In the summer, when it was too hot to do anything but melt in the shade, the kids on our block would get together to tell stories about birds pecking out our neighbor’s eyeballs, hook-handed escapees from the insane asylum, and dolls that attacked their owners in their sleep. Just as we’d set a crucial scene, pause to increase dramatic tension, or introduce a particularly creepy detail, George Hensel would peer through his grime-smeared glasses, seemingly fascinated by the story, and say, “Yes, yes go on,” stopping us cold.
“Shut up, George,” we’d say. “Get the H outta here, George.” And George would zip his lips, waiting to pounce, refusing to budge. So we’d continue, losing our place, starting over, lurching to the finish. The story a complete bust.
What does this introduction have to do with anything?
I haven’t a clue. It’s associative. I started writing this blog and George kept popping into my head, so instead of trying to block him out the way I used to, I thought I’d try to work with it. Hang in there with me while I pull out of this nosedive. George’s interruptions introduced a paradox—This is fascinating, tell me more/But I won’t let you. And even though we knew these freakin’ stories inside and out, the more George interrupted us at a critical moment, the more important it became for us to tell that story, to hear it.
And this relates to a query letter how?
The query letter for a novel contains the introduction, the hook, and your biography. You want the hook to be tight, highly polished, and compelling. You want it to pique the agent’s interest without giving away the store. George—and it wrecks me to say this—was a query savant. He knew the exact minute to interrupt the narrative to frustrate, tease, and entice. We can take a lesson from George, again, not having fun making George a guru. Frustrate the agent in a good way. Get to a crucial point and stop where George would have interrupted, then entice with a question or hint of what’s to come. Get the agent who’s reading your query to think, Yes, Yes, Go on. So they’ll write, Go ahead. Send more.
Enough about George
To help you write a query letter that’s tough to reject, check out these articles and blogs, many written by people who actually read query letters, thousands of them, for a living. You’ll get general advice, find examples of edited letters, and review successful queries from numerous genres that led to book deals.
- Writers’ Digest: Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (The absolute best place to start. This ten-part blog contains advice and examples. The site has just been redone, and you have to search for the blogs, so I’m listing the links for the remaining nine entries: #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10.)
- How to Write a Query Letter (QueryTracker: Fundamentals, examples, and links to other resources)
- How to Ensure 75% of Agents Will Read Your Material (Writers’ Digest: Overall advice and edited examples)
- Successful Query Letters for Literary Agents (Media Bistro, GalleyCat: Contains 23 query letters across genres)
- How to Write a Query that Gets Noticed (Books & Such Literary Agency: Overall advice)
- The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter (Writers’ Digest: Overall advice plus links to examples)
- What to Write in the Bio Section of Your Query Letter (Writer Unboxed: FAQ, plus what to include and what to leave out)
- 5 Reasons Really Great Queries Get Rejected (Books & Such Literary Agency: Overall advice)
So go forth and draft your query. And if you need to know about nonfiction queries, stay tuned.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? I’ve listed links to articles that discuss how to write great queries. Which did you find the most helpful? The least? Any articles you love that aren’t here?
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