Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Queries--because you just have to.

Nobody likes to write a query, but alas, it is inevitable in the writing world. Many agents and publishers require a query letter before they'll even consider looking at your writing, so it is imperative that you can make that thing rock!

So how do you do it? What makes a query stand out?

The first step is knowing who you're sending it to. Do your research. Be sure that the agent or editor you're submitting to would be remotely interested in your work. In other words, do not send erotica to an editor who publishes science fiction. The more you do your research and narrow down your choices, the better your chances of getting a partial or full request on your manuscript.

Second step, is to be sure you've understood the submission guidelines. They're all different. If that agent/editor requests the first ten pages along with that query, make sure you send it! If they don't request anything, do not send anything. Do not send bribes, head shots of yourself in your best literary pose, or gimmicks of any kind. If they do not specify format for your query letter, 12pt times new roman font is the norm, single spaced. One page. No more.

Now we get to the goods. What's in a query?
  • The hook
  • The mini synopsis
  • The credentials
  • The close
Those are the key elements that will make up your query. It isn't a resume or your life story, and telling the recipient that you've wanted to write since the 4th grade, is not relevant. It's one page, introducing your book and yourself (briefly).

You should be able to incorporate those elements in as little as three paragraphs. Learn more about the person you will be sending your letter to. Some agents like you to start out by telling them your name and why you chose them specifically(but try not to suck up too much). Others want you to get right to the point.

The hook, is a single line that does just that--hooks your reader. A hook can start with when something happened (When Harry met Sally), give the era or setting in which the story takes place (In Jacksonville North Carolina, at the start of the Civil War), or set up your main character(James can't seem to get his mind off that night when).
The synopsis is where you summarize your entire book in one paragraph. Woohoo! The best way I've found to do this, is expand on your main character, her goal and what's holding her back. One suggestion I've heard is to read the jacket flaps of some of your favorite novels and see how it's been done.
The credentials are all about you. What makes you the right person to write this book? Previous publications? Affiliations?
The close is where you politely thank the reader for his/her time and wrap it up.

And that pretty much sums it up! Agent Nathan Bransford offers up some sample winning queries on his blog from time to time. Be sure to check him out! I find his query mad-lib to be helpful.

**NOTE** If you are writing fiction (and if you're reading this, I assume you are), DO NOT refer to your novel as fiction. "Novel" is fiction by default.

If you've got anything to add, feel free to let us know in the comments section.


  1. Anyone who is querying has to talk to Elana Johnson. She has this fantastic eBook called Query to the Call that's an unbelievable resource for writers. Best of all if you buy the book you get a free query critique from Elana! Happy querying!

  2. Thanks for the tip!
    Here is Elana's website, for those of us interested:

  3. I have Elana's book and love it - I intend to take her up on the query critique very soon :)

  4. Great advice! One thing you mentioned that I think is SO important is keeping the synopsis of your book brief. When I was querying I actually had agents comment on how much story I was able to convey in a few sentences in my query. Making your query concise and to the point (while still informative) helps showcase your writing ability.

  5. the voice needs to show through your query too so it stands out :)

  6. I love the don't call your novel fiction! So many people do that and it's a big red flag with agents!

  7. Elana's book is the best!

    I would like to add (having learned the hard way) don't query in December. I think agents must be trying to clear out their inboxes to have a fresh start with the new year, because all I ever received was form rejections galore.

    Great article!

  8. Thanks, Suzette (pretty name). It's funny you mention December. November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I've heard agent Colleen Lindsay, I think it was, jokingly refer to December as NaNoRegMo--National Novel Rejection Month. They get such an influx of poorly written first draft novels in December!


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