I was actually a bit surprised to hear Janet say not to write a query like a dust jacket. She is actually the first person I heard say that is a bad thing. A dust jacket is meant to hook the reader. So, what makes it bad for a query? I kind of expected an elaboration in her hand-out since she was challenging a common statement, but alas, I did not see one.
QOTKU, if you're reading this, can you explain further?
Always happy to elaborate on those counter-intuitive suggestions!
Here's the flap copy for Mission to Paris by Alan Furst. I love this book. I picked it at random from my shelf as an example.
It is the late summer of 1938. Europe is about to explode, the Hollywood film star Fredric Stahl is on his way to Paris to make a movie for Paramount France. The Nazis know he's coming --a secret bureau with the Reich Foreign Ministry has for years been waging political war against France, using bribery, intimidation, and corrupt newspapers to weaken French morale and degrade France's will to defend herself.
For their purposes, Fredric Stahl is a perfect agent of influence, and they attack him. What they don't know is that Stahl, horrified by the Nazi war on Jews and intellectuals has become part of an informal spy service being run out of the American embassy in Paris.
From Alan Furst, the bestselling author, often praised as the best spy novelist ever, comes a novel that will have you reading "just one more page" until you're done. Mission to Paris includes beautifully drawn scenes of romance and intimacy, and the novel is alive with extraordinary characters: the German Baroness von Reschke, a famous hostess deeply involved in Nazi clandestine operations; the assassins Herbert and Lothar; the Russian film actress and spy Olga Orlova; the Hungarian diplomat and spy Count Janos Polanyi; along with the French cast of Stahl's move, German film producers, and the magnetic women in Stahl's life, the socialite Kiki de Sainte-Ange, and the émigré Renate Steiner.
But always at the center of the novel is the city of Paris, the heart and soul of Europe--its alleys and bistros, hotels grand and anonymous, and the Parisians, living every night as if was their last. As always Alan Furst brings to life both a dark time in history and the passion of the human hearts that fought to survive it.
Now, can you tell me what the plot of the novel is?
Can you tell me what problem the hero faces? What's at stake for him?
If you can, you're a better intuitionist than I.
Right now this tells us who the players are, and when and where the story takes place but not much else.
That's death in a query. I must know what the story is. A query doesn't have the luxury of drawing on established fans' knowledge of the author's work. I don't even read the flap copy for Alan Furst's novels any more. I just buy them.
A query has to entice me to read the novel. The best way to do that is engage me with the story. Flap copy isn't always a reliable model for that, plus it talks about the author in the third person and that's just bad writing in a query.
Does this help?