica Nelson said...

My query seems to be working okay. I have a lot of form rejects but also some full requests. Soooo....we'll see.
:-)

Tamika: said...

Thanks to winning your e-book From the Query to the Call, there is hope for me:)

I break out in a terrible sweat trying put my novel into a short description! I have so much work to do!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm just still amazed the original title for my book made it all the way from conception to the finished product!

paulgreci said...

I approached my query letter as writing cover copy, too. And it worked out great!!

Krispy said...

Dude, your query is crazier than I remember! Haven't tried the whole query thing yet, but I'm rather daunted by the prospect of summarizing the story in an exciting way. I hate summarizing things and I kind of suck at it. Ask anyone what my recaps of TV shows are like; I remember WAY too many details.

Stephanie McGee said...

I wrote a query and posted it on a feedback forum. I'll revise and keep getting feedback. The hardest part about the letter for this project is that there are a couple of twists that I don't want to just flat out reveal in the letter so I'm struggling with specificity while avoiding spoilers.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

Always love your query advice and I was lucky enough to get it for mine. Thanks - your help was invaluable in helping get my query right. I'm one of the biggest supporters of your genius!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Your query rocks! It oozes with voice. Can't wait to read POSSESSION.
I've had my query written for awhile, despite the fact I'm only part way through the writing of my book. I think my query is supah fly! :)
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Julie Musil said...

That cover is awesome! I mean...really awesome! Wow.

Love the way you break down the query. I'm going to rip mine apart (again) and try the box theory. You rock!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Okay, that is SO cool that you wrote your own cover copy. #writemineplease (once...yanno...I have a book deal and all that jazz) ;)

Oh, and BTW, every time I read your query it makes me desperate to read your book. Will you hurry up and get your ARCs already?????

lotusgirl said...

That's a great line. Your voice really comes through in your letter. I'm surprised you had to send so many.

Jeff King said...

I love your voice in everything you write... I’m not at the querying stage yet, but when I am you're the first person I’m coming to.

Kittie Howard said...

I've never written a query letter, but from what I'm reading (and from what communicates to me), it's the voice, a breezy voice that moves. You've got that!

E.J. Wesley said...

Great post, Elana!

Nicole Zoltack said...

I'm having trying figuring which details to include and which to leave out. I'm on revision number I lost count and I'm still not sure it's perfect yet.

Tessa Quin said...

I decided to throw my manuscript away and start fresh. Well, not literally, but I'm going to rewrite it, but only after I've decided which parts I'm going to keep, which need to change, which subplots to keep, and how to make my main character more interesting! She's just too boring as she is now.

I'm seriously going to outline every scene in every chapter (I know the bleepin' plot, characters, storyworld inside out now).

*Then* I'll come whining for a second look at my query letter...but I hope this shredding and rebuilding will make the query letter clearer...because I'll finally know what exactly it is that my main character wants ;)

L.T. Elliot said...

Your query gives me chills. Serious chills. And your cover copy rocks. So there.

I think everything about the query baffles me. And synopses? They can die a cruel, horrible, bacon-less death.

Dominique said...

Your query is totally kickass.

Is it wrong that I want to be back in the query trenches? I was getting ready to start querying my project from the past year, but then I realized it's not quite done, so it's back to editing for that one. Ah, well, c'est la vie.

Mandy said...

oh, God, now I'm even happier than I already was - and it wasn't a little before either - I got a query critique with you! Your query is just amazing; can't wait for the book :)

Deb Salisbury said...

Great query! I need to update my last line - thanks for the tip.

And I love your new photo!

Jemi Fraser said...

Your book really helped me with my query letter. I love my first line now! :)

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Your posts are so encouraging. I always try to close with a line that could be the one-sentence clincher, but I'm not quite there yet.

Awesome cover AND tag line!

Donea Lee said...

I'll seem to echo a lot of the comments here - but, it's infusing the "voice" in the query that always seems to trip me up. Sometimes it's too muted, sometimes I think I'm trying too hard. Summarizing the whole thing into a paragraph or two has also been a challenge. I just need to find that healthy balance. So - VERY HAPPY I caught most of your query class at the roundup. And stumbled across your blog. Great tips here and I can't wait to get my revised version in the mail. Thank you, thank you!!

Claire Dawn said...

Guess you could say you took your own advice:

Control or be controlled.

saraflower said...

I love how you could hear the character's voice right in the query. That is exactly what I need to do in mine. Thanks for posting this!

Your book sounds very interesting by the way!

RaShelle said...

Dude, you so totally rock (just saying)!!! I L.O.V.E. your query letter. Jag, sexy bad boy. He sounds so cute. Yum. Can't wait to read what he looks like. =D

Margo Kelly said...

Did you really send HUNDREDS of queries? REALLY? Give me some hope...

Hannah Kincade said...

when I'm ready to query you are the first person I'm coming for! muhahaha!

Jess said...

Will you please write my query for me? ;) Seriously though, that query letter makes me want to read Possession RIGHT NOW. And it's a great way to illustrate the point--who knew that that awesome but simple last line would end up on the cover?

coffeelvnmom said...

Elana - great query, awesome ending. And your voice... It shines through. Parts of it remind me of mine (many drafts ago). And guess what? People suggested that I "change" it. And I did. Now it doesn't sound like me at all. But after reading your query, THAT WORKED, I'm thinking maybe it's time to make mine sound like me again. :)

Thanks for sharing!

Jessica

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