There's a debate going on blogs right now over queries. Having done a post on synopses recently, I thought it might make a good round-up on two topics I see as very similar, since both are selling tools.
Queries are akin to writing the three point essay in Comp 101--remember: intro, three graphs illustrating the point, and the conclusion. In other words, formulaic. I didn't make straight As in grad school because I'm so smart, I made them because I could write papers that made me sound smart. In other words, I can bullshit a bullshitter, and that's what a query does.
So, just cuz it's my blog and I can, I'm gonna spell out my formula for writing queries. Pleeeeease add something or holler at me if you think it's incomplete or wrong:
Hook. (This is what your story is ABOUT. This is what you tell the guy at the party when he asks about your book or the 30 second editorial pitch after they all get done talking about how much money they'll make on the new Crichton. It's a one liner, two at best--it's your BIG IDEA.)
Propelling crisis. Easiest way: When such-and-such-crisis happens, our HERO (described in such a way to make the crisis important to the hero) does W.
The situation worsens/is complicated by such-and-such, and HERO does X.
Then when THIS HORRIBLE EVENT/DILEMMA happens, HERO must choose between Y and Z. You round that out with a bit of motivation, and zoom, you got a query.
So, on the fly, I'm gonna write up one for EXILED. The time is now 1:27. (caveat: there won't be a hook because I don't actually know what it is yet.)
Prince Coel, the fourth prince of the secluded Ijokaelfen island kingdom, never expected to rule. However, when the land-hungry Dokkaelfes invade and slaughter his entire people, they exile him to Tosquia, a sophisticated Empire built on the bones and stones of his forebears. Confronted by Ereq, a nobleman and a Dokkaelfen half-breed, Coel takes it upon himself to find out how a member of the enemy race has infiltrated the Tosquin royal family and what they're planning. He soon learns that Ereq isn't the only enemy in Tosquia. The Tosquin capital is filled with Dokkaelfes masquerading as slave traders and Coel realizes he was sent as a living message to start a war. After the Tosquin Crown Prince is murdered, Ereq and Coel form a shaky alliance to save her unborn child who will be heir to the Empire. They must find a way to stop the Dokkaelfes before they brutalize the Tosques into a civil war of the likes the world has never seen.
1:46. Ok, that's pretty poor--mostly because I'm not done with the story yet and I'm still working out why the Dokkaelfes are after what they're after (pretty sure it's going to be a religious war--something that speaks to our current world state, but I'm still plotting and working out the themes). The point is, I wrote that in about 19 minutes. (actually, less; I sat and thunk about it for a few minutes, wiped the crumbs from my desk, that sort of thing.) If I had the story down pat, I think I'd be able to have a polished version in about an hour. It's got the crisis point, and how things get worse, and the final dilemma (sort of--not quite sure what the dillemma is yet, that's why it's so vague--still plotting, remember).
Thing is, I really think with a little practice, a query is pretty easy to bang out. I've found if the query is impossible to write, it's cuz the story has problems. A solid story has the same elements of a query: a hook, a propelling crisis, some plot points to drive it home, and impossible, personal and external dilemmas/obstacles for the hero to overcome. If a writer doesn't know what all that is by the time he's finished a book, then he might take a look at the book again, not his query writing skills.