This week, my good writing buddy, Diane Bohannan, joins us to share her insights into writing an awesome query letter. Diane lives in North Texas with her husband and three kids. She focuses on YA fantasy and science fiction. She is the most enthusiastic encourager I have ever met. Enjoy!
I feel for all of us writers. Writing a query is crazy hard. We’ve spent forever writing our 300-page novel and now it’s time to sum it up and make our characters sparkle in 250-300 words.
In July, I attended the super fantastic DFW Writers Conference and had the opportunity to learn from some agents and editors exactly what they are looking for in a query!
YAY! And let me say, they all wanted different things. So. There’s that. Do your research! 🙂 Most only accept email queries, so keep that in mind.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves, pour a cup of coffee or glass of wine and get to it. We might have to write several queries slanted to the agents and editors of we choose.
1. Most of the agents said they read queries after work. Some said right before they shut their eyes! Our words must grab them! Keep them awake!
*Make it interesting.
*Be precise and keep it short.
2. Give the title, word count, and genre up front. (These agents wanted this information first. Some may want it at the end. It’s a gamble!)
Dear Mr. Jenkins,
I’m querying you because of your interest in contemporary romance. My YA romance novel, SAVING WAVES is complete at 73,000 words.
3. NO clichés! NO questions!
*Don’t ask if the main character can survive the hellish plot planned for them.
*Don’t open with a boy meets a girl and they fall in love.
*DO show why the characters are unique.
*DO share why the story is distinctive.
4. Share the story. Sounds crazy, but the agents said sometimes they read a query and have no idea what the book is about!
*Start with setting. In one or two words.
*Introduce the main character.
*Give inciting incident.
Sara desperately needs a peaceful vacation after a turbulent college freshman year. She goes to her aunt’s beach house in California determined to find solace on the waves, and connect with her dead mother’s favorite sport. On her first day out, she slams into Ryan, breaking his board.
*Move onto stakes.
Back on the beach, Sara apologizes for ruining Ryan’s board, but he’s furious. Now there’s no way anyone will want to teach her to surf, dashing all her hopes of finding tranquility on the waves and closure with her mother’s passing.
*How will the character try to get what she wants?
Sara is determined. She returns to the beach the next day, and surprisingly, Ryan says hello. He agrees to work with her, if she’ll buy him a new board. Sara takes her chances and gets a job at the surf shop where Ryan works. As the two connect over cash registers and waves, they open up about their troubles and find that their feelings for one another are as steamy as the noontime sun on the beach.
5. End with a short bio. Add anything pertinent to your novel.
*Publishing credits such as short stories, articles, or books.
*Memberships to writing organizations.
*A fun detail about that relates to the agent or editor you’re querying.
SAVING WAVES is a standalone novel. I’m a member of RWA and own the online dating company, Surf’s Up. Several of my articles on dating and surfing have been published in Oceanside Times.
- Thank you for your time and consideration,
(Total word count = 240)
6. Format it like a business letter! And remember to reread, double-check it, test email it to yourself, etc.
I also read a ton of back cover copy and book blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon. Nathan Bransford has awesome query tips. Check out his mad lib query and explore his site. Query Shark recently posted an amazing query workshop. It’s a MUST READ! Go read it now!
And breathe. Don’t sweat it. I just sent out a batch of queries and later found an error in one. Agents are people. They understand. Just do the BEST you can!
If all else fails you, get some random strangers or the baristas at Starbucks to read it and see if they can figure out what the book is about. 🙂 Or ask critique partners and writing buddies.
We’d love to hear from you! What query tips do you have?