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Use Your Query as an Editing Tool

Queries and pitches are your best friend.

And I don’t just mean in that a good one will help you get an agent or what have you. I mean that coming up with said good one will force you to narrow in on what is really important in your story.

The thing I find most difficult about writing queries and pitches is deciding what to emphasize. My novel, for example, is a high fantasy with a lot going on. Lots of characters, lots of seemingly minor situations that end up converging…that kind of thing. So, I had to ask myself a lot of questions (and still do) to figure out what point I wanted to drive home in my query. The answers to those questions also told me a lot about what I still needed in my manuscript.

One of the friends I made at Backspace, Frankie, has the rather brilliant strategy of writing her query first, before she does too much drafting. That pre-draft query can always be edited, of course, but having it reminds you what the focus of your story is while you’re in the dreaded middle-of-the-book trenches.

Most of us, though, wrote our manuscripts first and queries second. This is not wrong (although I have to say I may take Frankie’s approach for my next novel)! The problem is that sometimes, the tiny summary of our great work ends up being a little disingenuous. The part of your story that sounds best in a 140-character pitch might not actually be a huge part of your actual, full manuscript.

One of the pitches I used for #PitMAD, for example, went like this: “Newly-crowned Guerline must face civil war AND the ability to choose her own husband.” It’s true, yes–as monarch Guerline doesn’t have to marry anyone she hasn’t chosen herself, and she does have a love interest she wouldn’t have been able to consider before. But that makes it sound like my story has a lot more romance in it than it actually does. When that pitch got favorited by an agent, I was ecstatic. I then panicked when I sent her my material, realizing that she might be annoyed when my MS wasn’t quite what she thought.

Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s really easy to lose focus when you’re editing a complete manuscript, but you have a fabulous tool to guide you through those doldrums. Your query is a distilled version of your manuscript. It is the absolute essence of it (or should be). Use it to keep your head about you!

When you have your awesome query, the one that makes you say, “Yes! This is the story I wrote!”, go back and read your manuscript. Do an after-outline, just a one or two-sentence summary of each chapter or scene. Refer to your query often. That glorious, irresistible pitch–is it really the story you wrote?  If it’s not, why not? What’s emphasized in your query that’s pushed aside in your story, or vice versa?

Reading a great back-of-book blurb and then finding that the book is nothing like what was promised can be a terrible feeling for readers. Don’t let that partial request turn into, “Oh, this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, and it’s not what I’m looking for after all.”