Reading thousands of queries is giving me quite the education. I thought I knew what made a good query before I became a literary assistant – thanks to Query Shark and Molli Nickell and Mary Kole on Writers Digest and the many other helpful folks giving advice.
My query letters weren’t always sparkling, but they got the job done. But now? Now I know SO much more.
Here’s a little tip:
If you have to explain your story, your query isn’t ready.
(If your story can’t be understood without explanation, that’s a whole ‘nother problem.) 😉
Don’t introduce yourself, the characters, or the setting. Just tell me what the story is.
I wish I could show you a real live example from the query mailbox – we had a STELLAR one the other day. But I can’t. Would you want your query posted on someone’s blog? Didn’t think so.
I’ll do my best to give you the idea:
Dear (insert agent name here),
- * WHO are your characters? We don’t need specifics and/or names necessarily. But who’s the story about? WHAT are those characters doing? WHAT’s the conflict? WHERE is the story set? Give me a few basic details. Place, time, real or fantastic.
- **Haven’t won an award or workshopped the story with a well-known writer or editor? That’s okay! Just give me the comparable titles and/or authors for your story. If you can’t tell me that, you need to read more. And for the love of heaven, do NOT describe yourself as the next INSERT FAMOUS BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OR BOOK here. It’s one thing to say your culinary wizard school novel is Harry Potter meets The Truth About Twinkie Pie. It’s something else to say you’re the next J.K.Rowling and some lucky agent is going to make millions of dollars on your book. And not a good something else.
- ***Relevant is the key word here. If you haven’t published anything, that’s okay. No need to highlight that fact. If you are published in, say, a professional journal, that’s not relevant. I don’t tell agents I’ve been published in the special libraries association journal. They don’t care. I do tell them that I’ve been published in an online children’s magazine. Same thing goes for interests. If your MG novel is about the chess club and how they solve mysteries, by all means mention that you’re a former state chess champion. If your main hobby is raising ducks for their feathers and making pillows, I don’t need to know that. (Unless your book is a picture book about ducks…)
- ****Again, relevant is the key word. Do you have an MFA or other such degree? From where? Have you studied with a well-known author or been mentored by one? Do you belong to any writers’ associations or attend conferences? I don’t mention that I have an MLS – but I do say that I’m a former children’s librarian. That lets agents know I know my audience. Well. And that I read lots of children’s books.
- *****This shows confidence, and it’s professional. But please, please, PLEASE follow the directions from the agency’s website. If they ask for a five page sample, include five pages. If they ask for the first chapter, send that. If they do not ask for any sort of sample, do NOT send anything.