If you’ve researched querying agents and editors, you already know that how difficult it can be. Agents and editors get hundreds and hundreds of queries, and it can be hard for any one query to stand out. So, how can you be sure your query will get attention? Here are my tips:
- Have a great hook
This is probably the most significant factor in getting me to sit up and take notice when reading a query. If your story has a great hook, it will immediately draw me in and make me want to read the pages. A great hook is hard to define because they can vary so widely, but for me, it’s something that feels unique and fresh, something commercial, something high concept. If you aren’t sure if your book fits this description, do some market research and be familiar with books in your genre. Identify the most compelling elements of your concept, and try to boil them down into a single line. That line is your hook.
- Have great writing
By “great writing,” I don’t mean that your query has to be flashy or full of literary prose. Rather, the best-written queries are usually simple, clean, and concise. You should be able to convey your points well and demonstrate basic command of language. Of course, it’s more important to do this in the manuscript itself than in the query, and if you can do it in the manuscript you’re probably doing it in the query anyway. But I think some writers try to stand out with flowery or flashy language, which often comes across as gimmicky or confusing instead. Keep it simple and precise.
- Keep it short
This is related to the point above, but make sure you’re keeping your query concise on a larger scale too. Don’t weigh it down with anything you don’t need. Whether it’s excess plot details or trivial bio credits, don’t let the agent/editor get lost a lengthy or unwieldy query. Stick to the basics.
- Know your plot
The best queries are those that can sum up the basic plot elements of the manuscript—goal, conflict, stakes, motivation, hook—in a way that’s both concise and compelling. If I can’t tell what the main character’s goal is or what’s at stake from reading the query, I’m going to wonder if it’s lacking in the manuscript as well. But query writers who demonstrate a good understanding of their crucial plot elements instantly have my attention, because they’re more likely to have an airtight plot in their manuscripts.
- Make a connection
If you have a connection to the agent/editor you’re querying, let them know! Did you meet them at a conference? Do you follow them on Twitter? Did one of their clients refer you? Any of these things will show that you’ve done your research and selected this agent/editor for a reason, rather than blindly copy/pasting your letter to everyone you can think of. You don’t need this connection, but it does help if you have one.
What do you think? Have you written a successful query letter? Have any questions about writing one? Let me know in the comments!
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This post is part of my Submission Tips series. For information about submitting to literary agents, publishing houses, and more, check out other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts.