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Polish Your Query Know-How

Want to improve the chances of selling your manuscript? Improve your query.

At this month’s Wisconsin Romance Writers’ Milwaukee Meeting, Lorelie Brown, an award-winning author with close to twenty published novels under her belt, gave us the down and dirty on how we could make our querying process more successful.

First, before a writer starts querying, she should do her research. Use sites like: Absolutewrite, Writer Beware, and Query Tracker, where other writers have contributed accounts of their experiences. These can help an author discover a particular agent or editor’s response time, his/her percentage of rejections and offers for representation and other useful boots-on-the-ground information

Next, develop a method to keep track of the editors or agents contacted, what has been sent and when it was sent. This is particularly useful if an author is marketing multiple manuscripts.

When writing a query, it’s important to keep words to around 250.

Answer the each of the following questions in a tightly written paragraph. (One paragraph to answer each question.)

  1. What does the protagonist want?
  2. If this is a romance, what does the love interest want?
  3. What does the protagonist need to do and what happens she/he doesn’t? In other words, what’s the conflict? What are the stakes?

Conflict makes a page-turning story and that story needs to have both internal and external stakes. Lorelie said that many of the novice queries she’s read usually have all external stakes. She gave an example like this one:

Ever since Knight Wintercrest rescued Lady Summerside from kidnappers, they’ve been in love; however, her family wants her to marry the villainous Lord Ghastly. Will their love survive?

If Lord Ghastly dies, say a rock crushes him, there’s no reason Wintercrest and Summerside can’t live happily-ever-after. The conflict here is all external. Lorelie advised us to give our conflict the sudden death test. If a falling rock can solve the problem in the story (take out the villain and sweep away all obstacles to a happy ending), we as authors need to work on our story’s internal conflict.

She stressed the importance of internal conflict because that’s where she sees the drama and the emotional connection between the characters and the reader is forged. What’s internal conflict? She threw out some examples: “I can’t love because…” or “Everyone’s left me, and you will, too.”

Lorelie said that after you’ve clearly laid out the story’s goals, motivation, conflict and stakes, it’s time to tell the person you’re contacting a little about yourself.

In the last paragraph of the query authors should give their writing credits like the writing organizations they belong to or their previously published work. In addition, they can detail contest wins and life experiences that add credit to their story.

Writers also need to include contact information like phone numbers and e-mail addresses. They also need to state whether their project is completed or in progress and how many words it is. When reporting word count be sure to round up.

Once your query’s complete and you’ve sent it out, Lorelie gave this advice—just keep writing. Successful writers are the one who haven’t given up.