A few months ago, I started “The Query Seal’s Den” blog to show potential authors how not to write a query letter. I like showing real examples of what not to do. Today, I’ve decided to list the things that make a great query.
So here we go:
Many writers try to sound fancy and intelligent in their letters, so they write long, wordy sentences.
The purpose of a query is to get an agent or publisher to read your book. It is not supposed to make you look smart or fancy. From my experience, queries that try too hard usually involve awkward word choice, irrelevant fluff, and long and wordy sentences that are hard to follow.
Agents and publishers are busy people. They should be able to read your letter once or twice to understand your book’s content. They do not have time to read your query letter multiple times.
Write simple and short sentences. Use the formula: Subject → Verb → Direct Object
Trust me. Short and sweet sentences are your best friends.
Specifics about your books will make your query letter interesting. Vagueness and generalizations do not grab anybody’s interest. We want to know what makes your book different from all the others out there.
And when I say specifics, I do not mean the character’s hair color, his favorite foods, or his grandparents’ names. I mean specifics about the CHARACTER’S CHOICES, CHARACTER’S MOTIVATIONS, CONSEQUENCES, STAKES, AND PLOT.
Show, Don’t Tell
Telling instead of showing is my biggest pet peeve. I want to feel a connection with the main character, and I will feel that connection when the writer shows me the main character’s personality, motivations, and problems. Telling makes the text and character dull. You don’t want that.
To The Point
A query letter should be between 200 to 400 words. Don’t waste space with set up, your feelings about the publishing industry, or anything that does not relate to the plot of your book. Get to the plot and the reason why we should care about the book as soon as you can.
I understand that it is a challenge to condense your 55,000 to 90,000 word novel into three paragraphs. However, great writers know which words are important and which ones are not. Be one of those great writers.
Don’t be rude. Don’t cuss. Don’t be too informal. Proofread for mistakes and typos. Professionalism has never hurt anyone.
Your query is your book’s resume. You want your query to attract an agent or publisher. Your query should be easy to understand, specific, show and not tell, to the point, and professional.
It should also answer all of the following questions:
Who is the main character?
What does s/he want?
What’s stopping the main character? What choices does s/he face?
What is at stake? What are the consequences for the main character’s choices? Who is the antagonist?
(And yes, use this formula for memoirs as well, except you will write your query in the first person instead of third.)