August 6, 2010

Query Tips & Suggestions

As you can see from my query drafts this week, I kind of suck at writing queries! It took me a long, long time to figure out how to distill my 60,000-word manuscript into a concise 300-word package. It's kind of embarassing how long it took me to write something halfway decent!

But during my year-long search for an agent, I learned A LOT about query writing. I learned about formatting and salutations. I learned about hooks and voice. I learned about what I should do and what I certainly shouldn't do. And I learned it all through a lot of trial and error—plenty and plenty of trial and error.

So without further adieu, here are some of the tips I learned along the way:

1.) Read successful queries.

This is hands-down the most helpful thing I did to craft my query. I've always been a person who learns by example and query-writing has been no exception. You can preach to me all day about the do's and don'ts of querying, but nothing will really sink in until you show me some real-life examples.

And so, if you're like me, make sure to read a bunch of successful queries to see what has caught an agent's eye. Study them. Dissect them. Look for what they have in common. Not only are successful queries a great learning tool, they're super inspirational as well!

Where to look for these queries? Check out this thread at Absolute Write. And this one too. Also, you might want to read the "Success Stories" at Querytracker.net.

2.) Get a copy of Elana Johnson's e-book, "From the Query to the Call."

Seriously. This book helped me SO much. Before I read Elana's book, I had received ONE full request out of 25+ queries. But after I read the book, my request rate went up! Way up!

Basically, Elana breaks down the query into four essential components (the hook, the setup, the conflict, and the stakes) and gives advice on the whole querying process. Additionally, the book offers numerous examples of successful queries, which I found to be invaluable.

At the end of the day, you don't have to order this book—after all, many writers find ways to craft a great query on their own. But if you've been pulling out your hair in an attempt to write a query, then I'd highly recommend it. It's a fast read and it's very helpful!

3.) Spend time on that hook!

I mentioned this yesterday, but I'll say it again—spend time on your first sentence! Since agents read dozens of queries everyday, your first sentence needs to shine like a 90-watt lightbulb. I went through multiple hooks before I found one that worked:

Attempt A: "The sixth-grade sort of sucks for Danny Singer."

Attempt B: "Twelve-year-old Danny Singer has never stepped foot on the Moon."

Attempt C & D...

Attempt E: "Twelve-year-old Danny Singer doesn't think aliens are real—until he finds one standing on his front porch."

A and B aren't terrible, but they're not the most attention-grabbing of hooks. Of course, Attempt E isn't perfect either, but I think it does spark some interest. An alien knocking on a sixth-grader's door? Whaa? Sounds weird! Maybe I should read on...

That's the reaction you're aiming for. What hook will make an agent want to read more? Just remember to keep it short: around 40-words or less.

4.) Try to keep it between 200 to 300 words.

I know that 300-words doesn't sound like a lot—and that 200-words sounds even worse—but try to keep your query short and concise. I think 300-words should be ample enough room to 1.) hook the agent, 2.) introduce your MC and conflict, and 3.) tell a little bit about yourself.

During my own querying process, I tried to break my query into thirds: 2/3 to tell to the story and 1/3 to tell about the book and myself, (ie short bio, word count, genre, etc.). There's no need to include a paragraph about the themes in your novel or what your Aunt Edna said about it. Stick to the story and you'll be fine!

Funnily enough, my last query ended up being 315-words (I tried so hard to cut out 15 words but I couldn't!) so it's okay if you go a little over or a little under... Just not too much!

5.) Get your query critiqued.

I'm gonna tell you a big regret of mine: I never had my query critiqued. (Okay, maybe I asked my husband to read it but he doesn't count!) Frankly, I was too scared and too wimpy to post my query for review on Absolute Write or the Blueboards. Which is probably why I struggled so much to get my query just right—because I was doing it all on my own!

So don't make the same mistake I did! Post your query for review online. Or take it to your critique group. Writers are nice and they want to help!

Okay, stay tuned for tomorrow for more tips! I'm very long-winded so I don't want to bore you with an encyclopedia-like post!

4 comments:

  1. great tips. I really need to work on my hook - especially as my current WIP is character drive and the premise itself isn't all that hook-y...

    I should look into that book too.

    Oh, and I love the evolution of your hook :) well done.

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  2. great tips. I really need to work on my hook - especially as my current WIP is character drive and the premise itself isn't all that hook-y...

    I should look into that book too.

    Oh, and I love the evolution of your hook :) well done.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I also suffer from the please-don't-tear-my-query-apart-if-I-post-it-online syndrome. It took a lot for me to get it up on Query Tracker, and people helped me A LOT.

    Guess that's the most important part of the process, right? Kill yourself writing that baby, then let people tell you how much it sucks :)

    Great post!

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  4. Caroline, this has been tremendously helpful. Though our query is nowhere near perfect, I agree with everything you said and think that getting it critiqued is HUGE. We put ours second or third draft of it on QLH and man did it get torn up. But, it emerged shiny, sparkly and much better than before. Good work and thanks again for sharing the process!!!

    ReplyDelete