Queries! Queries! Queries?? – Part Two: How to write a query letter

Queries - Huh2

Ummm, yeah, I have no idea . . .

Seriously, though, I’m still working on it. I have one I’m puttering away at, getting ready to post it for critique, but scared to death. I’ve had my confidence ripped out and fed to me on a platter made from my naivety and good intentions. It was a bitter, bitter meal. And I’ve eaten it again, and again, and again! So why do I go back for more? Because I really, really want to be published. And I guess I’m a little bit of a masochist. No I’m not. I just want to be published.

The real question is, what makes me think I’m getting any better? Well, let’s just say I’m an optimist disguised by the sarcasm of a pessimist. And I’ve been studying. Actually, I’ve been studying queries off-and-on for years. This is where I can help you. No, I can’t give you advice on how to write a better query. Well, I could, but so many have done a much better job before me, why should I ride on their shoulders? Instead, I’ll give you links to the blog posts and forums that helped me. After all, you have to earn it, so you can do all the tedious research I did as well. I’m just making it a smidgeon easier for you. 🙂

Where to start? Well let’s go with HOW TO WRITE A QUERY LETTER on AgentQuery.com. If you are new to queries, or not so new but have had little success, this will give you a good overview on query basics. It also highlights the “when” formula. There is no fool-proof formula to write a query, but the pointers given here can help you write even a basic, if not very exciting, query. Sometimes just getting started with the solid basics can help you on the way to polishing and pizzazing it later. AgentQuery.com is a great source in general for queries. You can spend hours on this site gleaning helpful nuggets. There are other posts and information you can search through, but this is the one that I found most helpful.

If you want to take a look at some successful queries you can start with the SUCCESSFUL QUERIES series on Writer’s Digest. The great thing about this series is the queries are current, allowing you to see what is working now, or at least in the past year or so since the query was written and the author represented. My favorite is Mindy McGinnis’s query for NOT A DROP TO DRINK. It’s a book I’ve read, it’s in the age group and genre of my own novel, and I just love how she fills it with voice and the stark reality her character must exist in. I’ve studied this query so many times, I could recite it by heart, trying to figure out what makes it sing. Hopefully you can find a few that speak to you as well.

Having trouble understanding what a “hook” is, well my friend have I got the site for you. Miss Snark, literary agent venting her wrath on the hapless world of writers. Her blog has gone silent. I think she is actually Janet Reid at a new blog, but not sure about that. And though this blog went dark in 2007, the info is still relevant. Especially Miss Snark’s CRAP-O-METER HOOK “CONTEST”. What do you win, you ask? Not much. Just a nod from the hard to please Miss Snark. But I feel like it would have been worth it. A post on Absolute Write that I will share later suggests reading every single one of the hooks sent in to Miss Snark from aspiring writers. Every. Single. One. Seriously. It’s long. It’s tedious. But it’s like a muscle memory. Doing something over and over will help you to understand what works and what doesn’t. And by that I mean what works for you. Yes, Miss Snark gives her opinions, but she is one person. I didn’t always agree with her assessment of a hook, but that’s okay. Every agent is different, so everyone will be intrigued by something different. The key is starting to recognize what is well-written and what is crap. Plus, you can read comments from blog readers, giving even more insight into the hooks. I didn’t do that. I mean, I have a life after all. Reading 100 hooks and Miss Snark’s comments was like a part-time job for a week. I haven’t perused the rest of her site, but I’ve heard there’s a lot of great content, so if you have the time, read on.

Just a few posts on query letter basics:
And just to make you feel better about that slightly too-long query: ON QUERY LETTER WORD COUNT

Now that you’ve dipped your toes into the gentle creek where one might find the occasional golden nugget of query research, I give you . . . THE MOTHER LODE!

I’ve mentioned ABSOLUTE WRITE on this blog before. It may not be for everyone. Maybe you already have a writer’s forum, or you use blogging as a way to connect with other writers. Maybe you’ve got a critique circle and don’t feel you need any more cooks in the kitchen. That’s fine, but I would encourage anyone interested to check it out. There are countless forums to choose from. If you’re a writer, you will find at least one that appeals to you. I started out in the WRITING FOR KIDS forums, but spend most of my time now in the YOUNG ADULT forum now. But I dabble in several others. I think it is invaluable for newbie writers to get a better handle on the world of publishing and writing by spending time on the boards. But what I really want to talk about is QUERY LETTER HELL.

QLH is a dark, miserable place full of snarky, evil critiquers who just can’t wait to ruin your day. I’m kidding. It isn’t full of them, but there are a few. And they aren’t trying to ruin your day, though they may sound like it. Really, they are there to help. Many critiquers are kind and helpful. Some are snarky and helpful. Others are impatient-with-newbies-who-don’t-read-the-stickies, but still helpful. Do you sense a pattern here. And it isn’t all about posting a query for anonymous people to rip to shreds. The “stickies” are threads stuck to the top of the forums that are a wealth of information. Most of the links I posted above are probably listed in the stickies somewhere. I have spent hours upon hours reading the thread, reading all the links in the thread, then moving on to the next thread. I actually haven’t read every link I found. Most, but not all. There are just so many and it is possible to get research burn-out. Even just reading the posted queries and what critiquers have to say can make a big difference in your understanding of how to better your own query.

Note: You must have a password to enter the SHARE YOUR WORK FORUMS, but don’t panic, it’s listed under the SYW heading. In order to post your work, you must have 50 posts under your belt. You can even use posting critiques of other’s queries as some of your 50 posts. It was a bit nerve-wracking to critique someone else’s query when I had little or no experience and my own queries were so woefully inadequate, but you do learn. Just suggest things that stick out to you, even if it’s something small as changing a word. And read the other critiques. That always helps.

Now for the QLH most helpful links. I would recommend reading all the stickies, start to finish. (Skip the posts that just say thank you over and over again.) But here are the ones I find most helpful:

And if all of this isn’t enough for you, just Google “query letter” and prepare for the avalanche of info out there. Keep in mind queries change over time, so some older posts must be taken with a grain of salt.

So that’s all I’ve got. Hopefully it’s enough to get you well on the way to writing that amazing query rattling around inside you. Hopefully I can find the one inside me! Good luck, and maybe I’ll see you around Query Letter Hell. I seem to be a permanent inmate these days!

I’ll throw this open to everyone else. What query writing resources do you have to share with all of us? And what advice do you veteran queriers have for those of us trying to break into the club?

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! : Researching Agents

Agent Research: I Forgot to Tell You Something!

Rejection Spike

Silver-Linings in Those Rejection Letters

How I Got My Agent (Or the art of never giving up)

11 thoughts on “Queries! Queries! Queries?? – Part Two: How to write a query letter

  1. Still something I look forward to – writing a query letter that is. Can’t wait.
    …yeah, what were you saying about sarcasm? 😛
    Thanks so much for all this. Bookmarking this post. 😀


  2. Pingback: 10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known As A Newbie Writer; But I Learned The Hard Way | Jennifer Austin – Author

  3. Pingback: Queries! Queries! Queries! – Part One: Researching Agents | Jennifer Austin – Author

  4. Pingback: Agent Research: I forgot to tell you something! | Jennifer Austin – Author

  5. Pingback: Rejection Spike | Jennifer Austin – Author

  6. Pingback: Newbie Post #12: 5 Silver Linings in Those Rejection Letters | Jennifer Austin – Author

  7. Pingback: How I Got My Agent! (Or the art of never giving up) | Jennifer Austin – Author

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