Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Query Theory 101: The Query Letter Pitch as Story

Query as Story
The Query Pitch as Story
{ image by Pexels from Pixabay }
Last time I talked about the Anatomy of a Query Letter, and we sorted out a query's basic components.

But we all know that when it comes to queries, there's really only one thing we want to talk about:

The Pitch. 

Because it's such a stumbling block for us writers, I'll talk about it a lot in this series. If there's one thing I learned in my time in the query trenches, there's no one right way to approach a query pitch, so in this series I'm going to look at it from many different angles and approaches. That way you can experiment and find an approach that works for you!

This first one though, is one of my favorites:

The Query Pitch as Story

We all know how to write a story. I mean if we're at the point where we're writing a query, we've already written a whole dang book, am I right?!?

{ although I should take time out to mention here that there is 

A query pitch is really just a very short story, with one key difference. It ends before the resolution -- on a cliffhanger. 

So that's exactly how you can write it. For me personally, thinking of a query pitch as a story makes it so much less scary.

The Structure:

Thinking of your pitch as a story, if you haven't already, can do wonders for its structure. Here is a basic query structure. A skeleton framework for your query mini-story:

When [ UNIQUE MC ] has their world rocked by [ INCITING INCIDENT ], they must [ ACT OR MAKE A DECISION ] or else [ SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN ]

Fill in the blanks, add specifics, and insert interesting plot points and complications as needed. As you build outward, your query structure may start looking more like this:

has their world rocked by [ INCITING INCIDENT ]


And that is the skeleton framework of a basic query for your book! Fill in the blanks and give it a whirl. It's actually kind of fun! Don't like my query structure template? Try this query mad-lib from former agent Nathan Bransford, or agent John Cusik's silver-bullet query-opening formula.

The Scope -- Find your Cliffhanger Moment:

Some people say write your query so that it reveals only the first third of your book. Others suggest writing it right up to the final climax. I say: do whatever makes your query sound the most exciting.

How do you figure out how much of your story to reveal in order to maximize your query's thrill-factor?

Step 1: Make a list of all the climax points and cliffhanger moments in your book.
            Every single time your MC has to make a big decision or overcome
            a massive obstacle, write it down.

{ Need help? Here are some types of cliffhangers  to be on the lookout for}

Step 2: Narrow the list to only those moments where your MC is showing agency.
            That is to say: only the moments where your MC has a clear choice to
            drive/change the direction of the story with their decision or action.

Step 3: Rewrite each of these as a one-sentence *zinger* of a cliffhanger.
            (It totally helps if you use you *duh, duh, duuuhhh* voice when writing these, by the way)                               
Step 4: Which cliffhanger sentence sounds the most exciting?
            (Pick that one! ... if it doesn't work out, pick a different one!)

Once you've got a great, tension-filled cliffhanger of a last line ...

Work Backwards:

No one ever said you had to write your query from beginning to end. In fact, I'd argue that when writing your query as a story, it's better to do the opposite. Nail that crucial last line and have every single sentence of the query building up to that final, climactic moment.

Get Voicey -- Write your Query as your MC:

I know, I know. The one thing everyone knows they should NEVER do is send off a query written in 1st person POV in the voice of the book's Main Character. That's fast-track to rejection-land.

But hear me out for a minute.

It's also the best way to give your query voice ... which is the one thing that agents say can really push a query over the edge from being "meh" to "gimmie!" ... especially if your protagonist has a very strong voice.

So write the query in 1st Person. Off-the-cuff. As if your MC were chatting up their friends, detailing the drama that is their life right now. Just don't send that query. Instead:

Convert the 1st person query to 3rd person. Are there any parts of it you like? Any phrasing your MC uses that could be worked into your "real" query? Do it! Weave those voicey bits in!

So. Those are my tips for writing your Query as Story. What do you think about this approach? Pros/cons? What are your favorite query letter writing approaches?

Also: Stay Tuned for more posts on how to write your query letter in the Query Theory series!

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