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Writing a Query Letter
WHAT IS A QUERY:

A query is a one-page summary of your manuscript.

 

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A QUERY:

The goal of a query is to entice your reader to read the pages. Be that an agent, or an editor, or even a potential reader.

 

WHAT YOU SHOULD INCLUDE IN A QUERY:

Always follow submission guidelines! I can’t stress this enough. If an agent asks for the first 10 pages, you send them the first 10 pages. No exceptions.

In a query, you must state the title of your book, the word count (rounded to the nearest thousand), genre (ex: Young Adult) and category (ex: Fantasy), a brief summary of your book (250-300 words), and a a very brief bio if you have one. A bio is only needed if you having writing related credits. Don’t stress if you don’t have any. Just keep it simple.

 

CRAFTING A QUERY LETTER:

When you sit down to write your query letter ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the protagonist want?
  • What’s keeping him/her/them from getting it?
  • What choice/decision does he/she/they face?
  • What terrible thing will happen if he/she/they choose ____; what terrible thing will happen if he/she/they don’t.

These are the heart of your query. Without the answers to those questions it is impossible to convey what is enticing about your book.

 

One day, when I’m allowed to, I’ll share my own query publicly here. Until then, I’ll do my best to explain.

A good query letter starts with a hook–a sentence or idea to grab the agent’s attention. Usually this hook is full of voice and perfectly captures your main character.

Next comes the world building and character explanation. Something to give context to your hook. Most of the time, this is 1-2 lines. Enough to place the reader/agent in your world and showcase your character. Usually this ends with the inciting incident–this is the thing that turns your character’s world upside down and now everything is out of control.

After that comes the decision she/he/they must make in the climax of the first act. End this paragraph on a hook that propels the reader into the rest of your story.  

Make sure you end your query with very specific stakes. If you are too general or end with something like “they must defeat the ogre or the world will end” the query becomes boring and forgettable. Get right down into the nitty gritty personal stakes. What will be effected in your characters personal life if they make the wrong choice? or even the right one?

If you can add any line in your query to a blurb for a different book and not be able to tell which it belongs to which, then you’re haven’t put in any unique details about your particular story. Try not to be too vague. But don’t give away the ending.

Finally, the last paragraph (or first, depending on which agent you query) should include all the relevant info on your book. Title, word count, genre, category, comparative titles if you have them. Something like this, expect better and with your own comps:

“TITLE, is a Young Adult Fantasy standalone with series potential complete at 90,000 words. Perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES and Jessica Cluess’s A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING.”

 

For a story with 2 Point of View’s, it’s best to dedicate one paragraph to introducing the first person and their stakes. The second paragraph to introducing the second person and their stakes. And the third paragraph to linking them and their stories together.

Make sure you’ve done your research on which agents you want to query. Many agencies will only let you query one agent at the agency full stop. So you want to be sure you’ve picked someone you truly believe to be a good fit for your work.

Be professional. If you can, personalize your query. By personalize, I mean, do you have a meaningful reason to contact that particular agent? Maybe a referral? Or they mentioned wanting a book on twitter that matches the pitch of yours completely? Or maybe you met them at a conference? These are all reasons to personalize with a small mention of why you are querying them. But be careful, a vague personalization hurts only you. If you don’t feel comfortable, leave it off.

Finally, when you’ve got your query ready and you think you’re ready to submit, get others to look at it before you hit send. If they can read it and it makes sense to them, then you know you’re on the right track.

Another thing I like to do before querying is to enter my query into critique contests and forums. The YAWriters Reddit holds a semi-annual Query and first pages critique. Another fantastic way to meet other writers and make connections.

 

Good luck out there and stay positive!