Query me this

by Julie Frayn on September 19, 2012 in  Writing

Writing a novel was easy in comparison to the query. That baby may be the death of me.

When writing a novel you aren’t limited by word counts or pages. You can say what you need, be verbose and have ten line run-on sentences, write pages of exposition and introspection and detailed settings and just go on and on and on ad nauseum. Of course you likely won’t get published, but you know, still easy.

Query Rose Lee

A query has to be brief. Boil that three hundred page masterful work of fiction down to one page. Two hundred fifty words or so. The voice has to come across. The story has to be relayed. The characters understood, their motivations clear. You have to entice the query reader to want more while giving them so little. Think of it as an old fashioned strip tease a la Gypsy Rose Lee – but your feathers are words.

The only reason you need a query at all is to land an agent. It’s still the dream of many writers even in this digital age, get the perfect agent who will get you the perfect book deal. But one agent receives thousands of queries a year and only chooses a few clients. Will my query be like me in school? Always picked last for the dodge ball team? Or just not at all?

My story may not be as marketable as some. You know, no sparkling vampires or anything. But if I can’t find ‘the one’ agent who likes the voice, likes the darkness and the real world evil, at least I have options.

I can self publish. That is exciting. And it scares the crap out of me.

Here is the query for Suicide City, my first novel and an edgy YA love story. You tell me, would you want to read more?

Sixteen-year-old August Bailey runs away to the city to find freedom and adventure. At least here her mother can’t treat her like slave labor, forbid her from dating or slap her around. And there are no stinking pigs to slop.

She meets Reese, a seventeen-year-old veteran prostitute and former heroin addict. Every day he struggles against the demons of addiction and his compulsion to cut himself. His emotional walls are impenetrable until August breaks them down.

But life on the streets is nothing like her fantasies.

She shares Reese’s home, a cardboard mattress under a bridge. They eat out of dumpsters, find one of his friends dead in an alley, and sell their bodies to buy food. He tells her secrets he’s told no one else. Terrible secrets of abuse, rape. Even murder. She endures it all because she loves him and knows her love will save him.

But maybe he isn’t meant to be saved. Or maybe he doesn’t want to be.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jester Queen September 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I think the first paragraph is pretty much on target, though I made a slight change.

Sixteen-year-old August Bailey runs away to the city to find freedom and adventure. She meets Reese, a seventeen-year-old veteran prostitute and former heroin addict. Every day, he struggles against the demons of addiction and his compulsion to cut himself. His emotional walls are impenetrable until August breaks them down.

But life on the streets is nothing like her fantasies.

But when you get to that third paragraph, you shift your focus slightly. The paragraph (and therefore the story) becomes about Reese, not what August learns about herself through her time with Reese. I’d do something like this to start out that third paragraph:

When she and Reese find one of his friends dead in an alley, August begins to question everything about her new environment.

And then from there, I’d focus more on August than Reese. What does she learn about herself? What does she fear? How does she react to that body? Who is she really trying to save? I think you could end by saying something like

“When she first met him, August believed her love could save Reese. But by the time they have been together for [however long] she isn’t sure she can even save herself.”


Julie September 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Thanks for the feedback Jessie. I’ve been around the bend with this query. I’ll think on your suggestions. The story is about both of them, his POV is woven throughout.

J Timothy Quirk September 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Ironic you discuss Gypsy Rose Lee as it relates to your work as a writer, for Gypsy Rose Lee was an author. For part of a year in the forties she lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn with poet WH Auden, novelist Carson Mccullers and whole host of others. She wrote a mystery novel that was very popular for her time called the G-String Murders.
I just read a book about that group of folks in the house in Brooklyn called The February House-it was excellent!


Julie September 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm

That’s very interesting Joe. I had no idea! If I ever get to New York, I’ll have to look for that brownstone! The G-String Murders – perfect for her. :)

J Timothy Quirk September 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm

the brownstone is no longer there. it was torn down to make room for the highway (that happened in the 40’s as well)

Julie September 22, 2012 at 9:35 am

Well, damn progress strips us of another landmark. Ah well, I will just have to read The February House and imagine what it was like. I bet it was a fun place to hang out.

Sheila Pierson September 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm

You’ve got a fan in me :) I found the query compelling, the characters interesting and I want to know what happens to them! Great job!


Julie September 22, 2012 at 9:36 am

Thanks, Sheila! I’m a fan of yours too my dear. Looking forward to your short story collection!

Melanie September 22, 2012 at 7:05 am

Although my friend Virginia and I are querying a non-fiction book we wrote about adventures in menopause, I so feel your pain. We’ve been laughing and crying as we revise, revise, revise the query and proposal with the abundance of confusing “advice” from so many sources.
Does the ability to write a query that grabs an agent’s attention really reflect the possible quality of a book? Frustrating, but we’ll keep trying. Much luck to you with your own query and your book!


Julie September 22, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hah, adventures in menopause. Like the board room strip tease when killer hot flashes hit at the most inappropriate times? That sounds like a fun book.

I agree, there is so much advice and most of it contradicts the others. How do you get across the darkness, love, loss, hate, fear, joy, awe, and crushing grief in just 250 words that it takes a whole book to convey? That’s hard stuff. Luck to you and Virginia too!

Virginia Kahler-Anderson, aka HomeRearedChef September 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

Hello Julie, I am Virginia, Melanie’s menopausal book partner, and I just wanted to stop by and say that I concur with what she says. I would also like to wish you luck and success, too!


Julie September 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Thanks, Virginia! And the same to you. I can relate to the menopausal adventures. 😀

Heather September 28, 2012 at 7:50 am

I have no advice but want to wish you much luck!


Julie September 28, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Thank you Heather. Luck is a huge factor in the agent search.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Adidas Men Originals Streetwear Essentials Hoodie Mens AF Lightweight Full-Zip Hoodie AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Zx 700 W Hero Blue F13 Running White Ftw Neon Pink Sale Mens AF Surveyor Short Online ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Element Refine Tricot W Senufl Poclfl Ftwbla New Womens AF Stirrup Legging 2016 Adidas Running adizero XT 5 Shoes Mens AF Knit Zip Henley AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galactic Elite M Noir New Womens AF Denim Mini Skirt 2016 Adidas Women Originals London Printed Super Track Jacket Cheap Womens AF Easy Long Sleeve Tee 2016 Adidas Training Infinite TR Shoes Mens AF Coastal Canvas Jacket AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Essential Fun W Noiess Grdedg Ftwbla Mens AF Primaloft Lightweight Puffer Vest AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galaxy W Light Onix Metallic Silver Black 1 Sale Mens AF Active Running Shorts Online Cheap Womens AF Knit Wrap Front Tee 2016 Men Running adizero Boston 5 Shoes New Womens AF Patterned Easy Pants 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Dragon W Tribe Blue S14 Joy Orchid S13 Running White Ftw New Womens AF Flare Pants 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Extaball W Power Teal F14 Running White Ftw Spice Yellow F14 St Mens AF Embroidered Logo Graphic Hoodie AF 2016 Adidas Women Originals City London Hoodie Mens AF Nautical Slub Pocket Tee AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galactic Elite W Ftwbla Ftwbla Rosflu Mens AF True Indigo Dye Tee AF 2016 Adidas Women Originals Superstar Track Jacket New Womens AF Jean Leggings 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Gazelle og w True Blue True Blue Metallic Gold Mens AF NYC Graphic Crew Sweatshirt AF 2016 Men Running duramo 6 Solar Red Core Black Core Black Cheap Womens AF Lace Up Peasant Blouse 2016 Adidas Women Originals NY B Trendy Super Track Jacket Mens AF Elevated Crew Tee AF 2016 Adidas Men Training Sport Essentials Logo Hoodie Mens AF Logo Graphic Snorkel Hoodie AF 2016