The Birth Of A Query (And The Cookie Dough It Took To Get There)
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
It is done.

My query, that is.


I've never been more relieved to say those three words in my life. 

I am breathing easier and feeling lighter than I did after my implant surgery, (on a tooth, 
Internet, on a tooth), on my last day of Catholic prison school, when my youngest daughter 
made her way out of diapers, when Joanie Loves Chachi was cancelled, after I shucked the 
paper gown from my last hoo-haa visit, when my oldest girl FINALLY learned to drive 
without sobbing that she couldn't keep the car straight in the lanes, when my dogs grew out
of eating poop and of course, most of all, when Kate Gosselin got booted off of Dancing 
With The Stars.

Again, whew. 

As some of you might know I was lucky enough to win a query revision. In fact, I'm certain 
you all know, because I screamed the news so loudly, I'm sure the entire Internet had to clap 
their hands to their ears and collectively gasp, "Dear God, what was THAT— a thousand cats 
in heat?"

Suzanne Hayze of Writing Out The Angst: The Twisted Path Towards Publicationso 
very generously came to me with her torch blazing, leading me out of the darkness and 
into the light of the playground where the big kids— the agents and hopeful writers— play. 
It's a big rousing game of tag, with the writers all scurrying around and the agents 
plucking just a lucky few out of the game with a firm tap of "You're It."

How I want to be It. 

Suzanne worked with me in a constant flurry of emails, advising me, questioning me, 
pointing me in right directions, reassuring me when I'd get flustered and cheering me 
on, always. 

On the 4th of July, on a broiling Chicago afternoon, as I sat in an overcrowded pizza 
joint with a table full of screaming toddlers next to me, making me wonder if noon was 
too early for wine, I got an email from Suzanne. It said, "Take a look, breathe . . . Then 
close it up . . . Then open it again."

I excused myself from the chaos and fled to the quiet of the bathroom and did just that. 

And there was my query. Shorter. Sweeter. Better. 

I will forever be indebted to Suzanne for shaping my words into a query. A very real and 
succinct query that shouted out from the screen, "Pick Me!" because of her work.

And even though Suzanne did a stand-up job, my instinct told me I needed to include some 
key ingredients that were missing.  

And this is, in no way, a criticism of Suzanne's revision. Her work was exemplary. But the 
one true thing Suzanne said to me over and over again, was to follow my writer's instinct 
and trust my own voice. And I just knew these ingredients needed to be added to the mix. I 
had to find a way to insert my necessary bits without upsetting the fine balance of Suzanne's 

And I did just that . . .  kind of. 

I sat for hours in front of my screen, trying to figure out how to work my pieces back into 
the puzzle to make the picture perfect. And once again, I cried. I ate all of  a chunk of 
cookie dough mix. I took a lot of showers. I don't know why, but water brings me 
inspiration. I tried to convince my hubby we needed a waterfall in the back yard, just a 
small one so I could run out and just stand under its mighty gushers any time I needed 
some inspiration. He had the nerve to snort at me. That's it. Just snort. He is so mean 
when it comes to giving me waterfalls. 

I started pestering my sister and friends with my query. I'm sure every time my name 
popped up in their emails, which was about every 5 minutes, they were all, "Are you 
kidding me? Does this chick think I don't have a life? She needs meds, big time."

Mainly I just wallowed, not knowing what to do. 

And then I discovered an angel in my midst. 

A.B. Keuser is her name.

She's an aspiring author who'd come over to my blog after I won the contest. We'd 
exchanged plenty of comments and emails and as I sat there, trying to make these 
two pieces come together, but not having any idea how, she popped into my mind 
and I said to myself, "Ok, here's someone else I can pester with my neurotic 

I sent her an email and then she was there, saying, "Let me take a look. I help writers 
with their  revisions on Query Tracker all the time. "

And here's when I tell you what I've learned. This writing community, they are some 
generous folks, indeed. When you step into their midst, they wrap their arms around you 
and welcome you into their fold with support and help and love and it has been one of the 
best things about this ride—these extraordinary writers and their big hearts. 

And so I sent her my fragmented query, that I'd been trying so hard to meld together. 

She sent it back very shortly thereafter. And it was strung together so sweetly and so 
perfectly, I just let out this big ugly sob of relief. 

My friend, The Empress who is one of those big-hearted people in my life says, 
sometimes we are standing too close to see things for what they are. 

And that was me, so close that the words were bleeding together and not making sense 
and making me dizzy and sad from the trying. 

Finally, I can say the magical words: I wrote a query. 

Some amazing people stepped away from it, took a look and said, "That goes here. This 
goes there. Aaaaad, there. It now fits."

I'd like to show it to you now, if you don't mind. 

I'm giving you just the shell. I don't have my bio or intro included because I just want 
you to focus on the meat of my query. 

And, if I may ask, can you tell me what you think? Give it to me. I want the bad and the 
good. I've become a brave girl throughout this journey and I promise you, I can take it. My 
writer's heart is no longer paper thin. It's now more like a ShamWow. 

And one more thing? I need an opinion. 

Queries are supposed to be short and sweet. Mine hits exactly right in the sweet spot of 
where it should be, but there is always room for more shortening. I'm not sure whether to 
keep the last paragraph or cut it. I think it sums up my query, but at the same time my query 
can stand alone without it. Can you give me your two cents?

Oh, and one more other last thing and I promise to be through with asking favors. I'm not 
set on the title of my book, not by a long shot. I originally titled my book The Book Of Kel.  
It's a play on the title, The Book Of Kells, which is an ancient manuscript of the Gospel. It is 
housed in Trinity College in Dublin and it is one of the most illustrious, extraordinary things 
I've ever been privileged to see. 

And not that my book has anything to do with the Gospel. Trust me, it doesn't. I can't even
let my mom read my book. The thought of her reading certain scenes in my novel, makes 
me ill. I just liked the play on words.

The thing with that title, though, was very few people got it. It seems that I'm just about the 
only book nerd out there who gets all excited over old, pretty books. 

I was also playing with In Grace's Place, but I worry that sounds too much like a self-help 
book on how to be the perfect submissive Christian wife. And there is one word in that sentence
that riles me up like no other. I'll give you a hint. On my wedding day, I told my hubby we would 
always be happy as long as he never tried to tell me what to do. I should have added, "and if 
you build me a waterfall". 

So, tell me what you think of my titles. Or if you have a better one, I'll be so grateful, I'll do 
something super nice for you. I don't know what, but my pile of indebtedness is growing bigger 
by the minute. 

And so, without further ado, I give you my dang-blasted query:

Kelly Truitt is a hapless wreck in bargain basement stilettos and knock-off designer bags.
Her job, reporting on the less-than-scintillating world of education, is in jeopardy thanks 
to her reputation as slacker extraordinaire. Her love life is one catastrophic joke and her 
sister Grace, once her truest confidante, now litters their conversations with intolerant sighs. 
“Kel” is pretty sure it’s because Grace leads a grownup life with a husband and kids, while 
Kel still picks her cereal by the best prize in the box. 

Kel doesn’t think life can get more disastrous, until she discovers Grace’s secret, a secret 
that will change their sisterhood forever. Grace calls it a manageable cancer. Kel calls it a 
betrayal. And the hurt between them fissures into months of silence.

When Grace calls from the depths of her sickness, Kel’s life is indelibly transformed from 
her slipshod world strewn with martinis and messes in New York City to a new life in 
Northern California filled with toddler tantrums, babies, car seats that defy the laws of 
physics, cut-throat preschool mothers vying for the role of homeroom mom and God help 
her, potty training. While navigating her way through diaper woes and drama mammas, 
she meets a winemaker who teaches her Zinfandel should never be white and love should 
always sparkle like the finest champagne.

As Kel steps into her sister’s perfect shoes, she discovers an indomitable strength in the 
recesses of her imperfect heart, a strength that heals the wounds of a fractured sisterhood 
and a strength that carries a family through its darkest days

A work of women’s fiction, The Book Of Kel, is complete at 100,000 words.

Today's Definite Download: "Heroes" by the incomparable David Bowie. 

No lyrics. Just a dedication to Suzanne and all my friends and A.B. Keuser who listened 
and pushed me and gave me their help and their hearts. You know who you are. And you
are my heroes. 


Dee said...

"fractured sisterhood " I like it

The Furry Godmother said...

Hahaha! I thought Book of Kel? That sounds suspiciously like the Book of Kells! Because, hi! Art school makes you think of obscure references.

Sounds wonderful, Joann. You should be proud of yourself. I am.

Unknown said...

Good for you! I STILL think you can shorten it.... But you have to-- no you MUST-- be comfortable with your query.

And there's a debate over that all important info line with genre and word count. Many, many people say put it first... some say last. I put it last in my first round of queries and then first. See what works best. Great job girl!!!!!!!!!!!

Love, Suzy

Jennifer Vanderbeek said...

As someone whose done medieval illumination, I instantly understood the title reference but (and folks who do get it might make the same mistake) it sounds like it should be historical romance. BUT an agent or editor will likely have more and better input on name changes (the name isn't carved in stone until it's on the shelf!).

You said it yourself--the query stands on it's own with the last paragraph: write what it needs to get the point across and leave out the rest. Plus, there a lot of borderline cliches in that last paragraph that, while vivid, sound like the sorts of things that make the Query Shark gnash her teeth.

And a final thought on the first (really long) sentence on paragraph 3: "But when Grace sends out the s.o.s., Kel leaves behind the martinis and messes of her New York City life for Northern California with it's toddler tantrums, physics-defying car seats and--God help her--potty training." Your version is passive--life happens to Kel, she's not doing it herself, and passive heroines aren't as likable as one whose willing to come to a sisters rescue despite a feud. Babies might be redundant sandwiched as they are between toddler tantrums and car seats and I defer to the oratory technique of triad arguments when curbing the comma field.

But that's just the 2 cents of a girl who hasn't gotten as far as the query yet. Grain of salt and all that. I think it's awesome that you've gotten this much done. (and love the wine reference!!!)

Gigi said...

I emailed you! i love it!

Unknown said...

I haven't known your for long, but I'm still so excited for you. And your novel sounds wonderful. I'll be on the waiting list to buy it when it's published. (notice the when, not if)

Jen said...

I like Fractured Sisterhood, but I'm not sure that is what the meat of the book is about.

I had no idea what the Book of Kells was.

Grace anything in a title has been done to death.

The query is great but I have stacks and stacks of rejections based solely on the query letter.

I'm so happy for you. I know you will get signed, I just know it!

Anita @ GoingALittleCoastal said...

I'm very excited for you! I suppose you could shorten it a bit but I like the last paragraph. I happen to be going through a bit of a fractured sisterhood (I like that phrase) myself. I can't wait to read the whole thing!

One Photo said...

Hi Joann - I love it, the paragraph about Kel taking on Grace's life is wonderful and I would definitely leave in the last paragraph as well. I cannot wait to see your name on the cover in Barnes and Noble and heaven help all those around me when I run squealing with delight up to all of them shouting "I KNOW THIS WONDERFUL WOMAN!!"

SurferWife said...

I need time to marinate and think on how I feel about the titles. I will get back to you on this.

I think the last paragraph is very necessary. It's one of those chill inducing, arm hair raising paragraphs that makes you need to read more.

Noelle said...

My two cents...for what they're worth (which is less than 2 cents actually)

Leave the last paragraph. Absolutely leave it.

Out of the two titles I love 'In Grace's Place'. I think the title ties your query together with a lovely pink bow.

I can't wait to see this books on the shelves...because it will happen!!!

duffylou said...

Oh Joann! This is fantabulous! Exciting and thought provoking, your query leaves the reader wanting more.

My unprofessional opinion is to leave the last paragraph attached.

I'm not fond of Book of Kel, but Honey it is YOUR book and you can name it Fred if you want. I would still go out and buy it.

Cheeseboy said...

How you limited it to 100,000 words, I'll never know. You have me so intrigued. I suppose that is what you were aiming for.

Someday I'd like to get into the world of writing. I'm afraid I am not quite as talented as you are, but maybe I could write something funny for folks???

Congrats! Things are progressing nicely for you.

Heather H said...

I like it...although I'm not sure about "drama mammas." I'm not even sure I know what a mamma it the same as mama? Overall, it leaves me wanting to read it.

Between the two, I like "In Grace's Place" for a title.

Can't wait to read the book! Do you need a proof-reader? ;)

Mrs. Ohtobe said...

Oh cripes - so are you going to even remember any of us when you make the NYT Best Seller List? ;) Congrats and well done!

Alexandra said...

So short? Such HUGE news, and this must've been your shortest post to date.

Oh, honey, it just whipped out every word from you, huh?

That only took 3 seconds to read.

I hear your relief, now, go and party down with Mr Handsome and the girls (daughters, honey, get your mind out of the gutter)


Rita Templeton said...

LOVE!! I'm SO snatching up a copy as soon as it comes out. As long as I can send it to you to sign with one of your wonderful inscriptions. :)

Just one teeny little thing: I personally have never heard of the Book of Kells, so the cleverness of the title would've been totally lost on me. I do love In Grace's Place, though.

Hooray for the relief of writing a great query! I'm so excited to be able to tag along (albeit electronically) for the rest of your journey to published authorhood! :)

middle child said...

I am not a writer but I do have an opinion. I think the title is great. The last paragraph? How about, "Kel stepped slowly into her sister's shoes and found them to be a good fit."

Crazy Brunette said...

Oh fuck woman! I cannot WAIT!!! I really want this book. NOW. So tell me who I have to blow to get this published and we'll go from there!!!

I'm absolutely HORRIBLE at titles... I always have been. I'll write a post in 10 minutes and spend a fucking hour trying to think of a damn title.

Of the two I like The Book of Kel. But, like you said... If you wouldn't have explained it, I would never have known.

I love you hooker face!

Beth Zimmerman said...

The Book of Kel would have flown right over my head without your explanation. And I kind of like In Grace's Place.

The book sounds wonderful and I loved the query ... including the last paragraph!

A. B. Keuser said...

Yay! you're "Done"! And I'm happy that you're asking your blog family for their opinions. :)

You're off to a great start and this whole thing is a learning process!

Liz said...

I think I'm the oddball here because while I like the final paragraph, I don't think it's necessary if you're worried about length. And the meaning of The Book of Kel is lost on me, but I prefer that title and would be more likely to pull it off the shelf and flip through it over the other title.

No matter, you make me want to read your book NOW.

Bossy Betty said...

Hurrah!!! Glad to hear it is finished, done and complete!! It is really terrific!

randine said...

Great query, I would definately read this book. I have always been interested in this type of premise-the accidental mother. I would buy it!
And I too, would be in favor of nixing the last paragraph, in the interest of keeping it shorter. Just my preference.

Grace said...

As an English major, I got the Book of Kel thing. And the query is very good. I love the line about picking her cereal for the prize.

I don't know what it is about water, but I do some of my best writing in the shower, too. Here's the thing, though: I have a waterfall, and it's a big fat pain in the ass. No inspiration from it, just fish that kept being eaten by birds and a huge cut on my foot from when I fell in when trying to clean it. After my fish got speared and stolen for the second time, I chlorinated that sucker. But if you're still set on a pond, you can tell your husband I love mine and that it's as inspirational as sitting on the beach with a tall fruity drink. I'll back you up.

Deidra said...

The second paragraph is my favorite! Congratulations!

Sara said...

I love it. I read your query and while I know you are looking to shorten it, I do like it better with the last part versus without it.

I'll think more on it and see if there is a way to meld the two together. :)

As for title, I agree, In Grace's Place sounds like a self help book. I did think of some other titles... here we go...

Grace's Secret

Grace's Shoes

New Life


But I do like the title mentioned above "Fractured Sisterhood". I think that title nails it, but thought I'd toss some of my ideas out there.....will still be thinking of this as well and if any more come my way, I'll let you know. :)

W.C.Camp said...

Hmmm, for nearly 20 years if I have a big decision to make, I head for the spa. Water both literally and figuratively has cleansing powers like nothing else.

I think the query is excellent and 'The book of Kel' is an intriguing title, however it does lend itself to sounding a bit more like a history lesson, than the journey of two sisters thrown together by circumstance.

I think someone else commented something similar but consider the idea around "In her Sister's shoes' or in that vein. Honestly, the title at this stage is just to 'hook' the editor. So if you have to name it after the Ed's spouse to get a second look - GO FOR IT. I'm sure the publisher will help with finished title if they think it is an issue with the target market.

Congratulations and GOOD LUCK. This is incredible - now go take a shower or better yet A hot bubble SPA, 'cause you clearly DESERVE IT !!! W.C.C.

Anonymous said...

I like the title The Book of Kel-but I also knew the reference.
Even so, it's catchy and might make some think the Book of Hell and she kindof goes through some hellish things.
I like the last paragraph-it ties everything together.
And I LOVE your first paragraph description of Kel.
Your descriptions made me want to read it-like, right now.
Allrighty-when I get my booty in gear and get a query letter I am SO sending it to you.
So PROUD of you!

Anonymous said...

Hi there...I am way out of my depth here but I like what I see....I REALLY like what I see...congrats.

Kelly said...

I am completely unoriginal and useless when it comes to coming up with a title for anything so...I got nuthin'

I also do some of my best thinking while in the shower. Sadly, those ideas dry up as soon as I towel off.

jayayceeblog said...

As soon as this is published, you can build your own freakin' waterfall in the back yard. I can't wait to buy it, I can't wait to read it, I just can't wait!

Love the last paragraph. Of the two titles you offer, I like In Grace's Place best. Had no idea what the Book of Kells was. I also like Fractured Sisterhood, but another bit draws my eye ... how about Imperfect Heart?

You're awesome. Congratulations!

MrsBlogAlot said...

...litters their conversations with intolerant sighs...

Loved that!!!!!!!

Congratulations Joann!!

Lisa said...

I'm sorry I'm so late to the party - I haven't been online much the past few days.

I loved this post, and I loved the query (I can NOT wait to read this book!!)

Truly, I loved it. The only criticism I could come up with is that the "God help her" seems unnecessary.

Also, I love "Fractured Sisterhood" as a title.

My next question is how are you going to autograph all of our copies of your book once it is published??

Judie said...

Joann, you can call it whatever you want--it will still be a terrific read! You already know how I feel about it, and my opinion hasn't changed. I read SEVEN books on the beach in Cancun, and your novel was just as captivating, if not more, as any of them. I am SUCH a picky reader, so when I applaud your work, you know that I am sincere.

Baby Sister said...

Can I have an autographed copy when it comes out?? :D I'm sooooo excited for you!! Your query is awesome!! I say leave the last sentence. It's like the wrapper on a present. Absolutely necessary. I like In Grace's Place, but I also think something to do with Kells is nice.
Good job you! You're my hero!

Katie Gates said...

Hi Joanne, As a fellow novelist, I really enjoyed reading this post, and for me, the take-away line was this: "My writer's heart is no longer paper thin. It's now more like a ShamWow." Love that!!! I've queried agents for two novels now, and I've not been successful in finding representation, so I don't know what makes a query work. Can't comment there, but I do want to extend to you my encouragement and my support. If YOU love your novel, that's what's important. And if you loved the process of writing it, then plan to write more! I ended up self-publishing my first novel (The Somebody Who), which subsequently received a nomination for a literary award. I hope you find luck through the traditional avenues, but if, at some point, you need to pick the brain of one who went the self-pub route, feel free to get in touch!

The Furry Godmother said...

Have a wonderful time at your reunion this weekend! My thirtieth is in October. Can't wait.

Judie said...

Can you please write the following on a clean sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 computer paper and mail it to me, unfolded: "To Judie, an avid reader and fan. Best regards, Joann Mannix"


Pat said...

First of all, congratulations on FINISHING the book! That, in itself, is such an accomplishment!

As far as titles go, from what I hear, it's not unusual to be changed by the time it makes print. I did not know "The Book of Kells", and as far as "In Grace's Place" - I just had a problem with the rhyme.

I LOVE the line that Kel still chooses her cereal by the prize inside the box. Makes her endearing to the reader.

The first sentence of the third paragraph does go on too long; I'd probably end it after "car seats that defy the laws of physics."

Good luck to you! I am SO happy for you!

Now if this doesn't light a flame under my butt to finish writing, I don't know what will!

Lula Lola said...

I have nothing constructive to offer. But, I am so proud of you for getting it done! I can't wait to wait in line for your autograph in a book store some day soon!
It sounds like a great story!

twelvedaysold said...

Sorry to be late to the party, but I was too busy nerding it up in San Diego to check my blog friend's blogs. Blog.

I'm so happy to know what your book is about now! And again, YOU'RE WELCOME about A.B. Keuser.

Shoot me an email so we can discuss the query, when you have some time. Well, obviously.

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