Saturday, September 15, 2012

Caution: Query Under Construction

The lucky winner of Jody Hedlund's latest release, Unending Devotion, is Karen K. Congratulations!

And now, a little about queries. Dun, dun, dun...

For the first time in a looooong time, I recently sat down to write a new query. And since I have the attention span of a 9-year-old boy, I'd forgotten all the great lessons I'd once learned. And so the research began.

Tips for writing successful queries are endless, as are agents' and editors' tastes in what they want to see in a query. As always, it's important to check the guidelines for specific agents and editors and follow those guidelines exactly.

Here's some helpful information:

Clarity Rules The Day

Scott Eagan, literary agent for Greyhaus Literary Agency, wrote this great post: Clarity In Queries--The Biggest Reason Editors and Agents Say No. It's a great post, and definitely worth a read. Eagan reminds us to answer these questions in our query:

  1. Title, genre and word count
  2. What makes your story unique
  3. Who the characters are
  4. What is their goal, motivation and conflict
  5. What is the central conflict in the story
  6. What is the theme or "take-away" for the author
Query Writing Basics has an excellent resource, Query Writing Basics, which explains what a query letter is, and what should or shouldn't be in one.

Style and Voice

One lesson I remembered is that our queries should whet the appetite of agents and editors. They should reflect the tone and voice of the manuscript. We should choose strong, specific words that quickly announce to the pros what our book is about.

Read Successful Queries

The links on provide plenty of samples of successful queries. When writing my new query, I dragged out my previous query that had caught my agent's attention. It was helpful to once again see how I'd whittled down my own novel into concise paragraphs with plenty of flavor.

Hook, Setup, Conflict

Elana Johnson, super person, amazing author, and Queen of the Query, has great tips for writing queries on her blog. Check out her posts on The Hook, The Setup, and The Conflict

On Bubblecow, Author Gary Smailes wrote The Query Letter That Won Me An Agent And A Four Book Deal (And Why It Was So Successful). It's interesting to see the author break it all down and point out what made it work.

Is my query finished? Heck no! There's plenty of work to be done. But studying the basics helped lead me in the right direction. 

Have you written a query letter lately? Do you like or loathe the process? Can you share any query tips with the rest of us?


  1. Welcome to the query pool. There is no lifeguard on duty. No running. Beverages are permitted, but no glass containers. And don't eat within an hour of swimming. (Because this might make you nauseous.)

    The only query tip I have beyond all the awesome ones you provided is: Don't let the process grind you down.

    Good luck, Julie!

  2. I'm about to begin the process again. I have a bit of it written, but it still needs to be fleshed out. I've heard that every query should have character, conflict, and choice. This makes it easy to break the meat of the query down into three paragraphs and save the last for housekeeping, ie, word count, genre, market appeal, and any personalization you might want to include. And of course, once you have your query written, I highly recommend submitting it to the qqqe. Matt really knows how to explain what's working, and what's not. Good luck querying, Julie!

  3. I just went there, too. I had to read back up on it and I went to a couple of the same sources, though you list so many more. Thanks!

    The process is hard, but in some twisted way, I really enjoy the challenge of it. I think my only bit of advice is to not forget the stakes. That's a problem I've seen a lot on critique boards. :)

  4. Oh those queries! I'm glad you posted your research today because I'm about to take on one of these demons, and, like you, have forgotten a lot of the things I need. Oy!

  5. I wrote my query so long ago, I don't even remember what I said! If I ever have to do another one, I'd rely heavy on what I've learned from Matthew at the QQQE.

  6. Is this the timeliest post ever or what? Thanks for life preserver.

  7. Oooh, I'm so glad a couple of you mentioned Matt McNish's QQQE. Let me get that link for everyone...

    *plays elevator music*

    Ok, here it is...

    Great query critiques there!

  8. Thank you for sharing the excellent tips on writing a query. I know yours will be wonderful. I also hope you'll share it with us. :)

  9. Just in time!! I so, so needed this as I'll be getting back into the query letters soon.

  10. Those are great resources - Elana is pure brilliance and QT is invaluable. I'd also add Agent Query Connect - there are lots of links and forums on how to write a letter and lots of people to help polish the letters too :)

  11. thanks for the great tips! i actually don't *hate* queries, its the synopsis that kills me!

  12. Queries are so hard. It's hard to not info dump or be too vague and to nail the voice. Good luck!

  13. It's been a while, and I'm sure I've forgotten a lot. Thanks for all the great tips and reminders! If you need another eye for yours, you know I'm always here!

  14. What I've found is that queries are the opposite of manuscripts. Where manuscripts tend to start bare bones & work up, layer upon layer, queries typically start off being too long with too much substance. It takes time to pare it down to the very heart of the conflict. But if you include the 3 C's, character, conflict, & choice, and do it under 250 words, your on the right track.