Saturday, October 14, 2017

Can I use something from my first chapter in the query?

I'm writing a story set in a dystopian world. If I have a section in my first chapter that I think nicely summarizes this new world, can I use that in my query? Of course, I will add the main story points as well, but I really like how I've managed to establish this setting. It does a great job grabbing the readers attention and I would like to use it in my query.

I guess my real question is: Will an agent get upset / frustrated / bored three pages into my MS when they realized they're re-reading the same two paragraphs that were in my query?

You haven't found the QueryShark blog yet have you?

Short answer to your question: yes

Some context: Nothing annoys me faster than re-reading things in a query.  It's a textbook illustration of the writer not thinking about the purpose of a query. The purpose of a query (all together now) is to entice me to read the pages, and then more pages after that.

Repeating yourself does not accomplish that goal.

Furthermore, you're under the impression (hence the QS comment) that you NEED to tell me about the world.  You do not. You need to tell me about the plot. You need to beguile me into wanting to know what happens next.  World building rarely does that. Plot does.

So, first, hie thee over to Query Shark.
And get your plot on the page.
You only have about 250 words to intrigue me. Use them wisely.

I don't have to know how dragons learned to read to believe that they can.


Amy Johnson said...

"All together now" cracked me up.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yep, still stressing over my query - so keep these posts coming so I can make totally original mistakes in mine. I think I must be on draft 10^nth power.

Well, watching my favorite football (soccer to Americans) team, Liverpool try not to get crushed by Man U and then off to the cafe to edit and cry over my query. Good luck, OP.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yowza, I didn't think I'd have to read today's post with my Kidde, Dry Chem. 5B:C.
Usually I'm in a wet suit.

Today's assignment:
What's plot?
Why is it important?

Julie Weathers said...

Queries frustrate me. I send people asking questions about queries to Query Shark and Miss Snark because it's all there and they still come back with the same mistakes. It's like, "Yeah, I read all that stuff, but I'm different and don't need to follow the rules because_______."

After you say so many times: Who is the protagonist? What do they want? What's standing in their way? What happens if they don't get it? and the person comes back with another version of purple prose that tells nothing about the story, plot, or character, I move on.

I'm not hammering on the OP, but "when they realized they're re-reading the same two paragraphs that were in my query?" is a real sign there's a problem. You've got about three paragraphs to work with and you just wasted two setting up the world, which probably has nothing to do with the plot.

It's not easy. I'm not quite done with Rain Crow, but I'm going to pitch it at Surrey and I'm not sure how to do it. So, for all my good advice, it's hard for me to put it in action for myself.

Good luck to the OP. You can do it and it will be worth it.

BJ Muntain said...

OP: It's absolutely wonderful you have that section in your first chapter.THAT's what you need to keep an agent reading.

But a query is an overall view of the plot, main character(s), choices and consequences. I wouldn't put more than one line of worldbuilding in a query, unless it's an aspect of the world that is essential to the plot - and even then, only in a way that furthers the plot. For instance, rather than discussing the geography of MadeUpStan, you might say, "The mountains between Ryan and Fiona were grim and filled with BigBadGuy's minions. But if he doesn't cross them, Fiona will be lost forever in the dreary land between Past and Future."

BJ Muntain said...

Dang, Julie. I can't get to Surrey this year. Are we taking turns, or something? Is the universe conspiring to keep us from going at the same time? Why can't I stop asking questions?

*Drinks coffee and sighs.*

Have a wonderful time, Julie. One of these years, I'll buy you your choice of drink/dessert/book and enjoy your company at the Sheraton Guildford bar/restaurant. Best of luck with your pitch!

Julie Weathers said...

BJ What the heck? I thought you were going to be there. I am so disappointed.

I almost canceled as my knees are totally shot and money is so tight, but the plane ticket and conference are paid for. My son said I need to go and enjoy myself. "You only live once and need to enjoy the time you have left."

"That sounds kind of ominous."

"LOL Yeah, I didn't mean it that way."

I think his career options as a diplomat are limited.

Sherry Howard said...

Am I the only one who fell in love with the reading dragon??

BJ Muntain said...

Julie: I'm sorry. I'm hoping to be able to go next year (missing Surrey sets me on a downward spiral. It just feels like I'm giving up on my writing, which I don't want to do.) Money's been more than tight here, too, and I didn't have the conference fee in June.

I know other Reiders are going, too. Please say 'hi' from me.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Sherry I'm in dragon love, right beside you. And I love this > "I don't have to know how dragons learned to read to believe that they can."

Elise I'm dying to read your query letter. (If you need/want another set of eyes).

I recall completing the ms for my first book. I didn't even know what a query letter was - keep in mind, this was back in the dark ages. I asked a publishing-savvy friend, "What do I do now?" He didn't offer an easy answer. Instead, he replied, "Get curious about the industry. And educate yourself."

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Opie! Aside from QueryShark (which you really should read "cover-to-cover" so to speak), get involved in query critiques. There's nothing like pulling apart someone else's query to help you figure out what works and what doesn't. How do you know what works? Simple: does the query leave you excited to read the novel, or are you left confused, or uninterested? But don't lose perspective. The best query in the world is useless if your novel sucks. The query has one job: get the agent to read your amazing novel. It's then up to the novel to launch your writing career. All the best to you! :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Sherry I love the reading dragon with the passion of a thousand white hot suns. Also, I believe dragons invented reading so people would know about them and their myriad of incarnations through all the worlds and ways in space and time. Marvelous creatures, dragons. Although, do remember to never offend one for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

Melanie Careful, I am likely to take you up on that if I can ever get the damned query to settle down and not read like the ingredients in the filthy health shake I have to drink every day so I can maybe live long enough to send all these insane books I write out in the world. I have had some very good eyes look at it and they have confirmed that it needs work.

I will get there. I also have some revisions that I will need to do. I need to age up the first few chapters and then have to get out of this terrible funk I have fallen into. Someone here mentioned Harry Chapin's "Mr. Tanner" - and yeah, I am fearing that fate as well. Ok, back at it. Liverpool did not lose. They did not win either (darn EPL football) so I am not totally discouraged :)

Elissa M said...

I personally can't say enough good things about Query Shark. I love reading all the queries and seeing what works and what doesn't. I know a query is good if it makes me want to read the book--and it's not even a genre I usually read.

One thing that really helps me is to go through and read only the "FTW" queries (avoiding, for the moment, the less-perfect versions). Filling my brain with stuff that works trains me to see more clearly when something isn't working.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

LOL. Yes, all of us here regular Reiders here have been well-trained! Always. Always. Entice the agent.

Can I just say...I miss routine exposure to Query Shark. Although so much is covered via the archives. The problem is, it's hard to be objective about our own query because we think we've written everything that's in our head. And we have not.

What do they call that? The curse of knowledge--only in reference to getting a story out of our head and onto the page. Or, in this case, putting together a query that entices!

Julie Weathers said...


Now I need to know which Reiders are going to be at Surrey so I don't miss them.

John Davis Frain said...

I wish this Reider was going to be at Surrey. You could be their Chief Marketing Officer, Julie. I'm ready to pack, and I don't even know when it happens.

RosannaM said...

Janet-you had me at "all together now," and then topped it with "hie thee over." I think hieing is a mighty fine thing to do!

I am nearing the days of query letters and am gobbling up QueryShark, and these posts and all the comments. I feel like I will have my pockets stuffed with all these nuggets of wisdom for when I sit down and dash over my own totally professional, enticing, tantalizing, plot-filled missive.

Julie Weathers said...


Yes, you must make it to Surrey one year.

I love the "all together now". I can see the students in the classroom repeating dutifully, "Entice you to read the pages, Ms. Reid."

I also love, "hie thee over". I once had a third-grade teacher ask me why my son said things like "Come hither, hie thee over, and abscond with _____". I said, "I suppose because the boys hear it all the time at home."

I love the dragon and why wouldn't they read. They do all manner of other things? One of my dragons in FR hangs out in a library. I'm sure he reads.

Lennon Faris said...

I love QS. Elissa M I am with you, I love the "FTW" entries maybe even more than the others. OP, good luck.

Happy Saturday, all!

Cheryl said...

Julie, I'll be at Surrey. Are you on Twitter? There's a hashtag for meetups: #SiWCmeet. I'm @csrosbak

Janet, have you read His Majesty's Dragon? Temeraire is very educated.

Leilani said...

I'm pretty sure I read a book where the dragon hired someone to turn the page of his books for him so as not to rip the pages with his claws. Can't remember if that was Patricia Wrede or not.

Julie Weathers said...

Cheryl Yep, I'm on twitter Julie_Weathers. Look for the bucking horse, woman down.

Bridget Paulson said...

OP Here! Thanks Janet for your advice! I also appreciate the input from the commenters here. I was too close to my idea and needed a smack upside the head! If you're looking for me, I'll be over at Query Shark soaking up all the valuable information.

I discovered Janet's blog a couple weeks ago and I’m hooked. :)