Q is for Query
Writers know how difficult it is to write a good query letter. Opinions and advice differs from source-to-source. So I decided to go and ask someone who actually works with query letters (and the slush pile) from day-to-day to tell us how it really works. Go ahead, Hoda.
I was delighted when Ronel asked me to write a guest post for her blog. As an editorial assistant, I’ve worked through the slush pile quite a bit, and I’ve learned what helps make a submission stand out (and what doesn’t). So for today’s post, I’d like to give a few tips for writing a query letter.
Don’t start with backstory:
- Sometimes when reading a query letter, I notice the first paragraph is information on the main character – backstory – that isn’t necessary at the moment, and the second paragraph is actually where the hook begins. You want to grab an agent/editor’s attention as soon as possible, and so it’s best to avoid starting with mundane information. Read the first paragraph of your query letter and ask yourself if it’s really necessary. If you remove it – does it still make sense? Does the query now start in a more interesting place? If so, you might want to consider moving some things around.
- When critiquing a query, one of the things I note most is the need for specifics. It doesn’t do you any favors to be vague – such as “X must overcome many obstacles/problems/etc.” or “If X doesn’t accomplish Y, he will lose it all.” That’s why often my critiques will come in the form of questions: what problems/obstacles are you referring to? What does losing “it all” mean? Specify.
Mention the stakes:
- Don’t forget to mention what’s at stake for your MC. What does the MC stand to lose if they don’t reach their objective? You want the stakes to be high and – of course – specific.
A good rule for query letter is to answer the following questions:
- Who is your MC?
- What do they want?
- What is standing in their way?
- What happens if they don’t get it?
Don’t forget what you’re selling – your novel:
- Sometimes, I see queries where the author talks about their novel for one paragraph, and then spends the rest talking about themselves. It’s the novel you want to sell, and so that’s what your query letter should focus on. Of course, a short bio at the end of the query is perfectly fine.
Do your research:
- This might seem obvious, but trust me when I say doing your research already puts you ahead. I can’t tell you how excited I am to dive into a submission when the author has a well-written query and respects our guidelines. Read as many articles on the subject as you can; you might learn the basics, or something smaller but significant – for example, many agents discourage beginning your query letter with a question (“What would you do if…?”).
Have someone look it over:
- Ask a CP to look over your query letter to make sure it isn’t confusing to someone who hasn’t read the full MS. Although it may seem obvious to you, someone else might have questions that could help clarify things.
Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule
Hoda Agharazi is a YA writer, freelance editor, and editorial assistant at Entangled Publishing. She is currently doing her master’s in English Literature. You can follow her on Twitter @HodaAgharazi, and you can book her services or read more writing tips on hodaedits.com
Do you have any questions for Hoda? How has your own experience with writing query letters been?
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