The first thing to do in writing a query is to…not write the query yet. Give it some incubation time.
Rather than jumping into your query, take your time to force yourself to define–really define–the project.
You’re ready to write your query when…
- You’ve made sure you have a unique idea. You’ve studied your competition and can define what makes yours a standout.
- The title is enticing (and for nonfiction includes a strong subtitle; yes, you must have a subtitle).
- The book’s structure is shaped at minimum in your mind if not written down.
- You’ve defined your audience (“readers age 6 to 60” eliminates pretty much no one).
- You’ve given thought to how you’ll promote it.
- Ideal preparation: Write the proposal and first three chapters. (After all, the purpose of the query is to convince the agent to ask to see the proposal ergo, it helps to have said proposal ready to submit.)
Where not to begin the query
Your first sentence is important because, like for your book’s first sentence, it sets the tone, highlights a strong point, and launches all that follows with a great ta-da! Not over doing that sentence yet not being bland is the challenge.
I don’t respond well to promises of becoming rich by representing the project or to queries that suggest the book is the most stupendous story since Dickens. Never oversell!
But do begin writing a query with…
Your strongest selling point. Such as, you’re an authority on a topic;, tell me so right upfront. You’ve self-published the book and sold 15,000 copies in six months; I’ll want to hear about that. Your novel has a unique twist; tell me. For example, “Intertwined is a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.” Do you see how quickly I can decide if that idea interests me?
Be sure to…
- Show you are capable of writing a cogent argument for the reasons your book should be successful.
- Present yourself as intelligent and authentic. Avoid all appearances of being a snake-oil salesman. Agents want to work with people they genuinely like. Sometimes we can tell by the query that this is a person we’d enjoy meeting. Obviously, we’ll want to make a more substantial connection with a writer to confirm that sense, but this is what you’re striving for in your query.
Apologize. Don’t use sentence such as, “I’ve never been published,” or “My agent just dropped me,” or “I’ve submitted my project to every publisher I can imagine, and they’ve all turned me down.” Now, if an agent involves you in conversation about your project, you do need to be forthcoming about these issues, but you don’t need to address them in your query. These confessions come later.
Essentials to include when writing a query
- What the book’s hook is.
- How you can reach the intended audience.
- A brief paragraph about who you are and why you’re qualified to write the book.
- What genre or category your book fits in. (Shows you understand what you’re writing.)
- The word count. (Informs me as to whether you understand how long a book in your genre or category should be.)
- Don’t forget to mention the title. If that seems obvious, just guess why I’m listing it…
Now, just for fun, tell us the first sentence in your query.
Ready to write a query to an agent or editor? Here’s a step-by-step guide. Click to tweet.
What to include–and what not to include–in a query to an agent or editor. Click to tweet.