Writing Your Query

16 Apr

This is often the last step before your manuscript goes out the door.

Let’s be honest, by the last step of anything you’re typically ready to be done with it. Because of this, when you hear people talk about query (and synopsis) writing, the conversation typically sounds more barrier focused than marketing focus.

And that’s exactly what your query is: The first step in your book marketing.

With the whole re-boot of the 10 Minute Mentor, one of the suggestions was to discuss query letters.

Last year I did a blog on the similarities between reading cover letters/resumes and query letters/partials. If you ever follow my twitter #getthejob hashtag, you know I’ve got this down to a science. I trust that agents have their sourcing down to a science too. The secret is to getting past the first two glances (which studies on the resume end show are typically done in under 6 seconds. I assume it’s pretty darn close for agents as well) and into the third look.

Here are my suggestions:

ONE: Content

Just like the book, info dumps are bad. When people ask me to look at their query before they send it, that’s typically the first thing I notice. It’s also typically the first thing I do when writing my own.

That’s 1000005.7% okay for the first draft. You need to get it all out. But, it’s not going to fly for the final query.

After writing the info dump, I put each piece of information on an index card. Then I play the hierarchy game. Cards get weeded out as “secondary” or “important, but not a selling point” or “detail” — that’s my own personal demon. The Detail. And I see it in a lot of queries too.

If the detail isn’t going to sell the book, set it aside.

This might be something you do in reverse. Don’t know how to start the query? Grab those index cards (or if you’re a plotter, your summary/outline) and start highlighting!

TWO: Process

After working your content, set the query aside just like you would a manuscript. You need fresh eyes for this just as much as you need it for any other writing.

When you come back, you’re definitely going to tweak it. If you don’t, question that.

Then ask people who have read/discussed this project to read it. Incorporate any feedback.

This last step is one I think too many people skip: Have at least 2 people who have not read or discussed the project read the query. Remember, agents won’t have sat around sipping coffee and discussing your work with you. They come in blind.

Good questions to ask those blind readers:

    • What do you think the hook is?
    • What do you think the book is about?
    • Is there anything that was confusing or unclear?
    • Do you think I should play something up more?
    • Did it flow?

These are your most valuable readers. Listen to them

THREE: Set up (not the blind date kind)

LEVEL ONE, the open: Make sure you have your salutation correct. The name is correct. It’s spelled correctly. If you’re doing Mr./Ms. you have the right gender.

LEVEL ONE-A, the secondary open: In the opening paragraph, I’ve heard a lot of agents say “personalize it so I know why you’re querying me.” A note about this: Unless you really have a reason to personalize it, I’d jump right to the good stuff. Also, be careful how you personalize it. This can bite you in the bottom. If you never met the person, don’t claim you did.

Whatever you do, do not invoke one of their writer’s names (see #AgentRec). Trust me, if the writer gave you a recommendation, the agent knows before your query hits their in-box.

LEVEL TWO, The previously mentioned “good stuff”:  Dive directly into your query. Don’t ask a question, or soft step into it. Line one: Your Hook.

Agent’s know why they’re receiving your query. You don’t need to tell them. It’s like pulling up to the Wendy’s drive-thru speaker and saying, “I’m here because I know you make and sell cheeseburgers. I’d like to purchase a cheeseburger. Here is the cheeseburger I’d like to purchase” before telling them your order.

LEVEL THREE, the bio: Yes. Have a bio. Include any pertinent information, writing group memberships, previous writing experience (You’re querying a YA but you used to write for a newspaper? Still valid.) This should be one paragraph unless you a previously published author.

If you are previously published also include links to your listed books’ sales sites. Save them the google.

LEVEL FOUR, the sign off: Thank them for their time. Don’t make any assumptions you’ll hear from them. Make yourself easy to contact:

Real Name
Writing as: Pen Name (if applicable)
Phone Number

They have your email (they’re looking at it) and they’re most likely not going to snail mail you anything. Leave the sign off looking clean.

FOUR: Mailing it

Follow the directions. Follow the directions. Follow the directions.

If you set it up ahead of time and it’s been awhile, recheck the directions.

Then follow the directions.

Don’t attach anything unless your query is in response to a pitch request and they ask you too (or, if that’s what’s in the directions.)

Also, follow the directions.

Personally, I BCCd myself on all my queries and put them in a special folder. This allowed me to check things quickly if I was somewhere I couldn’t get to my tracking spreadsheet but needed to respond to a follow-up question. It helped twice.

FIVE: Forget about it

Work on the next thing. This will keep you from being Crazy Refresh Woman. It will also be awesome when an agent calls you and one of  the questions she asks is, “What else do you have” and you can honestly answer that you’re currently working on ABC.

Remember, querying is just the first step. You’re going to get a lot of No Thank Yous. I hear about people giving up all the time after a small number (like 7 or 8). Start preparing yourself to not care. Yup. Do Not Care. A no is someone saying you aren’t a good match. That means, she’s not a good match for you either.

Wanting one of those agents to sign you is like wanting to marry that guy you’re really, really glad broke up with you…but you only realized it a year later.

So, good luck and don’t panic.


2 Responses to “Writing Your Query”

  1. robenagrant April 18, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    This is wonderful advice, Bria. Thank you.

  2. Bria Quinlan April 18, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks! For me, everything is easier if broken down into smaller pieces 😉

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