The Query 101 series begins today at a very basic level. As it progresses, I will get into more detail in regards to query structure, research, nudging etc. For now, I want to help those who need to start at the very first step on the path to publishing: learning about the query.
Congratulations! You’ve finished that amazing manuscript and you’re ready to send it to an agent. What do you do next? Print it out, attach a handwritten note, and send via snail mail?
Do you find several agents via the internet, type a quick note, and then attach the manuscript file before sending?
There are several steps you need to go through before you send your manuscript to an agent. Let’s start at the very beginning with the query.
1) What is a query?
A query is a basic business letter you send to a literary agent or publisher. It describes your project, why you think it would be a good fit for them, and your writing qualifications if you have any.
Sounds simple, right? Well for some writers it can be. But for most, it takes hours/days/weeks to craft the perfect letter that describes your project with enough detail and voice that an agent will request more.
2) What does a query look like?
There are a couple of examples of great queries on the internet. My recommendation would be to check out the Successful Queries series from Writer’s Digest. The series shares a successful query and follows-up with commentary from the writer’s literary agent as to why it caught their eye. Another great link from Writer’s Digest is this article on “How to Write The Perfect Query Letter,” with commentary from former literary agent, Mary Kole.
3) Write the query
Now that you’ve seen good examples of queries, it’s time to write your own. Think about examples you read. What made them stand out? Did you immediately get a sense of the MC’s voice? Did you know the stakes right away? These are things to keep in mind when crafting your query.
One word of note: Queries should be written in third person, present tense. ALWAYS. Many people have tried to be crafty and write it from the POV of their character. Or they begin with a rhetorical question. Many, many agents I’ve talked to, and interviewed, request that writers stay away from this approach.
4) Get feedback on the query
This may be the most important step in your query process. While you think that first draft completely rocks, you need another set of eyes on that bad boy to be sure.
If you don’t have regular critique partners, I highly suggest going to one of these writing community websites and sharing your query. Feedback will help you discover if you are conveying your story clearly, and if it is enough to hook an agent.
Penning the tightest and most compelling query is hard work. You need to go through the process methodically, and obtain feedback whenever you can. Remember, the query is your first introduction to a literary agent. You’ve got one shot to impress them. Once that agent sends you a rejection, you have to cross them off your list and move on. It’s a daunting and terrifying thought, but if you put in the hard work, you may be pleasantly surprised with the results!
Next time on Query 101: The Query Structure (Greeting, Category/Genre, Word Count, Body Copy & Bio)