Thursday, May 24, 2018

My query covers more than the first 30 pages of the book!

I have an issue I haven't seen addressed elsewhere, and I'm hoping you can offer some guidance. I nearly fainted when I read that a query should cover roughly the first thirty pages of a story. I can't think of any way to make that work with my three-act manuscript. The first act has the main character as a child, along with the life-altering event that shapes him. However, in the two remaining acts (the meat of the story), he's an adult, and the antagonist is introduced to wreak havoc on his life. My query covers escalating events almost to the end without revealing the ending.
Is this style of query all that unusual? If it is, could it possibly irritate an agent as they're reading the manuscript, thinking they've been manipulated or deceived? Am I setting myself up for a world of querying disappointment, or just greatly overthinking things?

Nearly fainted? I was hoping for full loss of consciousness, and ongoing consternation. Tormenting writers is really the only reason I love this job.

But enough jocularity.

There are no absolutes in querying. There is only what works.

While I jump up and down and insist you tell me about the book in a query, there are a couple books that could be an exception to that rule:

1. The Duchess of Sussex' memoir.
2. The Duchess of Sussex' rescue dog story.

3. Ivanka Trump's memoir.

You get the idea. I call those cocktail napkin books. I can sell them on a cocktail napkin.

And thus your question, can you talk about more than the first 30 pages of the book in a query, is really "can I do something not the norm in my query?"

Yes you can.

The only benchmark for an effective query is does it work?

You can not assess whether it could "possibly irritate an agent as they're reading the manuscript, thinking they've been manipulated or deceived."

You can only evaluate the query by the responses you get from readers before you send it out. Do they want to read the book?

The purpose of QueryShark and other query crit opportunities is to help you get out of your own way, include the information an agent usually needs to assess a project, and help you talk about your work in a compelling way.

QueryShark et al are NOT the way to figure out the right way and the wrong way. Every query is different and every agent is different.

You're not overthinking this, but you're also too worried about rules. Learn the rules so you can break them with grace, and style.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"Learn the rules so you can break them with grace, and style."
Sounds like the Duchess of Sussex to me. side note though.
Regarding writing situations, and how we spin in our rodent wheels, I love that assess and asses are almost spelled the same.

Aphra Pell said...

The structure of the book sounds similar to Jane Eyre
Act 1 - Jane's childhood and the events that shape her
Act 2 - Jane and Rochester at Thornfield
Act 3 - the aftermath of the whole "oops, I forgot to mention my wife in the attic" mishap.
I'm guessing that if someone queried Jane Eyre, they'd mention act 1, but focus on act 2.

Dena Pawling said...

Wait. We can write without rules? Someone really should write a book about that.

And I'm assuming the cocktail napkin comes with a cocktail?

Colin Smith said...

Your query is essentially a sales pitch. You're trying to sell your novel to the agent to get her to read it. If the agent requests based on your query, the query has done its job. However, if your query is selling the Duchess of Sussex' memoir, but the pages are about her father's grade school, you might get objections. In other words, be sure the agent can see a correspondence between the query and what you send them.

Dena: WRITING WITHOUT RULES? I think that could appeal to a lot of writers. In fact, if such a book existed, I would say the only rule of writing would be to buy it. ;)

Craig F said...

Yes, if you like a plot that unfolds, you have no choice either.

I have a thriller lying around. It starts with the MC finding a floating body. Then his assistant is abducted. It seems to smooth of a crime to be a novice so the MC pushes issue. Then other clues show and it ends up as a thriller, which is what I had queried it as.

Took nigh onto half the book to get to the thriller part.

I also think a book about writing without rules could strike a nerve.

John Davis Frain said...

Nice give and go for the score, Reefers!

Brad, credit Pawling with the no-look pass--I don't know how she does it--to find Smith streaking down for the one-timer and goal. Somers never had a chance to stop that one.

I'm not sure he wanted to, Jen. Excellent teamwork to close that sale.

Adele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adele said...

Hi Janet! - Just on the off chance that 2Ns was 2oblique for you - 3rd last paragraph, you left the last 's' off of 'assess'. Unless you were making a joke and I'm the one who didn't get it. Always possible.

Joseph Snoe said...

Hmm, Adele, Are you implying 'asses' is a Freudian slip revealing Janet Reid's subconscious feeling about other agents (and maybe editors)?

Joseph Snoe said...

I can’t offer any insight since I’m the worst query writer here, but off-topic, I’m reading my first Janet Reid client’s book. I assumed my first Janet Reid client’s book would be one by Jeff Somers or Patrick Lee (“Runner” and “Signal” are on my to-read shelves downstairs). Instead it’s an advance readers copy of Laird Barron’s “Blood Standard.”

Also, I mentioned last week author Robert Bailey offered to send me an autographed copy of his latest legal thriller, “The Last Trial.” He was prompt. The book arrived yesterday with a relatively long message above his autograph, and a nice transmittal letter that among other things wished me luck on my novel - nice of him to remember!

Julie Weathers said...

I've read this "rule" before and it makes me think of people being told all the other rules about writing. WE've been discussing grammar "rules" on the forum this month. Some are very helpful. Some are so pedantic the way authors try to follow the sentences are painfully awkward.

The query for Far Rider went far beyond the first thirty pages. The query for Rain Crow will also. While the spy element is introduced, the first hundred pages of RC is murder, attempted murder, mayhem, and her trying to save her horse farm as war is marching ever closer. The first thirty pages are the MC doing battle with the bankers who inform her she has ten days to come up with an impossible sum of money or marry a man of their choosing to manage her affairs, her turning the tables on them in rather spectacular fashion but still left with a looming deadline, being robbed and shot at and shooting the robber who demands she be arrested for attempted murder. It might be interesting, I hope it is, but it's not query material.

I'm thinking about starting the RC query with a quote.

"The greatest weapon the south has is the southern woman." Allan Pinkerton, Abraham Lincoln's spymaster.

The problem is, like the OP, it's more complex than surface events. The MC is fighting a battle on many fronts. I don't know what the answer is.

I have two novels I could sell on a cocktail napkin. RC isn't one of them.

Colin Smith said...

Joseph: You don't have any Gary Corby on your TBR??! 8-O

Janet Reid said...

Thank you Adele! I missed it four times.
I need to assess my proofing skills!
(or lack thereof)

Steve Stubbs said...

Joseph Snoe said...
"I assumed my first Janet Reid clientÆs book would be one by Jeff Somers or Patrick Lee (ôRunnerö and ôSignalö are on my to﷓read shelves downstairs)."

Set everything else aside and read Runner and Signal. Trust me.

Megan V said...

best of luck in the trenches OP! If it makes you feel better I have had more than one query that covered over 30 pages but still did the job.

Random thought:
Do writers ever truly write without rules or do they just write their own rules?

I like to think we can make up our own rules when it comes to some things.
It makes me think of my grandma who, among other things, used to eat dessert before her meals because she “damn well wasn’t going to be denied the pleasure by choking on some rabbit food”

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

When I read the post I saw "asses" so I decided to do the comparison thing. Thought it was funny. Ha ha on me.
When I commented I did spell check and oh, assess is spelled with 2Ss. Not checking the post (how could the Queen be wrong) I changed my wording and thought it wasn't as funny as I originally thought but I ran with it.
Which proves, I'm not oblique, I'm lazy :)

Karen McCoy said...

Excellent post. Still trying to figure out if my query is doing its job..

Miles O'Neal said...

Janet, you said, "You're not overthinking this, but you're also too worried about rules. Learn the rules so you can break them with grace, and style."

This sort of thing is why you are my hero. I had to figure that one out on my own, and it took quite some time.

Megan V, WRT rules... I like this quote by Captain Barbossa: "... the code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." I do (to an extent) follow my own rules, but they're quite malleable. Then my editors (myself first, then my wife, then my professional editor) reapply certain rules (grammar, punctuation, story flow, etc.) if I get too creative.

BrendaLynn said...

What struck me about your question, OP, is the luxury of spending a third of your book in setup up for the meat of the story. I could get drunk on that freedom. I wonder what genre you write.
I’m in the midst of a cozy mystery and have spent the last week cutting words in order to get the ‘meat’ closer to the beginning. Hacking at my lovely prose is a painful process. I read once that the ideal cozy introduces you to the victim, the investigator, and the culprit in the opening chapter.
It’s not always possible without making an ‘assess’ of yourself but I’m trying.

Julie Weathers said...


I thought about that also. Backstory is usually done best woven in with smaller chunks, but anything works if it works. The problem is the antagonist isn't introduced until well into the story, so you have to hope there is other compelling conflict.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Hi everyone, all Reiders and Janet!

I have hit Europe this morning. Sitting in a not very nice room (our first and temporary place to stay) and feeling sooo awkward.
Maybe it's because it's 11:30pm and been a very long day.

I'm waving to you guys even though I know you can't see it anymore... I'm behind the bent now, on the other side of the pond.

Here, everything is so, so green. Moss growing everywhere, even on the moss, people are driving on the wrong side and Boyfriend pretends it's all normal... ha ha...

Nice to be able, after one week with no internet on the ocean, to check back in here to something familiar with nice people.

*Waving again*

Julie Weathers said...


Wave wave. Glad you made it safely home, but miss you.

Joseph Snoe said...

Yes, Colin, I should have included Gary Corby on the list, and I hope someday to add Colin d. Smith to the list.

The Editor said...

Huh. For some reason, it's not letting me post as my wordpress account. Well, this is luciakaku, though I know it says The Editor.

One of my favorite things I ever learned a long time ago about writing was a differently phrased version of the end of QOTKU's post:

[i]You have to learn the rules before you can break them.[/i]

And while that was distinctly writing advice, I kind of ended up applying it to my entire life. For instance, when I moved to Japan, I put a lot of effort into learning all their societal rules and norms before I started intentionally ignoring some of them. Because I'm [i]not[/i] Japanese, I actually don't have to conform the way they expect me to, but not conforming to some things is a lot ruder than others. If I speak my opinion instead of just smiling and nodding, that can be written off as "oh, she's a foreigner, that's just the way they are." But if I purposefully walk into houses with my shoes on, I probably won't EVER get invited over again.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thank you, Julie! 💗💗

AJ Blythe said...

I pre-ordered my copy of "Writing Without Rules" ages ago, waiting for the 15th of June when it was released in Oz. Was delighted when I received an email on 11th that it had been dispatched (postal service in Oz is dismal - 5 to 8 day wait for delivery)...still hasn't arrived. Sinking feeling it has been lost in transit. *sigh*. On Tuesday (Monday public holiday here and now Friday night) I will try and track it down.