Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Greatest Query Ever Told

I have a few more writing blogs to post before I get back to pressing tax issues. Tomorrow I will post on the WRWA fall conference in pictures. They are a fine looking bunch, I guarantee you. Now, for today’s topic: The Greatest Query Letter Ever Told.

Nearly 146 years ago, President Lincoln addressed a crowd of 15,000 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg. Pennsylvania. His query… his plea to preserve this nation is arguably one of the most important speeches ever delivered. With so much at stake, President Lincoln, without the luxury of internet query samples, gave us the greatest query ever told.

In just over two minutes, Lincoln spoke a mere 10 sentences, sentences that echo down to us today. Let’s look at the address from a query point of view.

  • Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Lincoln delivered the hook. Number of words (years), and the theme of the story (the reason our nation should continue).

  • Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Now, in four sentences, we get the book. If Lincoln can explain the state of affairs in 1863 in four sentences, why can’t writers describe their book with the same brevity? I aspire to communicate as clearly and concisely as Lincoln. Wish me luck.

  • But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And the cook. Agents love to talk about query letters containing: the hook, the book, and the cook. Lincoln, without the benefit of endless samples to draw from, produced the greatest query ever told with the nation at stake.

Notice how the cook begins. Lincoln provides our nation’s resume the way a writer will outline his publishing credits. There are no wasted words, only clear, concise phrases. When I read the last 15 words, a shiver runs down my spine. I think he would have had no problem finding an agent.

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