Ready to Query? Don't Forget Your Lipstick
Step 1: Blog. About Writing.
Step 2: Write a blog post about querying.
Everyone’s favorite subject, right?
I have something to say that’s never been said before, right?
Uh . . .
Sure. We’re gonna shoot for that.
So because there are dozens, nay probably THOUSANDS of blog posts out there that can help you write the best query ever jotted down, I’m not going to talk about how to write a query as far as how to break it down and do it correctly and professionally and all that stuff. Those posts are incredibly important, but if you are looking for those, check out these. (They’re the ones I like and have used when writing my own queries.)
Wait, but Katie, how is this a blog post about query writing if you’re not going to talk about writing a query?
Because. I said so.
No, really though. Instead, we’re going to talk about how I like to approach the query. How I think about the query. And I approach things like my characters approach things – with abandon, little rationality, full feels, and looking SMOKING HOT.
Oh yeah. That’s right. We’re getting gussied up for our query letters.
Now, before you run away back to Candy Crush, let me say this: Everyone hates writing query letters, yes? We groan and we moan and we procrastinate and they are these big, dreaded things. I want to write books! you say. Not letters! And everyone says I have to do it but I don’t wanna and you can’t make me and I’m not going to think about it or do it until I absolutely have to and—
You know what query letters are? They’re dates. Yeah, I said it. They’re first dates with that really cute guy/girl you’ve been stalking on twitter and Facebook and Instagram and have FINALLY scored a Dinner/Movie or Netflix & Chill Friday night plan with. The guy you want to propose to you and sweep you away into a life of bliss. And by all means, some people would rather stay single and self-pub, and that is totally cool. I’ve self-pubbed. I’ve also done the long-distance relationship through Kindle Scout where we’re kinda together, but only when they’re in town, and when I’m with them, I have one dress and one set of panties. In the meantime, I’m free to dance the night away with anyone else I please. But me? I want a marriage. I want a commitment. I want someone to be fascinated with me and love me every day without having to wonder if I’m going to have a date next Friday night. I want a ring on my finger in the form of a contract of representation.
The thing is, with a query, we’re testing the waters. We don’t know the agents (apart from what we learned from internet research/stalking.) We don’t know how they’re going to feel about us. If our life (writing) philosophies are going to swirl together and make rainbow sprinkled cupcakes, or clash and come out looking like rocks that smell faintly of vinegar. Same with boyfriends and girlfriends. That dude in the grocery store was like, super hot, and his car had a bumper sticker on it that said he thinks snails are pretty and I THINK SNAILS ARE PRETTY and it could totally be meant to be! But first, I need to put on my lipstick and Little Black Dress and see what he thinks about my Harry-Met-Sally ordering style of Everything On The Side, while learning about his family and if he wants to make room for me, and my collection of Cabbage Patch dolls, in his life. Which may take place in a tiny apartment, which is okay, or in a ten-bedroom mansion with a Jacuzzi bath in every room, even the closets. Totes fine by me.
So, grab your lipstick and high heels, or that new shirt and Sex Panther cologne guys (60% of the time, it works 100% of the time), and let’s get ready for some dates!
(For example purposes, I’m going to use an old query of mine – yeah, eat your heart out ;) And don’t laugh too loud.)
All right, so when the date is made and you’re ready to go on it, what’s the first thing you do when you open the door or head into the restaurant? Better, what are you wearing?
If you’re in sweats, just go home. I don’t want to date you. And if I’m in sweats? I don’t know why you’d want to date me. By all means, leave.
Meaning when I show up to our date, I’m wearing the strappy, sexy heels that leave me with blisters so I’m only able to hobble and shuffle for the next three days, but damn do they make my calves look like goddesses. And the dress? Oh yeah. It shows all my attributes, makes you not even want to get under my clothes because I look so good in them, but we both know that if you get me out of my dress, you’re gonna see some kickass lingerie. My hair and makeup are also perfect, straight out of the teen shows on the CW where everyone wakes up looking like they spent 5 hours in a salon and with a team of professional makeup artists. Because we all look like that.
This, ladies and gentleman, is your hook. The first thing they see after you say, “HOWDY.”
So here was my hook. From my query. The thing that makes them stand up from the table or not run back to the car and leave you standing in your entryway after you open the door. (No one wants that. Ever.)
When twenty-four-year-old Dante D’Avella leaves behind his headset after taking auto accident claims at a call center, his primary objective is to find his way into a new set of bed sheets, a goal made easy by his good looks and fast-talking charm. Until he risks dating a spunky but straight-laced coworker who makes it hard to stick to his rule of “casual relationships.”
All right, so we’ve got their attention. Snappy. To the point. The first paragraph and the first thing they read after DEAR AGENT WHO IS GONNA LOVE ME. Basically, it’s a: Hey, check out my rack – you like that D cup, don’t you? Now, don’t you want to know more about my degrees in waffles and how I unlocked all the Red Bull concepts on Gran Turismo 6 before ever running out of flamin’ hot Cheetos? Sure you do . . .
So now, we sit down at the table. At the park. Or in the car on the way to the restaurant.
This where we really shine - in the place where most people fumble. Because small talk is typically awkward, for the most part, with people we don’t know on a first date. Right? While waiting for your drink to come or you're stuck at a red light, you accidentally slip into an anecdote about how you sneezed your way into a change of underwear when you were on the soccer team in 6th grade; the fact that you’ve never had a serious relationship because you think dusting is something that should be celebrated like a holiday. On Lunar New Year ONLY. How last week you named each and every one of your electrical outlets for members of 90s Boy Bands in a nostalgia spree brought on by Vodka Cranberries and a binge of VH1s I Love the 90s. Maybe you sing along too loudly to the CD in your car, which happens to be the underground recording of your brother’s band as he wails through your speakers about how it sucks to be a cart wrangler at H-E-B. (*cough cough*)
But unlike in real life, in this date, we control the small talk. We get to practice and have every single word and line and anecdote so perfect, we’re going to leave them gasping for more. It’s the best way to date. It’s totally freaking cool, and it’s something to be excited about. Knowing you’re going to rock their world because you are more prepared than anyone who has ever prepared for anything that needed preparing for. You are the Gold Medalist, World Champion of dating small talk. Yeah, bitch. Own it. You totally got this.
Now, I’m sure there are quite a few magazine articles out there about how to master “Small talk.” Eye contact, just enough detail to get them interested without giving away the whole enchilada, creating a dialogue back and forth that leaves room for answers that can further the conversation. How much tequila helps. All that stuff.
So, we make eye contact – keeping focused on what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it with. (Well, not yet, but hopefully soon.) We want to draw the reader of the letter into our world as though we wrote it just for them. Because we totally did. The best way to start? Use their name. Not Hey Hot Guy From the Laundromat, thanks for agreeing to buy me dinner because I was getting a little broke. No. We smile a say, Hi Channing Tatum, can I please lick your chin stubble? So much better. So, we got the name, and they like our dress, and the boobs or ass under it (that we’re totally showing off,) and then we sit.
“So . . . what’s your sign?”
“What did you major in in college?”
Yep. Those are some starts to the conversation that usually leave someone frantically searching for a waiter to bring the check, or worse, even send them ditching through the window in the bathroom.
STAND OUT! You’re wearing the tight dress with the heels that hurt, make it worth it!
You sit, you wink as you take a seductive sip from your bourbon neat, then you say: This place you picked is nice! It reminds me of when I was on my gymnastics team and we went on Spring Break to topless bikini land, and-- well let’s just say that skinny dipping with a drunken tiger can leave you ready to come back to your sports car parked in the driveway of your mansion with the built in man cave fully equipped for keggers.
Yeah . . . you think you got his attention? Sure did. Think he’s looking for the check? Nope. He wants to know MORE! He is intrigued by stories of the things that make him go YOWZA. He wants to know all the names of all the girls that went to topless bikini land and how you managed to score that tiger, and he really, really wants to get a peek at that man cave and whether your sports car is a turbo.
After all, we know the person we’re on a date with. We researched. We saw that blog post they did on how all they want to talk about is swimming tigers, and that tweet where they showed a pic of them and their friends and they said how they wished they were in bikini land. We’ve seen them give interviews on sports cars and pin things on Pinterest about all the stuff they want in their man cave. And when you saw their tweets and posts and pins, you KNEW: This was the one. Because you have the stories of Spring Break they crave. You own that bitchin’ man cave. You wouldn’t have asked this person on a date if you didn’t. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to ask out a vegan to a meat tasting competition. We’re not going to query a romance novel to someone who only reps horror and sci fi. You know what they want, you got what they want, and now they know it too.
What they don’t know is exactly how much you have. Whether you have a pool table and a PS4 in the man cave, or just an old Sega. They don’t know if your sports car is a Porsche so new, there’s still plastic in the cup holders, or if we’re talking about an ’84 Pontiac Fiero.
Give ‘em a little. Make ‘em drool. Make ‘em beg. DON’T SHOW THEM YOUR PANTIES.
Sex on the first date is not an option for us. No one sends out a query with the full manuscript attached. We may get to kiss ‘em goodnight with a couple of chapters if it’s in their guidelines (AND ONLY IF IT’S IN THEIR GUIDELINES! If you go in for a kiss they don’t want, you’re basically a sex offender and they’re going to lose your number if they don’t call the cops on you.) We need them to want that second date. And there’s this saying about free milk and cows but I’m not gonna go there because milk makes me yak. But you know. You know.
Here is my date talk, my flirty over-the-bourbon wink, my tell of the gymnastics team in bikini land and hints about my man cave, without ever telling you whether I’m wearing a thong, G string, granny panties or going commando. You’ll need to take me out again to earn those deets, buddy.
Noelle Wright’s soft and gracious demeanor harmonizes with her demure librarian’s wardrobe, except for when she’s needling Dante about his foul language and lack of “professionalism.” But chance encounters outside of their cubicle walls leave Dante needing to know who she really is when she unbuttons her high-necked cardigans. Once she slips past his boundaries, Dante discovers his priorities are changing just as quickly as the calls that dictate the miniscule funds in his bank account. And even though it was Dante who started out with a phobia of commitment, it is Noelle who sabotages their relationship when she reveals a secret that sends them both spiraling: lingering grief over her late husband. By then, it's already too late for Dante to go back to a life of tequila shots and tipsy blondes.
See how that can work? We give a little bit of backstory, but not about how a zebra with wings came in through my window and told me that I was going to change the world with my story about the octopus and how it was hard for it to live in a sea horse’s world. I will not preach to you about my mission. I will not tell you that I’m the girl of your dreams and how I will give the oral sex twice a day, every day, in the form of the next NY Times Best Seller. Instead, I’m going to show you hints of what I’m capable of accomplishing, the end result of my hard work, and not about how I got there or why I chose to dedicate my life to saving dandelions. I didn’t write about my journey as a fan fiction writer or why I chose to set my novel in a call center, what themes I explored or why I felt they were important.
What I am going to do is invite you to come with me on the trip I’m taking to the place he/she/they want to go. For me, it’s the world of romance, where boys and girls meet and flirt and have chemistry that sparkles, but they got them some problems. Internal, external, and in the end, I’m going to wave a magic wand that’ll make you laugh and cry and put my book on your very best shelf. Cover out.
But NO PANTIES. No final resolution. No explaining how Dante and Noelle traverse the hell I put them through. No saying whether she gets over her dead husband, or her and Dante become platonic besties, or one of them moves across the country to escape the love they can’t let go of but can’t morph into a lasting marriage because there’s another husband in the way. No details about how many times we had to switch our flight arrangements before our trip to bikini land, and how you think you need more Ziploc baggies for your tampons because you’re pretty sure you're going to get your period sometime between takeoff and landing because that's what always happens. Save it for your synopsis. For when you’re swapping STD test results because your shirt is off and his pants are unbuttoned, but we’re not diving into the sheets and letting them see that tattoo on your inner thigh until we know what we’re getting into.
And it should go without saying, but we absolutely, 100% do not talk about our ex boyfriends or the guys that dumped us.
Not in a query, not in a synopsis, not ever. They don't want copies of your rejection letters, because nothing prompts a guy into saying DON'T CALL ME, I'LL CALL YOU like handing him a list of grievances from your past BFs. But by all means, if they ask, you can tell them you're dating other people, too. Just like how if someone proposes, you are going to notify the other dude that is taking you out on a second date tomorrow. But that's a whole other thing.
For now, we give ‘em just enough to make them go “So I heard you say you got a sports car and a man cave . . . so where do you live and when can I come over because it sounds like you’ve got some mad skills on the XBOX, and I think we’d make a good team.”
Well, yeah dude. I’m dope. You want to be friends with me. You want to date me. You want to be committed and love me, you just didn’t know it because you were busy juggling all your grocery bags, but don’t worry, I saw your bumper sticker.
The only part that actually sucks? And it’s not getting dressed or putting your makeup on, because that’s fun. It just is. And it’s not like it’s some great pain to get squired around, because dammit I’m a princess and I called shot gun ten years ago on that Pumpkin Spice carriage. The ONLY bad part is that the dates are fast. Not a four-hour extravaganza where we meet for lunch and then go play mini-golf after seeing a concert. We don’t even get dinner. We get drinks. One drink, at that. Standing. By the bar. With a hundred other people around you talking really loud over the music that makes you feel like you have to shout to be heard, and somewhere close by, there’s a wet T-shirt contest going on and someone else is dancing on the bar, and his attention is being pulled in a billion different directions and yeah, can you say slush pile?
But we can do this! How? Got to be on YOUR GAME. Got to be looking HOT. Gotta be so great, you’re the only one in the room, even when you’re not. And when it’s over, you give ‘em your number. Thanks for the drinks, here’s my email and my phone number, and I had a really great time with you. Blow ‘em a kiss with your credentials but don’t stick your tongue in their mouth and slobber all over them with pages they didn’t ask for. We are anti-sex offender. You simply walk away, maybe kinda sorta hoping they’re staring at your ass as you strut out the door. Which, when you rock at dating, they totally will be. And what feels better than that?
You KILLED that date. You made him drool, and swoon, and preemptively start planning how he’s going to propose. And while you wait for him to call, or text, or “just happen to bump into you at the grocery store” BECAUSE HE’S TOTALLY GOING TO AND IN THE MEANTIME, YOU WILL NOT SPAM, PESTER, LIKE EVERY TWEET HE'S EVER TWEETED OR CALL AND HANG UP WHEN HIS VOICEMAIL CLICKS ON BECAUSE YOU MISSED THE SOUND OF HIS VOICE! You go home, relax your achy feet with a pedicure tub and a glass of wine because you absolutely deserve it.
Then you start building on an addition to your house in the form of a basketball court with LED lights because you ain’t done, you just getting started, honey. But if it’s been a long day, by all means, get comfy in your sweats and clean that man cave (but don’t redecorate unless you really really need to – if in doubt, check out my post on revising into dangerous territory called Who Moved My Paragraph), and most importantly, you be you. Be confident in your dating ability. Then go on another date.
Yeah, baby. Flick through those hangers again and pick out another perfect outfit. Vogue-Pose it up in the mirror as you smile because you know you looking good. Jam out to your Girl Powerhouse Katy Perry and Taylor Swift mix and hold your head up high as you put on that mascara. Show off your new shoes to your cat. Strut. Blow yourself kisses and wink at your reflection, because you are amazing and beautiful, a force to be reckoned with, and the guy on his way to your doorbell has no idea how lucky he just got.
But he did get lucky with you. Because not only are you wearing his favorite shade of lipstick, in a dress that fits no one else but would turn Beyoncé into a jelly monster, but we both know: you’re a prize. A prize that is worth courting, and committing to. But in the meantime while you search around for that perfect love, the one who has all the nice soft towels hanging exactly perpendicular in your favorite shade of dragonfly, who keeps his fridge stocked with all the cakes that have no calories despite being drizzled in gourmet chocolate fudge made by monks who save the homeless kittens that he fosters on the weekends when he's not hiking up his lots-o-money hill in his backyard, have a kickass time dating! Because even if they’re not the right one in the end, you still got dinner or at least a free drink, right? There are worse things. Like sneezing yourself into a change of underwear on the 6th grade soccer team.