Query blues

Submission protocol, query etiquette, and strategies that work

Query blues

Postby WilliamMJones » 29 Dec 2010, 13:35

First of all, hi everyone, I'm back. I had a very stressful two months, but I'm jumping back into the query process with both feet.

And hitting a solid brick wall. I know I have a good story. I've edited and rewrote. But my query letter just doesn't translate that. So, I'm wondering, does anyone have tips or techniques for writing that first sentence? The one that hooks the agent, that makes them stop and say "Wow, I need to pay attention to this query."
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Re: Query blues

Postby Down the well » 29 Dec 2010, 13:45

WilliamMJones wrote:So, I'm wondering, does anyone have tips or techniques for writing that first sentence? The one that hooks the agent, that makes them stop and say "Wow, I need to pay attention to this query."


An interesting main character and a clear conflict are what most agents say they are looking for, regardless of genre. Get those things up front and don't be coy about it. Character, conflict, and stakes. In my opinion, those are the must-haves of a good query.
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Re: Query blues

Postby Watcher55 » 29 Dec 2010, 13:55

Maybe you can post it on the "queries" forum and we can pick it apart and provide constructive critisicism.
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Re: Query blues

Postby HillaryJ » 29 Dec 2010, 21:35

He already had it in the Queries forum, if I remember correctly (and if this is the same manuscript).

In general, I see the same components repeated in successful queries regardless of genre. Some have that snappy, clever hook line, but many do not.

What good queries have in common is a rising sense of excitement. You have the main character, who is interesting because of this. You have the obstacles he's faced with, the decisions he has to make, the forces playing beside or against him. In 250 words, you have to make an agent believe in your world (though you don't have to tell them every facet of it) and make them care about what happens there. Tease them with a little story and make them want to read more. You're not summarizing your entire plot. The purpose of the query is just to entire someone enough that they want to read more.

The query must have a unique tone, beyond the "and then...and then...and then he must choose between..."

If I remember correctly, your story is contemporary fantasy, and YA. (If not, I truly apologize!) If it is, then don't let yourself get bogged down in world-building, in laying down history, or in talking about your character's journey in thematic generalities. Don't talk about his "journey" at all, if you can help it. Use specifics, and make it intense. Try this "Pitch Workshop" from agent Kristin Nelson http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2007/11/blog-pitch-workshop-part-xi.html. Read other successful queries and try to capture their immediacy.

If all else fails and you've got the means, take a Pitch Webinar. Writers Digest does some, and other agents occasionally offer them.

Good luck.
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Re: Query blues

Postby wilderness » 03 Jan 2011, 00:26

I'm sorry about your query blues. This is a tough process and everyone gets down at some point.

The essential component of a query, IMO, is it has to pop. What makes it pop might be different for different novels; maybe it's really funny, or has a clever voice or maybe it has such a unique premise that you can't bear not to read it.

I took a look at your query, and I have to admit it is missing a certain je ne sais quoi. For one thing, I haven't got much of an idea about the characters' personalities -- it is very plot-driven. The voice is pretty neutral and the premise doesn't seem that unique to me. A war in some mysterious other lands -- well that's a common fantasy idea. So my advice is to dig for unique aspects of your book -- I'm sure they are there :) Research other fantasy and then tell us what is in your book that isn't in others. Also, try to convey your voice. A unique writing style can help you stand out.

I also advise you to read tons of queries. Hundreds of them. Read some of the ones agents have posted from their clients. Read the Miss Snark query crapometer archives. Read all of Query Shark. Soon, you'll pick up an ear for queries.

Hope that helps, and know that you're not the only one with query blues! Good luck!
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Re: Query blues

Postby Mary-Catharine » 20 Jan 2011, 07:06

Hey William,

You want to know something funny? I believe you. You've say you've written something that's good, and I believe you. There are, indeed, many great writers on this forum... however, we are not marketers!
Here is some great advice I received from some one on this site that just might help you. It was a basic rule, and four easy steps to writing a decent query.

First, write your query then ask yourself these four questions.

1. Who is your main character?
2. What does your main character want?
3. What is keeping your main character from getting what he/she wants?
4. What really bad thing will happen if they don't get it.

If you can't answer these questions, you don't have a plot. If you've got the query blues like I do, I think you and I can work out with helping each other out! I'd love to hear what kind of advice you have.
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