Between Sun vs. Snow and reading for the first round of Pitch Madness, I’ve looked at a ton of queries in the last few months. Today I want to share a few observations about what grabbed my attention and what made me pass.
A Great Hook
Many of the entries I ended up rating high had some sort of great hook. A short beginning sentence that set the tone for the rest of the query. What was even better was when the hook paid off, adding tension and conflict to the story and creating a need to want to read more.
In my opinion that’s the key to a great query-making the reader curious. You want to leave them with unanswered questions. Create a sense of urgency so they want to read on. If you can build this into your query, an agent will likely request.
Conflict and Stakes
I can’t tell you how many queries I read that told me the basics of the story but gave absolutely no sense of what was at stake for the protagonist. Sure, it’s great that they’re the only one on Earth who can save a mysterious alien planet, but what will it cost them to help? What will force them to make difficult choices? This creates tension and makes me what to read on.
I am in total awe of people who write epic fantasy or sci-fi. The worlds they create are amazing, and I’m always drawn into a book if the setting is unique and something I haven’t seen before. With that being said, I have to confess that I know how hard it is to explain it all in your query…so don’t. Give hints as to what the world looks like in its basic form, but don’t use your whole query to tell me all about it. What I really want to know is what’s at stake for the main character, their goals, as well as the challenges they face in “their” world.
I’m on the fence with this one, but I feel like I need to include it. When I’ve been hesitant about selecting an entry it always seems I’m swayed if the author has picked good comp titles. This gives me a better sense of the book’s tone. For agents, it gives them an idea as to where your story would fit on the bookshelves. But I will also add that comp titles should never be mega bestsellers (like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games). I’ve heard agents say they should be mid-list titles that you can see your book sitting next to at the store. So if you decide to use comp titles, make sure they are a good fit.
Differences Between a Query and Synopsis
I saw quite a few entries that read more like a synopsis of the story than a query. Here is the difference:
A query should be a short overview of your story. It should give a sense of character, conflict and cost. What it should not do is tell the ending.
With a synopsis you’re giving a full-blown account of every aspect of the story: beginning, middle, and end. In the synopsis you are expected to reveal the ending.
One last note…
Have someone who knows NOTHING about your book read your query. If they’re excited to know more about the story, you’ve got a winner. If they have more questions than answers, you should re-work your query until it makes sense for the reader.
These are only a few common things I saw in the over 300 queries and pitches I’ve read in the last few months. If you have any questions about what I’ve shared, or want to know more about what I loved in the queries I selected, please leave a comment!