Robin’s Randoms: Writing an Agent-Hooking Query

Last week I whined and stamped my feet about having to write a synopsis for my next novel.  It turned out to be totally worth it and I will write many more in the future.  This week we’re blogging about the query.  Here are my 5 Randoms about queries.

1) Queries are like advertisements. They should be short and smart.  Short, meaning that nothing is wasted.  Smart, meaning your talent for word choice and pitch should be memorable.

2) Queries should make the editor do one thing: Ask for your manuscript.
When I finally got the attention of an editor it was because of my query.  She never mentioned the three chapters I’d sent.  She said, “You have a wonderful pitch and outstanding first line.”  They were one in the same.  I’d tell you what they are but that pitch gives away the entire book because the first chapter eventually became the climax.  (That should be another topic.  Revision!)

3) Queries should include a memorable pitch line.
I used one book to learn how to write queries.  How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters by John Wood (Writers Digest Books). It doesn’t have to be that book, but Wood was adamant about one topic: The pitch.  There wasn’t a lot for fiction writers in this how-to book, but the author was clear that for both fiction and nonfiction writers you need to have a pitch line before the body of the letter, as if it were a blurb.  It seemed hokey to me, but it worked.  I had many, many responses for the rest of my manuscript.   Here’s my revised pitch (we changed one word): How deep do you dig to bury your shame?

4) Queries are your first impression.
Include a little (a LITTLE) about yourself and how you can help move this book.  I’m a language arts teacher, and at the time of my first queries that was all I could say.  It seemed so pathetic.  Then I got an honorable mention (not even official) in the Pen New England Discovery Contest.  I added that in the bio.   If you are a social worker and work with abused kids and your book is about that topic, that’s important. If it pertains, include it.

5) Queries are a formula, but there is room for creativity.
At a recent workshop in Nashua, N.H., an editor said that along with an excellent pitch, summary/book description, author bio, and list of publishing credits, she liked the unique sound of the author’s voice in the letters.  Never underestimate your ability to reach across the page and grab the reader—even in a query.

~R.M.M.

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