Friday, October 22, 2010

Queries: The Hook

The other week, I blogged about the Bad Bad Bad Query, which was a follow up from a previous post about my Rejection Rate.  So this week is another blog following up on things I left unclear (you, my ever so careful readers, are making me work ever so hard to clarify myself): the hook.

Before I proceed, I'd like to point you in the direction of an expert query-judger, QueryShark.  I'll be sharing links to this site during this post.

First, the Hook.  The hook can go in many directions.  Some agents like to see a tag line that puts your story in context: The heart of The Notebook meets the dangerous world of Jurassic Park (hopefully something that makes a little more sense, but you get the idea).  Here's the key on this one: keep your comparative titles recent and something the agent/editor will have heard of.  Don't compare it directly to a famous book or author (while a classic, Catcher in the Rye is outdated; and you are not JK Rowling, don't try to be).  ((note: I actually don't like seeing this tag at the beginning of a query.  If at all, I'll look at it at the end, after you have captured my attention, or in a one-on-one pitch.))

You can also open the query with a BAM BOOM! that takes what we think we know, and skews it.  Sounds easy right?  It's not.  Look at this one.  She tries to set up the scene and mess with our perceptions with with first line: "Allison Giordano is no ambulance chaser."  However, it means absolutely nothing to me.  This is an example of an excellent hook: "Some kids walk out of juvie with freehand tattoos or new gang affiliations. Delia Clark left with a plan to become an FBI agent."

More great advice that is also side splitting entertaining on writing queries.

Here's another thing I ABSOLUTELY NEVER WANT TO SEE: do not use all caps to get my attention, do not build up hype saying that your book will be the next best thing since sliced bread, do not put down your competition, do not insult me or other agents, do not humble yourself, do not grovel.

What do I want?  A straight forward query.  Genre.  Character.  Plot.  A little about you (but I don't want to know that you have been writing since you were two days old and wrote for your high school newspaper).  And always make sure your query has forward momentum.  I want to be compelled to read the rest of the query.

Genre: If you can't define it, we can't either.  Which means the publishers won't know where to put your book on the shelf, which means they won't want to put the energy in.  Do your homework.  Know your genre.  Know your novel.  And keep it to two or three.  We are merely simple folks, don't overwhelm us.  Besides, you haven't proven your talent yet, we may not trust that you can combine five genres into one smooth reading manuscript.

Character: How do you explain your character in a query?  To the very essence of their being, who are they?  But also, who are they on the surface?  Do those differ?  Great.  We have conflict.  And we love knowing what sort of conflict your character has.  The point of characters, after all, is to shove them in an unlikely situation to see how they will react.  Do not describe every character that makes an appearance.  Main character.  Love interest.  Bad guy.  A is a blank and B helps them to do blank, but they are thwarted by Cs mission to blank.

Plot: Straight forward right?  This happens, that happens, they live happily ever after.  Snooooorre.  What is the conflict?  What are the main characters battling against?  What is at stake?  What propels the character into action (her mother was killed, she is the only one who can see the future and stop it, she was bored... ok so I might not go for the last one)?

And that's that.  All the advice I have for today.  Like everything else, do a lot of research, do a lot of editing, and put a lot of time into your query.  You get one chance to impress, don't waste it.

Happy writing!


Amy Tripp said...

SO I SHOULDN'T TYPE EVERYTHING IN CAPITALS? Dang! How'm I supposed to get your attention?? :)

Good advice here - I'll keep it in mind when I finally query.

RC O said...

very good advice. I clicked through your comment from NB's blog. Good luck with NaNowrimo.

What is your thought about educational (though non MFA) credentials. Does a grad degree or undergrad from a top tier school make a difference in the slush pile?