Query Letter Considerations

Call me particular, but when I open a banana, I like to eat a banana.  Not an orange.  There’s something about truth in advertising that strikes me as the best way to go.

Likewise, when I buy a book, I want to open the pages and read the promise from the back cover.  It’s not to say I don’t like surprises of the good variety: she fell in love with the unexpected, the murderer wasn’t who I thought it would be or the ghost was really the groundskeeper’s aunt’s nephew and not a zombie.

I imagine agents and editors feel the same way.  Our query letters are back cover promises to the pages within.  I wonder how often we fail to deliver.

Granted it is difficult to condense an entire manuscript to two paragraphs.  However, it is essential that we do so while providing the most pertinent information to the project.  So what does a good query need?

  1. Main Character.  It might be hard to do at times, but it is best if we can focus on ONE for the query.  Two paragraphs is a tiny space to introduce everyone in a manuscript.
  2. Main Conflict.  Yes, our books are often complex with several subplots shooting through the main story arc.  However, space is limited and the agent/editor needs to know the gist of our novels. 
  3. What stands in the way, or what can our MC lose/gain by resolving/not resolving the conflict?  The girl of his dreams, his family, the end of the world, a promotion?  We must write some sort of tension into our queries or there is no need to read.

And all these components need to fit neatly into your banana peel.  That way we don’t receive an automatic rejection based on our inability to deliver.

Truth in advertising is essential when presenting ourselves to agents and editors.  Otherwise we look like that bad knock knock joke.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

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8 responses to “Query Letter Considerations

  1. Good point – and this applies to the full length story too. You have to know the reader’s expectations, and then you have to give them that plus more!

    • Roz,

      So true. I had a completed novel, then wrote the query letter. My strongest query came up with a question that made me change a subtle string that ran all the way through my ms. Talk about a pain…it was like a bad case of concentration. Every time I lifted what I thought was the right card, I found it had changed just enough not to match again.

      But so it goes with writing. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

  2. Bar none, the query was the hardest thing I ever had to write. The novel was peanuts in comparison. Second to the query in hardness has to be the one-page synopsis. O! Bane of my existence, Synopsis!

    • Barbara,

      I will take a query any day over a synopsis. Those seem so dry to me and I have a hard time giving the blow by blow run down. I would write 20 query letters before I’d comtemplate a synopsis–any day of the week!

  3. Queries sound so simple, but the execution of a good one is anything but 🙂

  4. I thought I would never get a query I liked. You know Cate, because you were there cheering me on at AgentQuery. It took months to come up with something decent. And then I discovered half the agents wanted a synopsis and/or a short bio. Yikes!

    Queries are designed to drive writers batty! When I came up with something half-way respectable I threw it out there and started another writing project that has captivated me.

    Several of my queries are out there in ‘agent land’ but I don’t even think about it right now….because I’d rather be writing!

    • Rahma,

      You have a great query for the Guardian Cats. I know, because I was there cheering you on : )

      I understand what you mean about writing rather than submitting. I get wrapped up in new projects and kind of forget about the other ones I have done. Best of luck on your newest project and I hope someday you start sending out your queries.

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