[Writer’s Corner] QUERY LETTERS: Putting all the pieces together.

In “Finding Your Hook”, we covered:

  • What a Query is and isn’t
  • How to define and build out your story’s hook – the first paragraph
  • The three paragraph outline of your query

In “From Hook to Conflict” we talked about:

  • Connecting the hook to what happens next – the second paragraph
  • Identifying the important characters to name (and who NOT to name), and using the CHARACTER + CHOICE + CONSEQUENCES formula to quickly set up their stakes
  • Leaving out all other minor plot lines and place descriptions
  • Leave them wanting more

The short formula for both sections is CHARACTER + CHOICE + CONSEQUENCES.  We used the example of Mulan and came up with a basic first paragraph, which can be fleshed out in later revisions.

MULAN, an independent-minded young woman takes her aging father’s spot in the military draft by pretending to be a man. If she’s caught her family will be dishonored, and she’ll be killed.

Disguised as a man, she trains with the Imperial Troops under the careful watch of CAPTAIN SHANG, who needs to succeed on his first solo command or risk embarrassing his father, the Imperial General. When word comes that the Huns have breached the Great Wall, they rush to the front lines. Mulan proves herself in battle saving the entire troop, but she is injured, and her gender is revealed to Captain Shang. Together, they are faced with an impossible choice: Save the emperor’s life by defying the law, or protect their families’ honor with Mulan’s death.


Paragraph 3: All about your book.

  • Your novel info and author bio
  • Your novel’s working title in ALL CAPS
  • Your word count (rounded to the nearest thousand)
  • Your genre
  • 1-2 comparable titles
  • Any relevant author info
  • Specific reasons you are querying that agent
  • Professional closing with your (real) name and contact info

What’s my genre?

If you don’t know your genre, visualize your novel on a physical bookshelf at a real live bookstore. What section would they sell it under? It’s okay to be more than one genre, a lot of agents are into cross-over novels as long as they make sense. If that still doesn’t sum it up, seek a second opinion from someone who reads the genre you think you might be closest to.

How do I find Comp titles?

A comparable title is another author’s book that is like yours. Be careful not to only choose the big name titles — find someone that is truly relevant to your work. Ideally, this is a novel you’ve read. You can also find comp titles by searching in specific genres on Amazon. Using two comp titles is pretty standard, but one is fine.

What is relevant author info?

It might be easier to start with what is not relevant. Your inspiration for the story, how you’ve always wanted to be a writer, all the rejections you’ve received up until now, how many kids you have and where you live–none of this is relevant to your query letter. The only thing they want to know is if you’ve been published before, if you’ve won any writing awards, or anything else highly applicable to your book. So if you wrote a medical drama and you are also an M.D. you should add that in.

What if I have nothing published and no awards?

First, don’t stress. A lot of people are in this boat, and it’s perfectly acceptable to skip the “street cred” bio part. You can focus on your online presence if it’s good–like the number of followers for your newsletter. You can focus on any awards you won for writing–even if it’s not in the same genre or format. If you’re writing about a minority character and are of that same minority yourself, you should include that here.


Last and probably least, for your viewing pleasure I’ve included the 3rd Paragraph from my query for THE LOST SECT, available Fall 2018 from Red Adept Publishing:

THE LOST SECT is a 100,000-word urban fantasy novel with series potential. With a strong female protagonist, contemporary urban settings alongside new worlds, and a romantic sub-plot, this book will appeal to fans of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, or Melissa F. Olson’s Scarlett Bernard series. I was born and raised in Alaska, where a portion of my novel is set. After paying my dues to Endless Winter, I migrated south for college and earned a degree in Print Journalism and a B.A. in Marketing.

6 Practical Tips For Querying:

1) Always check the agent requirements on the agent’s webpage. They will most likely request a QUERY LETTER, some SAMPLE PAGES and sometimes a SYNOPSIS.

2) Create several draft templates in your email folder for the common variations, so you can simply copy, plug in names, and send. You can use the subject line to show what the template is: (Query + 10 pages + Synopsis) and (QUERY + first chapter).

3) The formatting between word and email DOES NOT transfer over correctly. You’ll have to use the ‘return’ button in your email program to create a line of white space after each paragraph. This is why keeping draft templates in your email is especially helpful, so you don’t have to do this over and over again.

4) Your Query Subject line is for more than your book title. You should also add in a little grabber, especially if it applies to their stated interests or manuscript wish list. “QUERY: The Lost Sect (UF series, no vampires, kick-ass female lead!)”

5) Send out your queries in small batches of 5 or so. If you get no responses, try tweaking your query letter before you send out more. Make sure OTHER PEOPLE are reading your letter for clarity and “grabiness”. Check out resources like Query Shark for good examples.

6) Save your dream list agents for LAST. If you start getting requests, you can loop in your dream agent quickly. BUT don’t waste your one shot to impress on your first time out of the gate. You WILL make changes and improvements, and you want them to see your best work.

If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll receive my free query letter template, my top tips and a copy of my query for THE LOST SECT (available this fall from Red Adept Publishing).


Leave a Reply