Friday, January 27, 2012

January Query Time: What to include

Now we get to the particulars.

I find the list of "what to include in your query" to be much shorter than the "do not" list. Here's what you need: salutation with agent's name, about two paragraphs (3-6 sentences each) of summary/back cover blurb, briefly about the author, sign out.

Your query should look something like this:

Dear (name of agent),

about the ms

little more about the ms--word count and genre included

about the author

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

(name)
(email)
(website if applicable)
OR your usual closing signature

Nice and clean, right? This is my favorite sort of query. It launches right into the book with the main character, a tiny bit of world building if it's fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, etc, the main struggle, love interest. Done. The author bio is in first or third person (no preference) and includes relevant information.

You can also do another format:

Dear (name),

(title) is a (word count) (genre). I'm submitting to you because you mentioned on your blog you want to see more (genre) queries/you like (specific book)/you represent (specific author)/my friend is your client-mother-brother-co-worker. One line hook.

about the ms

little about the author

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

(name)
(email)
(website if applicable)
OR your usual closing signature

Note the use of the word SPECIFIC several times throughout the opening paragraph. I can always tell when someone hasn't actually done their research. If you like my blog or I've mentioned liking one of your comparable titles or we've met somewhere, be specific. Anyone can say "I like your blog, here's my query." (Yes, it's happened.)

Your "about the ms" should be simple and to the point. By simple, I mean use simple sentences. Don't get fancy. Agents read a lot of queries daily, and I for one tend to skim-read--if I find something of interest, I slow down. But if your sentences are too long, packed with info, convoluted, I can't retain as much info as quickly (and there's a good bet your ms will look like that too). By "to the point," I mean get in and get out. Here's an example:

(name of main character) is (brief description). She's thrust into (main conflict). She must rely on (love interest) which is an issue because (personal dilemma). (evil character) will stop at nothing to (what's at stake).

Your query is obviously going to be more involved. But there are the main points you need to hit.
  • Why should we care about you main character? Who is she/he? How will we connect with him/her?
  • What's her life like before the problem?
  • What and how does the main conflict get thrust upon her?
  • Who is the love interest? Or other character of large importance--keep this absolutely limited to one or two people (three on occasion). You don't want to bombard the agent with info and characters; also, it takes to long to portray their significance and "why we should care."
  • Who is the bad guy? This can be grouped up there with the main conflict. Remember your "man vs man" "man vs self" "man vs nature" from third grade.
  • What's at stake? Vitally important. Is the world going to implode? Is the main character going to lose her family? Her sanity? Her self respect? The chance to avenge her father?
Read back cover blurbs of books. Seriously. Sit in a bookstore aisle and pull books off the shelves. Note how they draw you in, first to the character, then to the conflict. And notice how brief it is. For the books that you read, note how many subplots and characters get left out. It's necessary. Which is also a good reason to have critique partners help you, and you help them. It gives you perspective.

Ask all the questions you want to ask. Next week, I'll answer them.

Happy writing!

22 comments:

Unknown said...

You make it sound so easy but I guess keeping it simple is the point :) Thanks for the tips.

Unknown said...

I have a question pertaining to the author bio. If this is your first novel or you have never been published what sort of information should go into the bio. With non-fiction you put the reasons why you are qualified to write the book but with fiction you don't need credentials exactly.
I was told to leave off the bio so I wouldn't get tempted to share information about my son or animals or my life in the country.

Huntress said...

For the 'meat' of the query, what word count do you like to see?

My 'about the ms' is 175 words for a UF.

Jenny S. Morris said...

Thanks! This is such a simple break down.

Kelley Vitollo said...

This is great. Thanks so much.

Kelley Lynn said...

I am bookmarking this page. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Martha Ramirez said...

Very nice tips. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about querying the first book of a series. I've read that agents/publishers generally like the first book to also work as a stand-alone novel (less of a financial risk), which mine does, but if a story has the potential for subsequent novels, should this fact be included in the query?

Eric Steinberg said...

How important is it to draw comparisons between your work and that of others, i.e. readers of X author would like my book?

Juliana said...

Hey, Vickie, thanks for doing this.

I have a question:

I queried a manuscript to some agents a few months ago, but have completely rewritten the manuscript, leaving only a few things the same (title, characters name, etc). Can I query those same agents with this "new" manuscript now? How do I inform them I'm querying a fully revised manuscript?

*I still didn't rewrite it, but I'm thinking about it. Just want to know what will happen after I do rewrite it.

Thanks so much!

Melissa said...

(Vyrronica) is (stunningly gorgeous and an understudy to Disneyland's Cinderella). She's thrust into (a secret terrorist plot to blow up Sleeping Beauty's castle). She must rely on (Fabianno) which is an issue because (he is a blind sniper assigned to kill her and also in love with Snow White). (Zubricatto) will stop at nothing to (destroy Disneyland as his parents refused to take him to the happiest place and has thus remained unhappy all his life).

WHERE DREAMS DIE is complete at 428,762 gripping, enticing, and necessary words. Call now as this story will be published quickly.

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