Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Writer's Alphabet - Q is for Query

Of course, Q is for query.  It has to be.  I know.  I know.  The word "query" is the single word that makes writers shake their fists, scream in fury and slam closed their laptops, tears streaming from their face.  Okay, maybe it's just me, but queries are freakin' HARD!  And if you review what there is on the internet on the subject, you'd still be reading a week from next Wednesday.  Let's just say there is a lot out there.  Every agent, editor and publisher have an opinion on what the best way to shape one is and if you try to adopt every suggestion, your query will be muddled, massive, and frantic.  The best way to create one is to study everything you can.....and then follow your own heart.

However, if that sounds crazy, its because it is. I think I have found a good way and I'll share it with you here.  It is by no means the only way, so take what you think might work for you and go from there.  Borrowing heavily from my seminar entitled Queries and Loglines and Blurbs, Oh My, this is my take on a query.


A query is, very simply, a single page letter to an agent, an editor, a publisher, a magazine, etc., that introduces you and your book to the recipient.

There are many formulas that have worked: this is mine.

Break the query into four paragraphs:

  • The Intro
  • The Hook
  • The Mini-Synopsis
  • The Bio

In The Intro, you want to start with why you have chosen this particular agent/publisher/editor to query.  Is there a personal connection?  Same college?  Same town?  Have you read that he/she has asked for more middle grade/fantasy/techno-geek stories with animals and yours is exactly that?  Or have you met or heard them speak at a conference.  Make the first line as personal a connection as you can.

The Hook is harder.  You want to capture the agent's attention, not bore her to death with details.  Grab him from your first words by proving you are writing about something he has never seen before.  Some of the best hooks I have written and read are one simple line.  As an example, my most recent release is The Deadlies and this is the hook:  At Holly Hills Academy, being rich and pretty can be deadly. The Hook also very often becomes your logline, which also helps birth your pitch.  We'll go into both of those in an upcoming blog.

So, back to the mechanics of the query. With The Mini-Synopsis, you want to tell the main story arc of your novel about the main protagonist without giving away the farm.  Remember two key points here:  Agents love white space and brevity is key.  White space means don't have cluttered, crowded paragraphs.  And be as precise and tight as you can.  If you can say what you need in 20 words, you can do it in 10.  Focus on the journey of your main protag.  You may have an amazing subplot, but when it comes to the query, subplots need not apply.  Too many names, too many storylines, and you are too cluttered and clunky. Sleek and succinct is the name of the game.  Edit, edit, edit, and trim the fat.  Make that agent not be able to LIVE if they don't get their hands on your manuscript.  Force that full request because you teased so convincingly.

Finally, The Bio is about you and one fact: why YOU are the perfect person to have written your story.  You don't even have to have street cred or anything published at this point.  If you aren't yet published, tell the agent about how you are committed to your passion.  Attending conferences?  Belong to a writer's or critique group?  This is where that information can help.

Last but not least, for your closing, two rules are steadfast. ALWAYS thank the agent for their time, and ALWAYS mention that your completed manuscript is available on request.  This proves you have a fully-written book, and also that your Momma raised you right.  Both critically important to an agent and generally, in life.

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