I’ve been diving back into the Sea of Slush these past few weeks, and I’ve noticed something interesting. Queries aren’t matching up, for the most part, with samples. I’ve had a few queries that were dynamite, but the samples that accompanied them were sadly disappointing – it’s as though the author used up all their mojo on writing that initial pitch. But then, last night, I got the opposite – a query that was stale, boring, humdrum, and made me nearly pass on opening up the sample. For whatever reason, though, I popped open that RTF and was rewarded with an immediately immersive SF world, with a main character who had a far more engaging voice than was hinted at in the totally blah query letter.
This got me thinking – what is it that makes a good query? What is it that gets an editor – or an agent, or any “gatekeeper” to take a look at the sample, instead of just moving on to the next thing in the queue?
This morning, I put some of that down in a quick #queriesin140 session on Twitter. Here’s the takeaway:
- Pretend you’re writing the back-jacket copy for your book. Your query has to hook the agent/editor RIGHT NOW. Best tip I’ve got.
- Don’t worry about telling the full story; that’s for the synopsis. Your query is more of a trailer/teaser. Why should I open this file?
- Your query should reflect your writing style. Writing humour? Use a light tone. Lyrical? Be poetic. Don’t force it, but be yourself. Some of the best queries I’ve gotten are clever tie-ins to the “feel” of the novel, regardless of what that feel is. The query is my first look at how you write – make it pertain to what you’re doing.
- Be excited by your query, and by your book. Let this carry over into your query. Let us feel your passion for this story.
To sum up: Be excited about your book. Your query should sound like your manuscript – don’t be informal and chatty if you’re writing a literary/magical realism opus, and don’t be dull and pretentious if you’re writing a rip-roaring action-adventure. Your SYNOPSIS can explain every plot point in boring prose. Your QUERY should get me hooked, eager to read on, and should let me see how you write. Pretend you’re writing jacket copy. Get ME excited.