"writer [n]: someone who has written something." - Merriam-Webster Dictionary
"You're a writer. You should be able to write a query," I remember reading in one agent's post about queries and how badly we writers suck at writing them.
It reminds me of when I was an IT guy. Now, I started my work in IT as a cabler--office cabler, not industrial stuff. Cabling sucks, by the way, because of how filthy the job is, but on the other hand it's wonderful to finish and know you've built something that is generally impervious to the mismanagement of users and so will likely last for several years, if not a decade or more.
(at least, that's how it was before the IEEE started tossing out new cable standards every couple of years, but that's another story)
So one day I, by that point a fully qualified and highly certified IT guy, walked into a client's office. Their copy machine was down. "You're an IT guy. You should be able to fix the copier," I was told.
The very first English class I remember really enjoying was in my college freshman (though we called it "plebe") year. It was a class on composition, and it involved a lot of creative writing. I rather liked that. Many other English classes involved us reading books and writing book reports--synopses, generally speaking, though sometimes the assignments got weirder--and that wasn't fun.
Telling a story is fun. Telling a story about a story is no fun.
What's the difference? Writing is writing, isn't it? At least, that's the assumption that the agent's comment above is based upon.
But no. No, it's not. All writing is not the same. And it's easy enough to forget the distinction when it's not staring you in the face at the end of a long rush of noveling.
I just finished revising my synopsis for Dragon Queen. A synopsis, like I said, is a book report. It's really rather boring to write once you're done lovingly crafting epic scenes of emotional connection and battlegrounds. And it's hard, too. With fiction, there are several things you have to do--and several things you have to not do--to do it well. With a synopsis, you have to throw those ideas out the window and just write about the book. "Show, don't tell" becomes "eh, screw it--just tell, and do it in as few words as possible."
I also revised, this morning, the other major piece of queries: the blurb. The blurb is the part that actually goes in the query letter. It's a tease. In the blurb you neither show nor tell. Instead, you make something up that'll hopefully entice the person reading it to want to read the book. I mean, it really should have something to do with the story, but without actually telling the story.
The blurb is--just weird. It's actually less creative writing--much less, in fact--and more marketing writing. Not boring at all, but certainly not within a normal fiction writer's normal mode of, well, normal efforts.
Then, once you've braved the Boring Writing and the Marketing Writing, you get to do Sales Writing. That's the query. The query is nothing more or less than a direct sales pitch. Hey, you're a writer, right? You ought to be able to write a sales pitch with the best of 'em, right?
I think that's the biggest challenge writers who're trying to be published face, though. All writing isn't really writing, for one thing, and switching between major modalities is challenging and fearsome on the best of days.
The good news is that there is some help out there.
On the synopsis front, I found my greatest challenge to be encapsulating a lot of words (97,000, to be specific) into a single-page book report. This site, though, has broken the task down well, into little bitty easy steps that even I can follow. I recommend you approach it the way the linked site lays out.
For the blurb, I'm not gonna be able to help a lot, considering the tremendous number of ideas out there about what a blurb should be. Some people think it's a one paragraph description of the book. Others think it's a two paragraph description of the book. Others think it's just a hook, maybe about the main character and a little bit of the main conflict, designed to get a reader into the story without describing the book at all. Sheesh.
What helped me, though, was Facebook. I posted my blurb idea in a couple of places, got several dozen suggestions, pasted everything into my blurb doc, and got busy snipping and pasting. In the end I went with the ones I felt worked best with what I originally wanted. Remember, though, that the blurb isn't supposed to make you want to read the book--heck, you wrote it, so of course you'll want to devour it. The blurb is supposed to make others want to read the book, so the more help from others you can get, the better.
The query letter itself also is up to debate, since so many agents have such differing opinions. I've read a lot of their "how to write a query letter" posts, and I've also looked on reputable places like WritersDigest.com. Also, I've attended "Query Letters For Dummies" sessions at conferences. They're all different, though to be honest, they're not as different as the opinions on blurbing are. Through all that, I've come to the conclusion that the perfect query letter is just like the perfect resume: it's whatever gets you where you want to go. Both are, in fact, sales pitches, and pitches resonate differently to others depending on their expectations (not yours!).
That said, a query letter should always do the following: a) introduce the book, including word count, genre, and blurb; b) introduce the author; and c) ask for representation. In about 300/about 500/no more than 250/whatever word count the agent being queried wants. Just go write a sales pitch, okay?