Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Write a Good Query Letter

Now that my book is all revised and ready to go, it's time to start querying. But first I need to write a good query. *gulp* How do I do that?

Everyone can write a query, but how do we write a great one that will hook agents and make them want to read the book? During my research, I came across quite a few very useful articles, blogs, and websites about writing queries, some by well-known experts in the writing industry.

Step One: Write a Basic Query Letter

How to Write a Query Letter, by Nathan Bransford
Skip over the first two sections and go right over to the "Writing the Darn Thing" part, about three screens down. That's where the fun begins.

According to this post, a query should accomplish two things: make the plot of your book sound awesome, and show the agent that you write well.

Use the query letter mad lib and fill in your own information to get started. That's a great way to learn the basic elements of a query, but of course, it doesn't stop there. You need to personalize it and make it flow well.  Luckily, there's a link to an example of a good query letter, along with links to many other articles about writing queries.  The example is sprinkled with comments about what makes this query stand out.

How to Write a Query, by AgentQuery.Com
According to this site, a query letter should have three concise paragraphs:
  • the hook
  • the mini-synopsis
  • your writer’s biography
Nothing more, nothing less.  It then explains in details how to write each paragraph, with tons of examples, including hooks from well-known novels and a formula that works.

The site even has a Successful Query forum where members can post their successful queries and discuss about it.  Wow, I don't have time to check it out in depth now, but I'm definitely coming back to explore this site.

Step Two: Learn From Success Stories

Query Shark Blog, by Janet Reid
Who could be better than the Query Shark herself to teach someone how to write an awesome query?  Her whole blog is about queries.  The subtitle says it all:  "How To Write Query Letters ... or, really, how to revise query letters so they actually work".

For those of you that are not familiar with The Query Shark, here's how it works.  People send their queries to her, and she basically shreds them to pieces, pointing out all the things that work or don't work, from her viewpoint as an agent.  Sometimes people revise their query and re-send it for another round of comments.  And sometimes, sometimes, they get a YES for an answer and they get to send their whole manuscript to her for consideration.

I'll have to take the time to read many of these queries and learn along the way. So many queries (over 200) and valuable comments in there!  A good place to start would be the section titled "Queries that Got to Yes" in the right column.  Those are shining examples of what a good query looks like.

Successful Queries, by Chuck Sambuchino
Another big name in the writing industry, Chuck Sambuchino (famous for his Guide to Literary Agents blog on Writer's Digest), offers a series of posts about successful queries.  In this series, he posts query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents, along with comments from the agent about why it worked for them.

Keep in mind that no two agents are the same, and what one might really love the other might reject. That's why it's good to look at many different queries and read comments from many different agents.  This website is a gold mine for anyone working on a query.

Step Three: Avoid Common Mistakes

Query Tips, by SM Blooding
Written by someone who's made mistakes and learned from them, this article is full of tips and friendly reminders of what NOT to do in a query.

Do you have any other resources about queries I could add to my list? Let me know!

More sites that were suggested to me:
(I'll keep adding links here as I find them)

Matthew MacNish - Query critiques
Elana Johnson - Information about query letters, and an e-book!
K.M. Walton - Links to sites (click on Writers - Query Info)
Kristi Helvig - Query critique contest every Wednesday
Author2Author - Yay! My query was featured in there! (not sure if they'll have any more contests, but the feedback I received there was very helpful)
James Scott Bell - The Stress Free Query - Great advice on how to write a good query letter


SM Blooding said...

LOL! I'm glad I was able to help by teaching through my follies! LMAO! Unfortunately, my site's down right now as it's on Wordpress, but never fear! It'll be back up tomorrow.

erica and christy said...

I must say...I've read every single one of these helpful posts and I still can't write an amazing query. GAH. I hope you fare better than me! Christy

Emailman said...

This is a fantastic post, Annie! I've tried most of the above and I still had a nightmare :D Only ever got one partial request and one near miss lol

Good luck to anyone querying! You need it :)

Looking forward to your synopsis post, Annie haha!!

Jenna Cooper said...

Hey, I wanted to let you know that I've given you a blog award over on my blog!

Annie McMahon said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! The synopsis is next, Kurt. I have a feeling it will be a little harder than the query. *wince*

And thanks for the blog award, Jenna! Such an honor. :)

Unknown said...

Awesome resources! Glad to have found a fellow middle grade promoter and writer!!

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