Okay, I'm really sorry for the long delay in posting this! Fortunately though, the craziness in my life has died down somewhat so now I can tackle this overdue post.
Anyway, I wrote down most of my main querying tips in "Query Tips & Suggestions, Part I" but I figured I'd add a few more bullet-points that I found helpful during my search for an agent. So here goes nothin'!
1.) Minimize the names.
Since a query letter is only 200 to 300-words, try not to bog it down with too many characters. You should definitely name your protagonist and antagonist, but you don't need much beyond that. (Unless your story has a heavy romantic element. Then you should probably mention the love interest.)
For my own query, I tried to keep things simple by naming only two characters: Danny (my protag) and Abaddon (my antag). I do mention Danny's mother as well, but she keeps a low profile and I don't actually give her name--only her relation to my protagonist.
So...two names are fine. Three names can get a little crowded. And four names are (usually) a bit too much.
2.) Stay away from those cliches!
When I first started drafting my query, I peppered it with phrases that I thought were really clever. "Danny's life gets turned upside down!" "He's the Earth's last hope!" That sort of thing.
Then I read a bunch of queries on Absolute Write and I noticed a lot of them had the very same wording as my own query. Hey, not fair! Those were MY phrases!
But they weren't my phrases. They were cliches! And I can only imagine the number of cliches agents must read in a day...
So...try to purge your query of cliches or try to put your own spin on them. For instance, the last sentence of my query is a bit cliche but I tried to personalize it for Danny's situation. Instead of saying, "The future of the Earth is on the line," I tried to put my own spin on it by saying, "The future of the Earth--and his mom--are on the line." It's only a slight difference, but I think it's an important one.
3.) White space is your friend.
This is one of my little writing quirks, but I think it applies well to queries. You see, I love short paragraphs. They make me happy. I get bored when I encounter a huge block of text--my eyes start drifting and my brain starts wandering--which is why I appreciate a lot of white space in the stuff that I read. It keeps me intrigued.
So...avoid big blocky paragraphs in your query. Break them apart. Be nice to the agent's eyes!
4.) Sweat the small stuff, but not too much.
Spelling and grammar are pretty important in a query. After all, this is your first impression to an agent and you want to make it a good one. I'm sure one or two typos can be easily overlooked, but five or six? Ten or more? Most agents probably reach for the delete button at that point.
BUT! There is a but. Please, don't worry too much about the small stuff. We're human. We make mistakes. We all have a story about sending out a query and then discovering we did something horrid, like spell a word incorrectly or send the wrong manuscript (yes, I actually did this!). And it's okay! Agents understand. They're human too (albeit wonderfully magical human beings who sparkle in the sunlight!)
I'll be honest... When I queried Jim, I had a typo in my FIRST sentence! Ack! I didn't catch it until I had sent it out and I was mortified. Mortified. But you know what? Jim overlooked it! So...don't freak out if you accidentally leave a typo in a query. You'll be fine!
5.) Query widely but do it smartly.
I write mostly MG so it was a bit tough to find agents who are looking for middle grade projects. It seems like everyone wants YA, YA, YA nowadays so I felt a little restricted in my agent search. *Sniff*
When I compiled my big list of agents, I added the agents who represent MG and I crossed off the ones who only wanted YA. But I was still left in a quandary. What about the agents who rep YA but don't say anything about repping MG? Should I send them a query anyway?
So this is what I did... I googled these agents to see what they had represented in the past. If the agent's list skewed more toward upper-YA or contemporary YA, then I'd skip them. But if the agent's list skewed more toward tween novels or included one or two MG titles, then I'd add them to my query list. Easy as that!
Actually, this is why I ended up querying Jim. Jim's list consists mostly of YA and adult works, but I noticed he repped a middle grade fantasy series a couple years ago. And so, I figured I might as well query him. I really didn't think anything would come out of my query since Jim doesn't rep much MG or science fiction, but I guess something clicked! Plus, it also helped that Jim started to look for more MG right when I sent him my query. So luck was on my side.
Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is this: don't be afraid to take a few chances! Sometimes we get so bogged down with query do's and don'ts that we might miss out on a great opportunity. So...go ahead and take a risk! You never know what might happen.