Monday, May 2, 2016

Query Theory 101: The Anatomy of a Query Letter

Query Components: Some Assembly Required
{ image: pixabay }
This is Part I in my new
Query Theory series! **

The Anatomy of a Query

Ahh the dreaded query. Back when I first started querying my novels, it seemed so insurmountable. But it really doesn't have to be such a scary thing. First, it's best to break querying down into its parts, so today we're going to stick to the basics. The first question we have to ask is...

What's in a query letter? 

** sidenote: props to Laura Rueckert, who -- in addition to writing gorgeous books -- also came up with the name for this blog series and for the Query Lab!

Query Anatomy 101

A query letter is really nothing more than a nice, single-spaced, one-page letter (about 250-350 words) with a single mission:  pitch your book in a way that grabs the agent's attention.

Here are the basic components of a query letter:

  • Email "To" Field:      -

  • Email Subject:          -  Query: SPACEBOOK - YA sci-fi

  • Greeting                      - "Dear Ms. AgentName:"

  • Personalization        - "I read on your blog that you are looking for XYZ,
                                                 so I think you'll like my YA sci-fi which is XYz"

  • Hook (Pitch)             -  THE PITCH FOR YOUR BOOK
                                                (AKA THE MEAT OF THE QUERY)
                                                 WRITTEN IN 3rd PERSON PRESENT TENSE

  • Book (Details)        - "SPACEBOOK is a YA sci-fi, complete at 75,000 words."

  • Cook (Bio)                - "I am an active member of SCBWI,
                                                  and avid watcher of The 100..."

  • Closing                      - "Below, please find the first 10 pages of the manuscript as per
                                           your guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration."

  • Contact Info             - "Sincerely,
                                                 [Name, email, phone number, blog address etc]"

    ... and in e-queries: no attachments unless requested!

Doesn't look quite so scary now, does it? If we think of each component on its own, it gets just a little bit less daunting. If you have all these components, even in rough draft form: relax.

You're already halfway there.

{ Note, for example, that one agent ran the numbers and found that 25% of query letters sent to him were improperly formatted. While this isn't a dealbreaker for all agents, they do get tired of seeing the same problems over and over, and basic query mistakes can add up. That's why it's so important to give them what they want. If you've got the key parts of the query, you're well on your way! }

If you're not, don't panic.

... Okay, you're saying, that's all really nice, but what exactly do you put in each of these sections?  ... and how do you arrange them? Is that really the best order? ...  also: is there a difference between a hook and a logline and a pitch and a blurb and a synopsis? ... and dang it, why does my pitch suck? Can we please talk more about the pitch? ... and also maybe bios, comps, and personalization?

Well, all those things will be the topics of soon-to-come blog posts in the Query Theory series, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's some extracurricular reading ...

Resources -- Basic Parts of a Query Letter:

Query Letter Mad Lib - Former Agent Nathan Bransford || Query Letter Checklist -  Agent Janet Reid (aka The Query Shark) || Query Letter Basics - Agent Query || How to Format Your Query - Agent Carly Watters || Querying Agents - Helen Ginger || How to Format a Query Letter - Former Agent Nathan Bransford || No one right way, but basic parts  - Former Agent Mary Kole || Down and Dirty Query Letters - Agent Nephele Tempest || How to Write a Query Letter - Agent Rachelle Gardner || How to Write a Query Letter in 5 Easy Steps - Writer Unboxed || Query Letters with Agent Kate McKean - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 ||

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