Monday, August 24, 2015

The Query

For all of us writers, I feel for you. Writing a query is crazy hard. You've spent forever writing your 300 page novel and now it's time to sum it up and make your characters sparkle in 250-300 words.

Last month I attended the super fantastic DFW Writers Conference and had the opportunity to learn from some agents and editors exactly what they are looking for in a query!

YAY! And let me say, they all wanted different things. So. There's that. Do your research! :) Most only accept email queries, so keep that in mind.

It's time to roll up your shelves, pour a cup of coffee or glass of wine and get to it. You might have to write several queries slanted to the agents and editors of your choice.

Top tips:

1. Most of the agents said they read queries after work. Some said right before they shut their eyes! Your words must grab them! Keep them awake!
     *Make it interesting. 
     *Be precise and keep it short.

2. Give your title, word count, and genre up front. (These agents wanted this information first. Some may want it at the end. It's a gamble!)

Dear Mr. Bob Jenkins,

I'm querying you because of your interest in contemporary romance. My NA romance novel, SAVING WAVES is complete at 73,000 words.

3. NO cliches! NO questions!
     *Don't ask if your character can survive the hellish plot you've planned for them. 
     *Don't open with a boy meets a girl and they fall in love.
     *DO show why your characters are unique.
     *DO share why your story is distinctive.

4. Share the story. Sounds crazy, but the agents said sometimes they read a query and have no idea what the book is about!
     *Start with setting. In one or two words. 
     *Introduce the main character.
     *Give inciting incident. 

Sara desperately needs a peaceful vacation after a turbulent college freshman year. She goes to her aunt's beach house in California determined to find solace on the waves, and connect with her dead mother's favorite sport. On her first day out, she slams into Ryan, breaking his board.

     *Move onto stakes.
     *Share motivations. 

Back on the beach, Sara apologizes for ruining Ryan's board, but he's furious. He rips her a new one in front of all surfers. Now there's no way anyone will want to teach her to surf, dashing all her hopes of finding tranquility on the waves and closure with her mother's passing.

     *How will the character try to get what she wants?

Sara is determined. She returns to the beach the next day, and surprisingly, Ryan says hello. He agrees to work with her, if she'll buy him a new board. Sara takes her chances and gets a job at the surf shop where Ryan works. As the two connect over cash registers and waves, they open up about their troubles and find that their feelings for one another are as steamy as the noontime sun on the beach. 

5. End with a short bio. Add anything pertinent to your novel.
     *Your education.
     *Work history.
     *Publishing credits such as short stories, articles, or books.
     *Memberships to writing organizations.
     *A fun detail about you that relates to the agent or editor you're querying.

SAVING WAVES is a standalone novel. I'm a member of RWA and own the online dating company, Surf's Up. Several of my articles on dating and surfing have been published in Oceanside Times. 

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sara Surfer

(Total word count = 240)

6. Format it like a business letter! And remember to reread, double-check it, test email it to yourself, etc. 

I also read a ton of back cover copy and book blurbs on Goodreads and Amazon. Nathan Bransford has awesome query tips. Check out his mad lib query and explore his site. Query Shark recently posted an amazing query workshop. It's a MUST READ! Go read it now!

And breathe. Don't sweat it. I just sent out a batch of queries and later found an error in one. Agents are people. They understand. Just do the BEST you can!

If all else fails you, get some random strangers or the baristas at Starbucks to read it and see if they can figure out what your book is about. :) Or ask your CPs and writing buddies. 

We love to hear from you! What query tips do you have? Share the love! 


  1. Diane,
    This is an awesome post. Encouraging and practical. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're very welcome, Henry! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

  2. Lots of great ideas, Diane! I love your tip on reading back covers and book blurbs. I found it helped to read a few blurbs for books I'd already read as well, that way I could really see how over-arching the descriptions were!

    Sounds like an AMAZING conference! :)

    1. It was a fantastic conference! The agents and editors were so gracious and helpful. They gave us candid answers during the panels. Book blurbs are the BEST! :)

  3. Great tips! :) Thanks so much for sharing.