Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Query Tips

I'm slowly working my way through the query onslaught after last week's post. The creativity and dedication of writers never ceases to amaze me, so thank you to everyone who submitted their query for critique. Since I tend to be direct and have been giving a lot o' feedback on the queries so far, I was a little worried about upsetting people. Instead, I've been inundated with amazing emails of gratitude and kindness. You all blow me away. I need to give a special shout-out to the awesome TIANA SMITH, who put the pretty tabs and follow buttons on my blog for me...even before I sent her the critique!

Okay, after reading a bunch of queries, a few common things stood out so I thought I'd give some general query tips. NOTE: None of these examples are from actual queries sent to me--they are my own creations, but you get idea.

1) Avoid cliche terms. e.g. "When 'x' happens, his world turns upside down."  Anyone's world 'crumbling,' 'falling to pieces,' etc. is cliche. Be specific as to what happens.
Better: "When the space monkey lands in Evan's bedroom and injects him with a strange substance, Evan must find a cure within twenty-four hours or he will become a monkey himself." 
(Does Evan's world "turn upside down?" Hell, yes, but an agent is going to be way more interested in something specific like this--unless they hate space monkeys, in which case you don't want them as an agent anyway.)

2) Start with the hook. DON'T START with something like, "This book is about love and loss, family and betrayal, beginnings and endings." You've just described approximately 50 bazillion books, and the agent will already be moving on. Start with a one-sentence killer hook about what your book is about. See space monkey example above.

3) Avoid questions when possible. You don't want the agent to answer your questions in a way that doesn't benefit you. e.g. Will the heroine save the world in time from the onslaught of possessed elves? Potential agent response: I'm guessing so or you wouldn't have written the book. Granted, that might just be my response because I'm sarcastic by nature, but still. You want the agent to read the last line of the query and think, "Holy hell. I must get my hands on this book NOW!" The best way to end the query IMHO, is to finish with the highest stakes possible. What is the worst thing that will happen to the MC or to their world, if they do not overcome their obstacle?
Better: "She must defeat the army of possessed elves before they enslave all humanity and harvest their pets for food." 

4) Follow the agent's submission guidelines. I figured that people wouldn't be as formal sending their query to me as they would to an agent, but I was a little surprised by the number of people who didn't follow the guidelines (not attaching the query as requested, using a different format than requested, etc.) For me, it doesn't matter. I'm critiquing all of them because I'm nice like that, but if you're submitting queries to agents--FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES! It's not that agents aren't nice (in fact, most of them are quite lovely), it's that they're incredibly busy. Also, you don't want them to think that you can't (or won't) follow directions, because they are considering you for a long-term business relationship. Yes, many of them have different guidelines, so you will have to do your research, but it's worth it in the end.

UPDATE: I'm now offering professional Query Critiques for those who need help with their query. Simply click on the Query Services button to the right to get all the details.

So, those are my query tips thus far. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below, and thanks again for participating!


  1. Your critique was great, thanks so much!

  2. Amen to the 'read submission guidlelines' bit! And to the other stuff as well, but yeah, read instructions, read guidelines. Follow them. Or it won't matter how many possessed space elf-monkeys you have in your story - the world may never read about them (now copyrighting a hastily penned story featuring possessed space elf-monkeys.)

  3. Allie--glad it was helpful! :)

    Ruth--it's really hard to go wrong w/ space monkeys. ;)

  4. Aww, thanks for the shout out :) And your advice is spot on!

  5. Tiana--you're so welcome, and thanks again for your help. You rock!

  6. I've already revised ("chopped up") mine since I sent it to you. ROFL
    Thank you for helping unlock the Mystery of the Query.