What About the Query?

by Lori on 03.16.2011

in writing

I said earlier in the week I’d post my queries, before and after my workchop with CJ Redwine.  I’m not looking at my notes (from more than a year ago) to see why I did this–I’m just comparing the two because I don’t think that would be fair to those who have paid for and benefitted from the workshop.

Below, the very first query I ever sent out.

A very public flighty heiress and a TV exec with a past he’d rather keep private work against each other to create a talk show while falling crazy in love.  ON A BET is complete at 82,000 words and targeted as a single title contemporary novel with comedic elements.

Justine Montgomery is a tabloid baby, daughter of a television tycoon and a beauty queen.  She is compelled to ask her estranged father for help when her mother mortgages her grandmother’s home.  Her father proposes a bet: if she can produce a talk show, he’ll pay the mortgage and finally give her a job.  If not, she’ll marry the creepy ex she despises.

Once Justine agrees, her father offers Sawyer the promotion of a lifetime to just sit back and let Justine destroy his show.  Immediately at odds and deeply attracted to one another, Justine and Sawyer travel together to find an aging movie star to play co-host.

Can Justine and Sawyer’s growing feelings survive a controlling father, a drunken co-host, tabloid stories, a crazy ex-boyfriend, and enough emotional baggage to sink the Titanic?

This is my first novel and I am working on a new manuscript now.  In addition, I have two other novels connected to this one outlined.

I would be pleased to send you a partial or the full manuscript upon your request.  I appreciate your time and consideration.

Here, my basic if-they-don’t-ask-for-anything-else query.

Justine Montgomery is an infamous heiress, the daughter of a divorced beauty queen and TV magnate, and a tabloid disaster.

She’s never finished a thing she started, but now that her mother dumped the news in her lap that she mortgaged the family home and foreclosure is only a week away, Justine has little choice.  She must make a bet with her father to either produce a talk show without quitting or marry her creepy ex so that her father will pay off the mortgage.  Just Justine’s luck, her creepy ex is the son of her father’s late business partner, and Justine’s father wouldn’t believe the ex did wrong if he watched it happen.

Justine’s co-producer, Sawyer, is under strict orders to watch her fail so that Justine’s father can see Justine settled and out of the tabloids. Justine. however, grabs Sawyer’s interest like no other woman. Her life is messy, and she may just be crazy, but he can’t seem to stop thinking of her.

Justine must persevere beyond the disaster of a drunken co-host, the bitterness of a rejected ex, the controlling actions of her father, and the half-truths she and the man she may just love are telling one another. If she can’t stick it out and find a way to make her show a hit, she’ll forfeit her dreams, end up married to a man she despises, and lose the man who could make it all worth it.

I’m currently a social worker in West Virginia with a B.S. in Social and Behavioral Science.  I’ve always found people and relationships fascinating and witty banter sexy.  Romance has been a perfect fit and, at times, a wonderful respite for me.

On a Bet is a contemporary romance complete at 81,000 words.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

In the first paragraph (original), you’ll notice I moved the name and length to the last paragraph (final).  This brings my reader (the agent or editor, in this case) right into the story.  I see right off that  my original query shot straight out of the gate with a cliche (*shudder* “crazy in love”).  Beyond that, it isn’t deep enough.  Check out my the last query: she’s a person, with a name and parents and a past.

In the second paragraph of the original query, I introduced my heroine and her GMC.  I did the same thing in the last query, except I went deeper.  I explained why these things matter and are relevant to her.

The third paragraphs are, again, similar.  They both introduce my hero and his own dilemma.  But instead of glossing over it (original), I delved into exactly how he feels for her.  On comparing the two, I do see that I’ve removed his goal (promotion) but left the motivation and conflict.  Is this something I should slip back in there?  (She writes, as if slipping info into a query is not at all like adding a unicycle to an already stressful tightrope act.)

And paragraph four is where the change shines.  In the original I ask the hypothetical question, can their feelings survive?  In the last query, I detail exactly what’s in the way, what’s on the line, and, most importantly, what happens if she fails.  Now it matters.

Paragraph five is the obligatory “About Me” section–difficult when you’re unpubbed.  Difficult as in terrifying and intimidating.  Instead of focusing on my inexperience (in the original) I tell more about who I am and why I love writing romance.  If you’re grasping for something to put in there, it might as well sound like you’ve given it some thought instead of just sticking it in there and hoping they don’t notice.

And the final paragraph sticks those novel stats back in there instead of giving the original’s obvious info (naturally, I’d send them whatever they wanted–be it a partial or handwriting the whole thing on parchment and walking it to their office).

I found it really interesting, comparing the two, that they have the exact same number of paragraphs.  I guess I did figure out the basic set up, at least.  But I also see bare bones in my original and a lot more meat in the final draft.

Still, agents aren’t knocking down my door–I welcome any ideas, comments, whatever.  And feel free to share your experiences in the comments!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Elizabeth March 22, 2011 at 12:17 am EDT

This is a GREAT example of pre and post query letters. Excellent job on the re-write. It sounds so professional, especially when compared with the first version. I particularly love this sentence: “If she can’t stick it out and find a way to make her show a hit, she’ll forfeit her dreams, end up married to a man she despises, and lose the man who could make it all worth it.” It conveys the stakes in a way that really gets me on board. Great work!

Lori
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March 22, 2011 at 12:20 am EDT

Thank you so much for the feedback. Honestly, I hate query letters and synopses and all of that “selling” stuff. A necessary evil, I suppose, but I really hate it, lol.

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