Now? Well, I've joined the dark side, guys. I know. Sorry. But the thing is, the query is an incredible, useful tool, and maybe not in the way you think.
Essentially, the query is a test. It tests your writing on every level—prose, plot, and character. It tests your knowledge of your own story, and you would be surprised how many writers don't actually understand the structure of their book (I would have been included in this a couple years ago).
And, hopefully, if your query passes the tests, your manuscript should as well. This is why you should be writing your queries. This is why you may not find the success you'd like if you're getting a ton of outside help on your query—because when you get requests the agent sees that your skill in the MS does not match that in the query.
So, what do you need to know to pass the test? I have a few suggestions:
1. Your Plot Arc
Not just your plot, but how it progresses and which points are the most crucial. You need to know what triggers the story, what complicates it, where the action peaks, and how it's resolved. Ideally, you should know the arcs for all the elements in your book—you do not have just one arc! There's an overall arc, but there are also character arcs that should line up roughly with your plot arc.
2. Character Stakes
You need to know why this story is important to the characters in it. What will happen if they succeed? If they fail? How do they grow? What do they learn? What do they stand to gain or lose? What is their motivation for embarking on the journey in the first place? Does their motivation change at any point?
The answers to those questions make us care about the plot. You could have an action-filled plot that's perfect structurally, but if we don't care about the characters and what they want it just. doesn't. matter.
3. Prose and Voice
Your query is like a snapshot of your writing and voice (also why you should be writing your own). We all have a unique voice—our "It Factor." When an agent is reading, they're looking for this connection, along with your mastery over writing. Awkward phrasing or unnecessary words may be clues to what they'll find in the MS. A voice that pops right off the page probably will in the MS, too. When you are confident in your writing and voice, it shows.
So don't knock the query. Learn to appreciate it, because you'll never stop writing them. My job today? To write a synopsis for TRANSPARENT. And guess what I'm writing first to get a good outline for that synopsis? Yup, a query. That way I will have a clear snapshot of my plot and characters, making it easier for me to focus on the essential elements in the synopsis.
This is kind of an overview, you think I should go into each point over the week? I will if you guys want.