One of the most daunting tasks of writing a query is having to compress the plot, characters, and conflict of your manuscript down to 2-3 paragraphs. I’ve interviewed many authors who have honestly revealed that this process was more aggravating at times than writing their entire book.
So how do you accurately depict your story, while adding character, conflict, cost (not to mention voice) so that an agent will want to request more? I could easily break down the construction of the pieces and parts, but I think a more effective way is to show you a successful example that worked.
With her permission, Mary Elizabeth Summer has agreed to let me share her query for, TRUST ME, I’M LYING (Delacorte Press – October, 2014). In my opinion, it is a perfect example of what the body of a query should look like.
Julep Dupree is not a real person. In fact, Julep isn’t even her real name.
Boom! Right away you are intrigued. You know instantly the character is hiding something. Is it sinister? Is it for her own protection? As a reader, you want to know more.
She’s a grifter, a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at St. Agatha High. The downside of St. Agatha’s is that its private-school price tag is a bit higher than Julep’s father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, can afford.
Character is revealed, and we learn who Julep is and what her world looks like.
So Julep makes up the difference by running petty scams for her classmates, while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.
Stakes are revealed. What happens to Julep if her scams are discovered? We are already pulled into the story, and we haven’t even gotten to conflict yet.
But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and a missing dad, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care.
Conflict is revealed. It is clear and concise. We know who and what are at risk. Plus, the writer does a skillful job of weaving in the love interest.
With everything she has left at stake, Julep must tap all her resources and use every grift in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her.
This is a great sinker. It’s clear what Julep’s challenges are, and we, as the reader, understand everything she has to lose. Notice too, that we are left on a cliffhanger. Will Julep succeed in saving her dad? What about her future? All elements that have the reader, and hopefully an agent, asking the most important question: what happens next?
It’s true, writing the body of a query can be a monumental task. But the key in writing an effective one (as shown above) is to grab the reader from the beginning and never let go.
To recap, there are three key elements to remember:
- Who is your character? What makes them unique?
- What is the conflict? Is it clear? Does it intrigue the reader?
- Cost? What does the character stand to lose and how will that play out over the course of the story?
This is just one example of a query that works. The style, or approach, may not fit your manuscript, but it is a good structure to start with. If you’re curious about other queries that have been successful, I suggest you check out the following sites and blogs which provide a great sampling of other categories and genres.
Kickass Writers Series on Gina Ciocca‘s Blog
Successful Query Series on EM Castellan‘s Blog