Query Mania!

To recap: this post is going to cover both the Quantum Query panel at UtopYA Con 2014 and also C.J. Redwine’s Query book. Once again, you can find the book HERE, and info on her Query Workshop by following the link. ^_^

ANYWHO! Onto the panel: Panelists include: C.J. Redwine, J.A. Souders, Trisha Wolfe, and Rachel Harris. One of the tips we were given on how to write a good query is to watch movie trailers and see if we can gather what the story is about from the trailer. I thought that was a really interesting idea!

About Queries: The query should cover the first 20 to 30% of the book, be NO LONGER than a page, and the basic format would look something this: Greeting (Dear Full Name), One Sentence Hook (if you have one), Main Hook, Book Title/Genre/Length, Comparisons/Why you picked them/Bio, Thanks, Sincerely, Your Name.

This said you can also put the “why you picked them” under the Greeting and do if the agent says to in their submission guidelines, but most of the authors said they launched right into their Hooks and one even said that her agent preferred it that way. Keep in mind, if you can’t write a One Sentence Hook, don’t try. It’s far better to go right into the summary than turn the agent or editor off with a crappy or cliché opening line.

On Agents: You want an agent who is not only going to be an advocate for your book, but also an advocate for your writing career, for ANY book you may want to write in the future. All the writers on the panel agreed that it’s better to have no agent than the wrong agent. Some things you want to look for: someone you really mesh well with, someone who has a similar vision for your book and the same plan for your career. If you have the slightest reservation, don’t sign with them because it will only get worse. If you captured one agent’s attention, you will capture another’s. See who’s been with them before and why they left, and always stick with your vision for the book. Know what genres you may want to write in later and who your audience preference is.

NOW! Onto the book! Who’s it for: Anyone who has to draft a query. Which is basically everyone who is going to submit their work to an agent or publisher. Personally, think it’s helpful for querying writers at any stage of process, but it’s especially helpful for writers new to querying. The things I wish I’ve known! Even if you already have an awesome query, it’s nice to double check and make sure you didn’t miss anything.

She covers helpful resources (Writer’s Marketplace, QueryTracker, AgentQuery, Publisher’s Marketplace, Predators & Editors, Writer Beware, Absolute Write), what an agent will do for you, what to do if you have an offer or multiple offers, what to do if everyone says no.

And then in the middle of the book, she goes into how to write a query, how to personalize your query, what to say in your bio, and how to write a four paragraph hook.

Personalization: Don’t scare the agent with things like, “I love your house” or “You’re so pretty!” This is the part of the query where you would mention if you’ve met them at a conference, heard them speak, follow their blog, or simply just think they’re a good fit based on their client list. They didn’t talk about this too much on the panel, and from my experience with obsessively reading query success stories, this doesn’t tend to sway the agent either way and people don’t notice more requests with personalized queries versus un-personalized queries. If your story doesn’t grab them, telling them how much you love their #querytip tweets isn’t going to change their minds. In any case, these are some things you can say if you’re like me and don’t know where to start.

Bio: This is where you put your story’s stats (Title, Genre, Word Count), as well as your bio and writing credentials (if any) and only relevant things the agent has heard of. If you won best story in your writing group, obviously that doesn’t go in your query. ^_^ You can put if you were a Creative Major or even a Biology Major if it’s relevant to your story, just keep in mind that again, this isn’t going to sway the agent to your side and convince them that you can write. The next part, the hook, will show them if you can write or not. You don’t need to credentials to write fiction, so if your bio is one sentence (like mine and C.J. Redwine’s), that is more than perfectly fine.

Hook: The main event. The blurb. The summary. The Three/Four Paragraph Synopsis. Whatever. The first thing you want to do is strip your novel down to one sentence that sums up your entire plot. It doesn’t have to be pretty — you’re the only one who’s going to see it. I’ll go first. ^_^

(Discord) Taryn must suppress her siren side before she kills someone, and to make matters worse, Anja, a woman from her mother’s past, is trying to kill her.

Okay, with that done, the next thing you do is write the Hook, following the main point of your sentence. This will keep you from going off track with things that don’t need to be taking up space your query. In my case, I wouldn’t talk about her father’s selective mutism, how many friends she has, or go on about her neighbor Brookes. None of these things are essential to the basic core of my story and will only get in my way. After all, I only have a few paragraphs to get my point across.

So what is a 4 Paragraph Structure? It’s ONE paragraph about your hero/heroine, ONE paragraph (if any) about your Love Interest, Secondary POV, or Villain, ONE paragraph showing the strife being laid down the MC’s life, and ONE (she says small) paragraph about what the MC is going to do about it, highlighting what will happen if they fail.

So here’s my query letter:

Paragraph one: introduces the MC and something unique about her.
Paragraph two: introduces the villain.
Paragraph three: details how things get all screwed up for the MC
Paragraph four: explains what she needs to do and what happens if she fails.

Dear Agent Pants,

One year ago, sixteen-year-old Taryn drowned a college guy in the ocean behind her house. She couldn’t stop it. It’s in her genes. Now, the next target is the all-around All-Star, Randall McPiperson – worthless, heartless cheater and new ex to her best friend. Her friend wants revenge of the worst kind. But she can’t kill him – she can’t lose control again.

Between Randall dying every night in her dreams and literally having to hear and feel her friend’s angry thoughts and pain, Taryn’s protective walls start to crack and crumble. Her friends want to help her, but she can’t tell them the truth: that she’s a siren and a murderer. She may not have a choice though when Anja, an old friend of the family returns to town and starts sending violence and threatening visions Taryn’s way.

The attacks happen everywhere, even at school. However, she’s the only one who can see her attacker, and it’s becoming more difficult by the day to keep the truth buried. Anja wants information from her, and she’s giving her very little time to cough it up – the drowned and bloated bodies are piling up, and what’s left of Taryn’s sanity is unraveling along with it.

If she doesn’t give Anja what she wants – or destroy her – in time, Taryn’s body will be the next one found floating in the ocean, and everyone she leaves behind will be in even greater danger.

DISCORD is a Dark YA Contemporary Fantasy complete at 84,000 words. (And the rest is wrap up.)

So, this is what I’ve come up with between the panel, the book, getting feedback, and a query writing post that’s linked under the resources tab.

Happy Query Writing! ^_^

15 Responses to Query Mania!

    • Cool! I hope it helps. ^_^ It’s funny to me because a one page synopsis is only a few paragraphs longer and I love writing those! I have the opposite problem you have though. Most of the time I write too short. The very first draft of my query was just over 100 words. XD

  1. Ooh, thanks for sharing all that (especially the part about the query only covering 20-30% of the novel).

    My internal editor wants to butt in and critique your query. (Feel free to disregard my comments.)

    One year ago, sixteen-year-old Taryn drowned a college guy* in the ocean behind her house. She couldn’t stop it.* It’s in her genes. Now, the next target is the all-around All-Star*, Randall McPiperson – worthless, heartless cheater and new ex to her best friend. Her friend wants revenge of the worst kind. But she can’t kill him – she can’t lose control again.

    [Not crazy about “guy.” It’s vague. Give us a one- or two-word description of this guy so your readers can quickly typecast him.]
    [I would change the second/third sentence to “She couldn’t help it–it’s in her genes.”]
    [I don’t like “all around All-Star.” It sounds too generic. Try something with a bit more character, like “local football hero” or “Anytown’s favorite pretty boy”]
    [I am pretty intrigued by the opening paragraph, though. Great internal conflict.]

    Between Randall dying every night in her dreams and literally having to hear and feel her friend’s angry thoughts and pain, Taryn’s protective walls start to crack and crumble. Her friends want to help her, but she can’t tell them the truth: that she’s a siren and a murderer. She may not have a choice though when Anja, an old friend of the family returns to town and starts sending violence* and threatening visions Taryn’s way.

    [The first sentence is confusing me–it makes it sound like she already killed Randall, but I don’t think that’s the case. Also, “dying” is a bit vague. It might have more impact if you gave us a detail or two about what’s in these dreams.]
    [What do you mean by “sending violence”? Is SHE physically assaulting Taryn, or is she sending mercenaries/pirates/hordes of angry lobsters to Taryn’s house? Be specific!]

    The attacks happen everywhere, even at school.* However, she’s the only one who can see her attacker, and it’s becoming more difficult by the day to keep the truth buried. Anja wants information from her, and she’s giving her very little time to cough it up – the drowned and bloated bodies are piling up*, and what’s left of Taryn’s sanity is unraveling along with it.

    [I don’t think you need the first sentence.]
    [I love the sentence about the drowned and bloated bodies.]

    If she doesn’t give Anja what she wants – or destroy her – in time, Taryn’s body will be the next one found floating in the ocean, and everyone she leaves behind will be in even greater danger.*

    [Not crazy about “everyone she leaves behind will be in even greater danger.” Why are they in danger? Is it because of Anja’s homicidal tendencies and the fact that Taryn won’t be around to protect them?]

    Overall, this plot sounds interesting. Good luck querying!

    • Oh my gosh, thank you, this is awesome! ^_^ Yeah, I will take all the extra feedback I can get. I’m so glad the post was helpful! Thanks for the well wishes! ^_^

  2. This sounds so awesome! Very good query! And great advice you compiled and shared! I always say a query should read like the back of the book – hooking an agent is the same thing as hooking a reader! Nice job!

    This was my only tweak – a little more intensity on the first line… (or not!)
    One year ago, sixteen-year-old Taryn was compelled to drown a (need adjective, worthless? devilish?) college guy in the ocean behind her house. She can’t help it. It’s in her genes.

    best wishes with your query! you’re sure to snag someone with that story!

    (ps, thanks for commenting on my broken branch falls blog tour =)

  3. I don’t know much about queries. I’ve never written one… ever!
    But yours sounds awesome! I’m sure that there’s an agent out there just waiting to latch onto it! You’ve certainly piqued MY curiosity… 🙂

    • Thanks, Jodi! They also said you can use the same principals to write a blurb. In fact, most of them said the publisher ended up using their queries for the blurb! (Minus a few tweaks of course.) 🙂

  4. Awesome tips. Admittedly, I’ve read most of them before, so I’ll just add my endorsement–except for the 4 paragraph structure. I think shorter is better, and in most cases, agents accept your first 5 to 10 pages with a query–which is where you really have to hook them. The query should get them asking a question and show how your story is different but fits into a genre they can sell. That’s it. A little omniscience would be nice in this stage of the process, eh? 😉

    • Omniscience would be nice! I want a Snow White-esque looking glass, that’s what I really want. ^_^ I drop by the YA section sometimes when I’m in the bookstore and see if I can visualize my book there. 🙂

Hi! ^_^