Monday, September 20, 2010

The Right Way to Query

I'm back after an extended absence that I really didn't intend to take.  I've been so busy with editing and finishing up an assignment that I just couldn't seem to find the time to post.  Once again, I promise not to let such a long time go by!

This past weekend I went to a writers' conference.  I had hoped to come away with a lot of notes that I could pass along to you, but the workshops were so bad, that wasn't the case.  EXCEPT!  For one.  I had Nathan Bransford for a workshop on queries, and it was not only very informative, it was also fun.  And considering how difficult it is to write a good query, FUN was all important!  So I'm going to tell you about the things he told us.

First, a query doesn't need to be more than three paragraphs:  1) personalization; 2) what the story is about; and 3) closing, with a brief bio and publishing credits if any.

It's very important to personalize your query.  That means you need to do your research in order to learn something about this agent:  what genres do they accept, what are they looking for in that ( those) genre, and also, some little tidbit about the agent personally.  For example, if they have said in a blog that they love Chocolate Pecan Pie or they hate the Lakers, you might mention that.

The second paragraph is about the story, and it should be about three or four sentences.  This should include a) the setting; b) the protagonist's name; c) the antagonist ( which can be a person, emotion, or obstacle); d) complicating incident; e) the protagonist's quest; and f) the protagonist's ultimate goal.  These elements don't necessarily have to be in any particular order, but they should all be in that second paragraph.

Since Nathan posted this query on his blogspot, and then gave it to us in a handout, I'm going to post it here so you can see what he means by the five elements above.  The example is from ROCK PAPER TIGER.

The Beijing '08 Olympics are over, the war in Iraq is lost, and former National Guard medic Ellie McEnroe (protagonist) is stuck in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers (setting). When a chance encounter with a Chinese Muslim dissident ( complicating incident) drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust ( quest) among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side (antagonists)--in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

The third paragraph is the closing, which includes the important details of the novel: Title, word count, genre, and brief author bio and credits.

Finally, the thank you and your name.  The query should run between 250 and 350 words.  Match the tone of your query to the tone of your book, if possible...if your book is humorous, so should your query be; if the book is serious, your query should be serious, also.  At all times, be professional, but personalize!

I hope this has helped those of you who, like me, would rather write 10 novels than one query!  Nathan's talk demystified the process, and made writing a query seem much simpler than it had been in the past. 

For those of you who would like to read his blog, which is fantastic, here is the link again:

Until next time,
that's a wrap.

1 comment:

  1. Great break-down, Mikki. I hate writing queries and cover-letters so this is really helpful.
    Especially about the first paragraph. Who'da thunk it?

    Thanks for the blog link!