Friday, August 26, 2011

Making the Best Query Ever



How does a writer sell their story, their masterpiece, their baby, to an agent in only a few paragraphs? Can you really write a foolproof query that will snag their admin's attention? What's the secret to unlocking their curiosity about the story you've told?

Well, I loved the wise, thoughtful comments everyone provided on my last post about writing a synopsis so much that I decided to follow it up with a post on queries. Let me just say that you guys are all good....very, very good at what you do, and your advice has been invaluable. I think hashing out the synopsis is a big part of the journey on the way to penning a great query for agents.

So what does a query need that sets it apart from a synopsis or a even a quick pitch for that matter? What information has to come across right away and how do you make the writing style reflect the way you wrote your novel? How do you make your query stand out...in a good way? 

21 comments:

  1. I'm looking forward to seeing what people wiser than me have to say about this :-)

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  2. For me, a quick pitch is all about the hook. A query is hook plus substance. I want to care about the situation, but I also want to care about a protagonist in those couple of query paragraphs. Overall, I'll ditto Sarah, and wait to see what others have to say :)

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  3. Once again, you've got to nail that hook. That one or two lines that makes them want to read more.

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  4. I suck I tell you. I've spent tons of times visiting blogs that are supposed to help with the whole querying process and give examples. It all sounds lovely when someone else is doing it, but when I sit in front of my own manuscript I draw a blank or write too much. I intend to save whatever feedback you get on this post. I could just be siking myself out with my own thinking. :)

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  5. I have no answer as I'm much too new to this game, but I'm looking forward to reading this discussion and learning from others. Great topic!

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  6. Short and to the point. Great hook and short synopsis for the story and then a few details and professional stuff about you. "Just the facts, ma'm!"

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  7. It's really just a matter of presenting the inciting incident that sets your story in motion. What happens to your character in the first thirty to fifty pages that justifies an entire novel be written to resolve it? That's your hook, and that's all most agents want to know at the query stage.

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  8. Nice to meet you Mark. Nice blog.

    A query is about the 1st 30-50 pages, the inciting incident. It should read like the blurb on the back of a book.

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  9. I wish I had input here: but alas, I don't.

    thx for the tips... everyone.

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  10. I'm with Laila. I sit in front of my comp and contemplate writing a query, and I freeze. And I should know better! I've attended an in-person class by the amazing Elana Johnson on it. I have the tools. I need to get a grip.

    Speaking of Elana, she's written an ebook that's FREE called "From the Query to the Call" and there's more information here:
    http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/p/writing-query-letter.html

    Now I'm going to go take my own dang advice. =D

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  11. Hey, Mark! Thanks for commenting on my blog! It's great to see you again!

    I have written tons of queries over the last two years (since I started writing), and they have certainly gotten better and better as I've gone along.

    I used to start by introducing myself, but now I start with a catching sentence or question that gets their attention. I write the synopsis in the same "voice" as I wrote my novel. Then, after the synopsis, I tell the word count and other info that I want them to know about the manuscript.

    NOTE: In a query, I do not include personal info unrelated to publishing (i.e. I went to UNC - Chapel Hill, I have two kids) or anything about my publishing past unless it is relevant to this query (that is, I didn't include my HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN pub credits in my query for my novel).

    You can check out my blog post about The Query here: http://laurenspathtopub.blogspot.com/2011/02/query.html

    Hope this helps!

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  12. Wish I knew... so far L.G.'s is the one that appeals.

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  13. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x
    http://lola-x.blogspot.com

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  14. The first paragraph should be very short, introducing your main character and the problem she's facing. No backstory, NO SETUP.

    Also, some great advice from the internets:
    Per Brodi Aston, author of EVERNEATH - your hook (first paragraph) should be equal parts desirable and unique. (Here: http://brodiashton.blogspot.com/p/frequently-asked-questions.html)

    Per Nathan Bransford, agent-turned-author:
    Your query letter isn't a tease - it's a short, grabby summary of your whole book. So don't hesitate to say what happens in your book.
    http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03/secret-strength-of-killer-queries.html

    Happy query writing! It's more torture than the synopsis, I think.

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  15. I try to do the same thing I do with the synopsis, just...shorter :D I'll also often start off by doing a one line or tweet length pitch. That helps me get things condensed. Then I expand from there.

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  16. Hey, Mark! One more thing about the query: In the past in my query letter, I would compare my story to similar published books, just to give the agent/editor an idea of what my work was like. But I don't do that anymore because some agents would write back (on my children's book manuscripts) that my manuscript really wasn't different enough from the ones I'd included as comparisons. Another writer told me that if the agent/editor doesn't like the books you're comparing your work to, then that can hurt your chances, too.

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  17. oh, oops. I hadn't had a chance to visit your blog until now, after I posted about queries. Great writers think alike ;)

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  18. I'm sick because I actually like writing queries. It's all about the hook and the voice. It took me a while to realize how important voice is in a query, but I really think that's what makes that one little letter stand out amidst the slush.

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  19. Sarah – K:)

    Jess – Quick pitch, situation, protagonist, all very essential points, indeed:)

    Loree – One or two lines, it seems the hook on the query must be as good as the hook in the book itself.

    Laila – Lol, no worries, we all struggle with queries. It is pretty easy to psych ourselves out on tasks like this.

    Julie – It’s okay, we’re all still learning:)

    Alex – Short, to the point. Yup, that’s what makes it so tough I guess.

    L.G. – Hmm, elaborating on the hook, but just a little, that might give the opening paragraph what it need, thanks.

    M Pax – Nice to meet you too:) Succinct and useful definition, thanks!

    Jeff – All good:)

    Donna – I feel your frustration. Thanks for the link, I’ll totally check it out!

    Lauren – Same here:) I think you have something there concerning the “voice” of the novel being in the “voice” of the query itself. Doing this effectively has proven a bit illusive for me thus far.

    Dave – Yup, L.G. has a great point.

    Lola X – Thanks for visiting:)

    Leigh Ann – Character, problem, that’s all…sounds good. Thanks for the leads too! Nathan Bransford is always a good source of info and advice.

    Michelle – That’s been my exact thinking so far, and what I’ve been trying to do.

    Lynda – They do indeed;)

    Stephanie – I knew it, there’s always one of you who enjoys these difficult tasks;) Making your query stand out from the other slush is key, truer words were never said:)

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  20. Great question, and you have some wonderful answers as well. Thanks for commenting on my blog.

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  21. Hey, Mark! I'm back!

    I just posted on The Query. You can see it here - I hope it helps: http://laurenspathtopub.blogspot.com/2011/09/query-what-to-include-and-what-to-leave.html

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