What’s in a Query

There was some interest in my last post about query letters, so that’s what I’ll talk about today. This is for a fictional novel; non-fiction is a little different. Everything here is all based on my own experience and research, so other people may have different opinions. This is what worked for me.

Before you even start, here are some quick tips:

1.       Do not query until your manuscript is finished. And it has also been several rounds of edits and been seen by other people’s eyes. Is it the absolute best you can make it?

2.       Do your research on the agents you’re querying. Are they currently accepting queries? Are they with a respectable agency? What else have they represented? Check for twitters, blogs, whatever you can find.

3.       Many agents will also ask for a synapsis or summary with the query. These different from agent to agent, so make sure you send what they want. Generally, they are about a one or two page long summary of the plot, including the ending and any plot twists. They want to know what they’re getting into. This could be a whole other post, so that’s all I’ll say on that for now.

4.       Keep a list of who you submit to and when. Many agents receive so many submissions that it takes weeks or months to get back to you. Also you don’t want to accidentally send the same thing to the same agent twice.

5.       Your query should not be more than one page. Agents are too busy to read more than that.

Now to the actual query!

There are three main parts to a query letter:

1.       The Opening: Basically, your query letter is the first impression an agent gets both of you and your book, so in addition to representing your book, your query will also represent you. The agent has to work with you after all, so even if they love your story, if you come off like a rude and entitled jerk, they’ll probably reject you. So!

  •  Address the agent by name, err on the side of politeness (some are okay with a first name address while others might find that too familiar and un-professional)
  • Open with why you’re sending a query to them. Have you read other authors they’ve worked with? Why do you think you’d be a good fit?

2.       The Pitch: Now you want to sell your book. This is the meat of the query and easily the most difficult part. But basically: Open with a hook (those killer opening lines you learned about in school) and then boil down the story to five to seven sentences and be sure to answer these questions:

  • Who is the main character?
  • What do they want?
  • Why can’t they get it?
  • What makes your story interesting and unique?

I’ll link some examples of these below, but I also suggest reading the back of your favorite novels for the summaries there and try to copy what it is that makes you want to pick that book up.

 

3.       The Details: Close with your credentials and any other important details

  • Genre
  • Word count
  • If you’re planning a series, say it has “series potential.” Your book is not a series until Book 2 is sold. Most publishers will wait to see how well the first one does before risking anything on another one.
  • Any relevant experience. Have you published anything else? Include title, publisher, and sales information. Have you received any awards? Does your book make use of a specialized knowledge you have? For example, is it about nuclear bugs attacking New York City and you happen to be an entomologist that grew up in New York? Mention that.  It offers credibility.
  • Online presence. Do you have a blog or twitter account with a lot of followers? They’ll want to know if you already have some sort of audience.
  • Potential Audience. Going off on that last post, who would read this book? Is it similar to anything else out there right now?

And that’s basically the gist of it! Now for a few quick must-read links:

Query Shark: An actual agent critiques reader submitted queries. She tells you what works, what doesn’t, and what agents looks for.

Agent Query: A database with thousands of agent information. One of the best ways to find an agent to query. They also have a how-to here that has some great tips

Ten Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter Some more general tips from Writer’s Digest.

Query Letters with Elana Johnson – a great series of posts that go into more depth about each section

Successful Queries – a series of actual queries used by published authors

And lastly, here’s what I did. Enjoy.

Dear Ms. [Editor],
I’m submitting to Cedar Fort at the suggestion of [friend], who is currently interning with you. As an LDS author, I also appreciate the high standards you hold and have enjoyed books you’ve published, including Rapunzel Untangled by Cindy C. Bennett.
Evie was a mask-maker on the island nation of Venesia, where masks are worn everyday as a sign of both rank and identity. Going barefaced is scandalous, or the mark of the desolate or foreign-born.
When a bandit called the Chameleon attacks, he not only strips away Evie’s mask, destroys her home, and kills her father, but also brands her face with his own criminal mark that would incriminate her for his wrong-doings should it be discovered.
After the Chameleon’s attack, Evie goes into hiding as a servant in the royal palace where she bides her time until she can find both a new identity and a way to exact revenge. The independent girl struggles to curb her fiery personality in order to remain undetected. Speaking above her station, attracting more attention than a serving girl should, and arguing with unfair orders, she constantly finds herself saddled with extra chores, unable to search for the Chameleon. Meanwhile, her charming friend Aiden proves to be as much trouble as help, carrying secrets of his own.
WHAT IS HIDDEN is a 70,000 word YA Fantasy with series potential. Readers of fairy tale re-tellings such as Cinder by Marissa Meyer or Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George should enjoy this novel, as it takes a new and unique spin on the classic tale of Cinderella.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Lauren Skidmore
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