The point of the query is to distill your full-length novel down to its essence. Anyone who has ever tried it knows that this is HARD. Your query blurb is supposed to be only 250 words (or less). That's .3% of a 90,000 word novel. Try doing that with any other work of art:
|5% of Starry Night|
|3% of The Last Supper|
|2% of the Mona Lisa|
I tried, but my free photo-editing software wouldn't let me select smaller chunks of the paintings. If you feel like NEVER getting published, try submitting a 2500 word blurb of your novel in your query
Anyway, one of the great things you learn while writing a query letter is whether or not your novel has a POINT. Also, WHAT THAT POINT IS and WHETHER IT IS STRONG ENOUGH. Ditto with the plot. (Plots and points are both important. So you know.) The earlier you figure this out, the more time you have to, you know, fix it.
For example, let's imagine you're writing your query and you say "John must choose between X-impossible-choice and Y-impossible-choice"... but your novel shows him practically flipping a coin on those options while he's in the middle of saving the princess. (Not that MY characters would ever do anything so foolish.) What to do? You can certainly revise the query to focus more on the princess-saving, but what if he really does have to choose between two impossible things? What if (now that you mention it) he struggles (or really should struggle) with those choices throughout the novel? Don't you WANT to make that moment of choice more important?
Now imagine that you don't realize the importance of that choice until you've run your novel through 10 rounds of edits, polished all the -ly verbs out of it, removed 5000 superfluous words, and tightened up the language until you can bounce a quarter off of it. Imagine you have your list of dream agents, complete with their detailed submission guidelines, sitting in a quick-access file on your computer, and you've set a goal to start querying... next week. Just as soon as you write a query letter.
Heck of a time to figure out what your novel is about, huh?
I'm sure I'll revise my query a few hundred more times before it's agent-ready. I'm sure the revision process itself will help me isolate what my book is about. Still, writing my query now has been amazingly helpful in pin-pointing exactly what I need to fix, what needs to be emphasized, and how my MC needs to feel about her choices. I tried to write a synopsis earlier, before I finished my first draft--it wasn't the same. It had a very "exercise" feel to it. There's a sense of urgency in writing an actual query letter that I'll actually have to use someday that makes me want to get it right--and to make it interesting to someone else.
What about you? When did you / are you planning to write your query letter?
(This post brought to you today by Elana Johnson's wonderful, amazing, splendiferous, FREE e-book: FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL. Download it here. Read it. Love it. Use it. Why are you still here?)