Add Pre-Writing the Query Copy to Your Author Toolbox

I accept the concept of a muse wholeheartedly. However old-fashioned it might be, it’s a theory I like. My muse, however, does not resemble a lovely Greek statue. My muse is more like a kaleidoscope of butterflies, constantly circling my head. Only these delicate beauties carry ten pound cannonballs, which they like to release on me at random times.

Me: *trying to get to sleep*

My muse: WHAM!! *drops cannonball*

My muse: This would make a good story.

Me *buries head in pillow*: “What? Why would you do that?”


Me: But that has nothing to do with the story I’m already—


It’s not a problem I can really complain about, after all, I need that inspiration in order to write anything. It is a problem that needs dealing with, though. Not every idea hitting me is a good one. Out of the good ones, not every idea will be enough to propel a full length story.

So how do I figure out the difference?

While researching how to write a query letter, I came across an article about the virtue of writing a rough query before you start writing the actual story. I’ve been trying it for the last year. To my mild surprise, it works really well. Now it’s my threshold test for ideas, the test that helps me decide whether or not to spend the time on this story.

janko ferlic

When one of those random ideas lands on me and won’t go away, I sit down and try to write out a query letter for it. Now the idea has to prove itself, to go any farther with me.

How exciting is this premise? When I’m jazzing it up to make it sound agent-enticing, what kind of jazz does it really have? What’s the inciting incident that sets the whole thing in motion? Since it’s a query, I figure out the main characters, the stakes, and the consequences. Sometimes the genre even explains itself while I’m doing this.

At the end of it I have a pretty solid way to look at the story objectively and say, yes, this will make a good book. There are good enough stakes, with actual consequences, and tension to drive the plot.

Alternatively, I write the query and say, nope. These stakes don’t really have any consequences. The main goal isn’t very clear. There is a big danger of saggy middle here. And this will not make enough of a plot to be a story. Then the idea, which my muse so helpfully banged down in the middle of my shower time, can get filed away in the “reject” folder.

Pros for writing the query first:

Excellent for pantsers. It’s a fairly painless way to write a rough outline without worrying about detailed Goal/Motivation/Conflict charts and other icky things.

Saves you writing time. If the story won’t work, you find out before you’re 20K words in.

Saves you query time. When you sit down to write your real query or blurb, it’s already half done.

Main characters, goal, and stakes are already worked out (even if you decide to tweak them as you go) and therefore easy to keep in mind as you write.

Inciting incident becomes clearer, because that’s what you usually lead a query off with.

The satisfaction of giving the muse a metaphorical middle finger when you stick the idea in the reject pile.


Takes away writing time from other projects as you sit down to figure this all out.

Not as excellent for dedicated plotters. It makes for a VERY rough outline.

Main characters, goal, and stakes might all change as you write the actual book.


How about you? Do you already put your stories through a similar test? Could you use this technique, or do you have one of your own? I’d love to hear about it!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Interested in joining in the Author Toolbox blog hop? Or just finding more articles to add to your bag of tricks? Head here to the website of author Raimey Gallant on the third Wednesday every month (except Nov./Dec. ’cause holidays, y’all).


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[…] sure your idea will stand up for a whole novel? SE White says to add pre-writing the query copy to your author toolbox, while Sean Platt tells us how to write your book’s […]

Kristina Stanley

Interesting way to look at query letters, which are very hard to write. Thanks for sharing.

[…] of our Author Toolbox participants suggested we should write a rough query before starting to write a story to see if it has the potential for more. I love this idea, and I’m going over my ideas to […]


This brought a smile (and a laugh) to my face, thank you.
I love the whimsy and narrative style of introducing your concept (something I should probably learn to do as well.)
That is an interesting concept, starting with the query letter as a kind of “litmus test”.
In the past I’ve tried to “listen” to myself, see which story “appeals to me”, or which one I feel most ready to craft, but this sounds like an interesting idea. I’ll have to try it next time (I’m already pretty thoroughly invested in my current story, so good or bad, I feel like I should really see it through).

Thank you for sharing.


Interesting idea. If your muse can’t produce a good enough query letter to sell you on the project, it’s going to be hard for you and your muse to sell the project to an editor, or to readers.

By the way, I suspect our muses are related. Mine also has a habit of showing up in the dead of night.


Yes! I’ve started doing this recently. Especially for more complex plotlines, writing a query letter first helps me with the story development. Thanks for sharing!

Raimey Gallant

And your muse is hilarious by the way.

Raimey Gallant

Creating the query blurb first, or at least taking a stab at it, that’s such great advice, advice I should follow. 🙂 Great post!


I really like this idea, as I have so many potential ideas floating around I don’t know what to do with them! It’d be nice to tidy up that list and know which ones to reject and keep around 🙂

E.M.A. Timar

I only disagree with one thing. I think creating an initial query is just as valuable for dedicated plotters. Even plotters start with an idea, and this is a great way to see if the idea has enough wherewithal to become a story. Great post!

Chrys Fey

I love this idea! I’ve written blurbs for a couple of stories yet to be written because I had the idea all figured out. But a creating a query letter first, when you first get a story idea, would be an interesting way to see if it’s good or needs work.


I use the query and the logline to help guide my outline. It keeps me on track and focused on the root of the story. 🙂

Anna from elements of emaginette

D.R. Shoultz

Interesting idea. I can see how writing the query letter first would force asking yourself the key questions you mention in advance of writing the story. And I love your muse–butterflies with cannonballs.

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