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Thoughts on Queries

Ahh, queries, the bane of every writer’s existence! Queries are hard, soul crushing, and grueling. They go through more drafts than the manuscript. But each query written helps.

My first queries took so many revisions I can’t even go into the document and easily find the right one. I needed those revisions to learn what worked and what didn’t, and get a better idea how to take my 70k+ novel and boil it down to less than 250 words.

By the time I wrote my query for the novel that landed my agent, I was getting better. My first draft hit a lot of the necessary notes. From there my main goal was to tweak things here and there to clarify points, make it less vague, and snag a reader.

The only tips I can share are ones that have been shared many times over: Stick to the facts, don’t be vague, hook your reader. A query should be akin to a jacket cover. I’ve heard it should represent approximately the first quarter of the novel. But each case is different. My query had some hints from the final third, because that’s where my stakes were. And my stake was and is a surprise twist, so to speak. This is where my query had the most changes: do I spoil or not? In the end, I spoiled, but not in my original queries that went out.

A few notes here: I had many eyes on this query, from those who had read the novel, to those that hadn’t, to mentors in a contest I was chosen for. But, with all those changes, my agent was from my original query. That query no longer matches my novel, as I had a major R&R. In the end, my original query clearly enticed my agent, but it was the revision that sealed my fate.

Take away note: sweat it and don’t sweat it. Writing is a very personal journey. Polish until you can’t polish anymore, then send it off into the world and cross your fingers.

As for personalization: I’ve read it both ways, the do and the don’t. Research is the first step, find out what each agent is looking for. Some will clearly request for facts and no chit chat, others want to know where you found them.

For me: I’ve done both. But with my last project I did very little personalization, just an introduction, my blurb, and small paragraph about me. Bottom line: be professional and have a query that catches the eye.

But how? I hear you saying, queries are so hard! They are, trust me they are. So let me end with a few tips:

  • Find a group of writers to exchange with. This is huge. Offer advice as advice is given. Twitter and contests are a great place to connect with others, and find groups to join. The more you comment on someone else’s query, the more you’ll learn ways to improve your own.
  • Boil down your plot to key points. No gimmicks, focus on facts. Then infuse voice if you can. The goal here is to tell a story with as much intrigue as possible. Look at the back jacket of comparable books for ideas, but don’t stop there. Book jackets often share less or are more gimmicky then a query. A good query tends to be somewhere in between a book jacket blurb and a synopsis.
  • End with your stakes on the table. Stakes are not, “Will they survive?” They need to be specific, what makes the stakes in your story different from every other story? In fact, that should be your entire goal in your query: what makes yours different from the other 500 queries in the agent’s inbox?
  • I’m going to repeat: showcase what makes your novel unique. How do you stand out from the pack? Is your novel diverse? Is there an uncommon twist? Pull some of those unique aspects out and put that on the page.
  • Repeat above steps as necessary. Not getting requests? Revise your query. Keep pressing forward. Each revision gets you one step closer.
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