The Query Letter Spark

Posted on 05/31/2011



I’ve been helping a friend of mine get his query package ready to send to a specific literary agent.

The agent wants the typical query letter, synopsis, and 5 pages.  So my friend has typed this all up and sent it to me to give it a once over.  I’ve read his entire manuscript so it’s easy for me to read his stuff and help.  I’ve found it’s much easier to have friends help you write your query letters and synopses even if they’ve only read a little of your story. A fresh set of eyes, etc. You know the drill.

But I think it’s actually more to it than that. WAY more than that.

I first spotted it in my friend’s query letter, and it dawned on me–shit! I do the same thing when writing mine!  Holy helvetica!

See, I remember when this friend first told me his “original idea” for this story. (You can read about the Original Idea here or here or here) It intrigued the hell out of me. And would you too, if I told you. It’s a historical thriller story, that asks specific questions about history that have never been answered with any authority.

We chatted it up for a while, and then he went off to write it. But I was still intrigued.

So then we get to today (about three years have passed) and my friend has written, rewritten, revised, re-revised, started over from scratch TWICE and finally got the story down he thought he wanted to tell. (Until I got a hold of it, then he had to go in and change some structural parts of the story again).  He then sat down to write out his package. His query, his synopsis and paste in his first 5 pages.

The one problem?

He was tired of the story, tired of the characters, tired of the whole damn thing.  He’d been neck deep in the thing for YEARS. And now he was nearing the home stretch, he was just beat up by it.  He just wanted it done. Just finished. No more. Move on to the next project.

But therein lies the problem: his query letter read like he was tired of it. There was no spark there, no inspiration. The thing sat on the page like the ripe juicy turd it was.  I read it and went to the synopsis, then started reading the first 5 pages (which I have read a few times) made some notes, then came back to the query letter.  It stunk.  Reading query letters is hard because you just read what they wrote and kind of nod your head thinking, “It’s his query letter. Whatever he wants to put it in it, he can.” What I had first skimmed over (because, let’s face it, helping people out with query letters is not as exciting as say, watching grass grow) I now looked at with a sharp eye, and I realized he’d left the spark out. Left out the one thing that got him excited and got me excited when he told me about it.  And when I realized that was what was missing, I got pissed and just went off on him.  He admitted to losing the spark. I can relate.

So many times, while writing my stories, I think, “This is The One. This is going to win the HUGO AWARD!” And then when it comes to writing the query letter and synopsis, I am worn out.  I am so tired of the story and the characters, that I just want to get it on paper, and out the door. I’m sure I’m not the only one either.

This is a HUGE mistake. Others can sense the lack of spark in your query letter. They can tell when you’re not excited about it. It’s like a smile on a phone call. You can’t see it, but you can hear it.

My suggestion is two part.  One: if you can write your synopsis and query letter before you write the story, do so. Sure you may have to change it before you send it out, but you will be writing it when you are in the throes of passion about your idea.

Two: If you already have the manuscript written, write up a synopsis, and a query letter as well as you can, then send it to a friend to look over. (this can be done in the reverse order too)

Then…step away from your computer. Go outside. Go in a closet. Go somewhere you can rekindle that spark without the need to write something down.

Just think.


That initial thing that got you going on the story. Find it. Blow on the embers, get them going again. Don’t write down ANY of this at the moment! Just get the spark back!  THEN when you have it in your hand, hold onto it. When your friend sends back their changes, you can revise with that spark in you.