Here’s the deal: I love writing queries. I’ve also never written (and sent) a query that didn’t get requests, so I must be doing something right.
I often write queries before my manuscript is even finished. Some writers are scandalized by this, accusing me of putting the cart before the horse. But just because I’ve written the query doesn’t mean I’m going to send my manuscript out into the world unfinished. For me writing the query is a helpful part of the process of developing the plot of my books. Often my process in writing a new manuscript begins with two ingredients essential to a good query – a short synopsis and what we query writers call ‘The hook”. Then I expand the short synopsis into a longer summary or outline – sometimes. Sometimes I just pants it.
Query writing is not rocket science. I often advise writers to start with WHO, does WHAT, WHY, HOW,WHERE with WHOM and WHO tries to stop them, then build their queries from there. But you’d be surprised by the number of queries I see that don’t include these ingredients. I’ve even read queries that don’t mention the protagonist at all.
And this is why query writing should be part of your manuscript writing and editing process. If you CAN’T answer the above questions in a nicely worded letter, there’s a very good chance there is something seriously wrong with your manuscript. In between first and second draft is a good time to write a query, but I like to write them earlier.
So if you are looking for help writing queries there is a wide range of help available for free right here on the web.
Don’t forget, QueryShark, Slush Pile Hell and Query Quagmire are all agents or editors so if they sound snarky it’s because they ‘re FRUSTRATED! Just imagine some of the stuff they have to look at. Please, before you send your query, check these sites.
Oh and BTW, if anyone is game to post their query in comments, I’d be glad to tell you what I think.
Late edit. Betsy Lerner, agent/blogger extraordinaire gives some classic “don’ts” in her latest blog post, Top Ten Query Letter First Line Misfires. Read them and weep.