This is a long overdue post from June. Training for a triathlon and then some unrelated medical issues forced this blog to go on the backburner for a few weeks. However, I’m excited about this write-up because it’s from the 2016 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference and K. M. Walton’s Surviving Query Quicksand presentation.
To backtrack slightly, I met K. M. several years ago at a social gathering for writers. Not too long afterwards I attended the release party for her debut YA novel, Cracked. Now, there’s this idea roaming around that writers are tortured, lonely souls, always in competition with each other and surrounded by constant backstabbing and jealousy. But let me tell you the truth. In my experience, most writers I’ve met have been amazing people who are kind, generous with their time and knowledge, and rooting for their fellow writers. K.M. is no exception. She’s vivacious, always willing to help, and is a major advocate and force behind the anti-bullying campaign.
Her query presentation at the conference was amazing and I’m afraid my post will not do it justice, but perhaps I can provide you with some helpful tips. K. M. had queried her novel over 128 times before finding an agent. But persistence pays off (assuming you’ve done your homework) and K.M. has been published by a major house and has released two more novels, and other writings, with her next contemporary YA novel, Ultimatum, to be released March 2017 (hint: her website has a timeline about her publishing journey).
Now, I have written a query letter for my YA novel. It wasn’t a bad query overall. I didn’t make any major mistakes and it got the job done. I got nibbles, but nothing more. After leaving this workshop, I realized I had some work to do (actually I had a lot of work to do on the novel in general, but jumping the gun on querying and send out your novel is another post).
Remember, the purpose of a query letter is to have an agent or publisher read your sample chapters and ask for me. So to keep it simple, here we go:
- Do not include your life story
- Remove all unnecessary tidbits (if you’re a medical professional writing a medical thriller, that’s relevant. Your love of golf when you’re querying a YA paranormal romance isn’t.)
- Do not mention how much your mother/sister/brother loved it
- Do not bribe (I guess this is a thing!) or offer disingenuous compliments
- Do not overstate your accomplishments
- Tell about your project
- Tell about you – what’s relevant
- Write so that you capture your audience and they want more
- Be professional. This is a business letter which represents you and your work. Don’t be cute.
(NOTE: K.M. shared this format from Elana Johnson’s ebook FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL with permission)
- Have a hook (sum up your novel in ONE sentence. Yes, you can do it. Propel the reader to want more.)
- Provide setup (stick with the main character. Only introduce a second in full if necessary. This should be 3 – 5 sentences, about 75 – 100 words. Only include the most important details that build story or character)
- Tell about the conflict (another 3 – 5 sentences; 50 – 100 words)
- Then the consequence (what happens to the main character if he/she is not successful? What is the consequence?)
- Everything else – your bio, publishing history – only include what is relevant. Word count, genre/subgenre, other similar books – but be careful here! Don’t say “This is the next Harry Potter!” Instead, try something like “I think fans of XX would like my book.”
- Visit the agency website before you submit
- Make sure you address an agent personally! (Dear Agent or Dear Sir or Madam is not going to fly)
- Read and follow the submission guidelines (yes! yes! yes!)
I know people read these blogs and articles and think, oh, what do they know? How could I possibly reduce my grand fantasy epic to one sentence, maybe two? I need pages to explain the plot and go into detail about all the characters! My book is special and I need space!
No, you don’t. Really.
Agents and publishers do not want to spend an hour reading your query (and they won’t). They want to know simply: what is your book about, what is the main conflict, what happens if the MC fails. Honestly and truly. If you cannot tell someone what your book is about (mind you, NOT the plot, but what it is about) in one to two sentences, you have some work to do. Think elevator pitch. Or conference pitch. Go on too long and your listener’s eyes will glaze over if they haven’t already stepped off. Or tried to get off at any floor. Or jumped out a window just to get away.
Capture them with a hook, an intriguing question. Grab their attention.
K. M. provides several links on her website (hint again) about where you can get more information on writing your query and getting feedback on it.
There are a ton of resources out there. Don’t think the rules don’t apply to you.
So please, even if you are self-publishing, do your homework. If you’re at a book-selling event, or trying to get a local bookstore to carry your book, you need to grab the attention of your audience. Have your “pitch” – your intriguing question ready.
Whether you’re selling to agents, publishers, readers, or bookstore owners, remember – reel them in. Make your query so memorable, so captivating, that they must know what happens!