I’ve threatened a few times here and there that I’d write posts about my strange little processes that I’ve developed for this whole writing thing.
If you missed it, I’ve written up a piece of my editing process on overused words and watchwords on Lara Willard’s site. I’ll probably re-write that somewhere along the line, too. Today, though I’m going to talk a bit about how I write my query letter.
Step 1: Write a Terrible Query Letter
No matter how much I study, how many queries I write, how confident I get in the art, I’m going to write a horrible query letter. I’m just too close to my book. There are too many things I want to share. Too much that’s important to me. Too many ways to say the same sentence.
So, about a week before it’s really time to start writing a query letter (usually right before my last read aloud) I write a query letter. And it’s HORRIBLE. It’s not as bad as my last first query letter, but it’s still pretty bad.
Step 2: Let it Age
And then, after it’s written in all its horrible glory I leave it there to think about what its done.
In the intervening time between drafting the letter and actually making it right, I typically do one or two read-throughs of the MS. This has that whole “what’s important” thing stewing in the back of my head, so when I sit down to it again I’ll have been thinking about what makes my story special.
Step 3: My Fresh Eyes
Now I’m ready to actually write a real query. I’ve got my thinking and evaluating done and I can look at the travesty that is my draft and go, “No, no, no, that’s not what my story is at all!” And eviscerate it, taking the couple salvageable sentences, removing the rest, and revising my way to something that sounds almost right.
Step 3: My Beloved CPs
Once I think I’ve distilled the essence of my story and why it’s so special, I have my CPs read it. They are now familiar with my story and my style and my proclivities. So I ask them the fundamental question: Does this sound like my story?
If yes, then I move on, if no, I go back to Step 3.
Step 4: Voice it up
The point of the first draft is to get my story on the page. Doing this rarely sounds like the character. More often it sounds like a movie trailer. So when the CPs (who are familiar with this process) have blessed the essence I go back and voice the query up.
My secret trick for voice is to find phrases and words and replace them with words my MC would use instead. I am not writing it from her perspective, but I am making it how she’d say the same thing. Thus far, this trick has served me well.
Step 5: My Beloved Co-Worker
When I have the story and the voice, I use my secret weapon: One of my former co-workers has no tolerance for nonsense. Not even a little. She will say when something is confusing. She has no qualms pointing out when a sentence is unnecessarily complicated. She will call me out for trying to be fancy when I’m clearly not. But, most importantly, she has never read my story!
She also is extremely supportive and kind. So I take advantage of her skill set. She has proven time and again to be my best resource for final polishing queries.
If she can confirm to me her understanding of my story and doesn’t have any complaints I know it’s ready.
Step 6: One More Sit
Once the query’s finished I leave it for one more sit. That’s when I put together my agent list.
Step 7: Final Read-Through
Then, when I’m ready to send my first queries out I do my final read-through. This is mostly for typos, grammar, and deleted words. Other eyes have looked at it, but you never know. I may grab a CP to glance one more time, but mostly it’s just my anxiety making sure, sure.
So, there you have it, how I approach writing query letters.
If this remains something of interest, I may keep working on this series. I am loath to go too deep into all of this because I’m not interested in becoming a “How to Write” writer, but I am very interested in helping share the knowledge I put together to make it easier on the next person!
Let me know if this helps, or if there’s another topic you’d like me to touch!