Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Writing a Query

I've been doing some query critiques lately because I'm a weirdo and I actually enjoy doing them. Even if I don't *have* to do one, I do one because it's a good way for me to capture the true heart of my story and make sure I stay on track while writing the actual story.

Anyway, in doing these critiques, I've seen a similar issue: telling not showing (and ladies, if you're reading this, I'm not trying to call anyone out, it's a really common issue.)

If you want, just stop reading here and go to the queen of critiques, the Query Shark. You'll see.

But if you're too scared to go there just yet (and I don't blame you,) I promise I'll be nice.

My query letters are pretty formulaic, but hey, they've worked!


Please insert real agent's name. Some people opt for Ms. Smith. I write Dear Jane.We're all adults here, and that's how I write my business emails at the day job. But I don't think you'll get crucified for either one. Just make sure you use the RIGHT name.

I saw on Manuscript Wishlist you're looking for romance novels centered around crafting, and I think TWO BASKET-WEAVING HEARTS will interest you. It's complete at 80,000 words and will appeal to fans of KNITTING TOGETHER and PAINTING TO PARADISE.

Key elements of the first paragraph:

  • Say why you are querying the agent
  • Give the title of your manuscript in all caps along with word count. If it is 80,253 words, round down to 80,000.
  • Comp titles if applicable, although sometimes I skip these, and sometimes I reference one of the agent's own books. Just don't say something like, "My novel is the next Harry Potter."
Kristin Jones is a twice divorced copy editor with two sons whom she hasn't spoken to in over a year. Her cat died last week, and she's on the verge of becoming a hermit when her best friend buys her a pass for basket-weaving classes at the local community center. Kristin is not going. She has no interest in basket-weaving, but after too much wine one night, she finds herself sitting at a table with a pile of reeds next to an incredibly gorgeous guy.

Over the next few weeks, Kristin gets to know her way around a basket and the hunk, Adam, a recently widowed former mechanic with early onset rheumatoid arthritis. The basket-weaving is to keep his fingers nimble. But what neither of them expected to find in the bindings of their baskets was laughter, love, and a renewed passion for living.

This is the meat of your query and where writers tend to get lost. Do not use this space to say, "This is a story about starting new ventures and finding love after fifty in unexpected places." NO! Introduce us to the characters (Kristin and Adam), the inciting incident (the basket-weaving classes), and the problem, (they both think life is over until they find each other.) Bam! That's your query.

I'm a member of RWA, and my short story, Quilting Dreams, won the FASPA award for best short story about crafting. Per your submission guidelines, the first ten pages are pasted below. I look forward to hearing from you.


The closing. Here's where you mention any qualifications you have for writing the novel, any awards you've won, any other publications you've made plus what materials you've included. This varies from agent to agent. Make sure you check the agent's latest guidelines before sending your query. They are known to change, take time off from queries, or move to a new agency. I do keep a spreadsheet, but right before I click the send button, I check their website one more time to make sure everything is accurate. Please do this. Not following instructions is such a quick way to get auto-trashed, and you don't want to do that. 

Please keep in mind, this is not the only way to write a query, it's just my way. Most importantly, make sure the summary of your book is in the best shape possible along with your opening pages. All of the other stuff can be overlooked if your writing is amazing. 


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