Query Tips

I've spent most of the weekend at a writer's discussion forum at AQ Connect and reading every single post of the Query Shark. After much agony, I'm starting to get a sense of how to write a query. Here's some of what I've learned a query should be:

Focused.
The most common mistake I see (and make myself) is to try to tell everything that happens. To the author, everything is important, but not to the agent. Your novel is like a five course meal, but in the query the agent only wants to know about the main dish. If the main dish is liver and onions, the agent's not going to care that they get their favorite soup, salad, and dessert with it.

A good guideline I discovered is to limit your query to two or three named characters. Any more than that and your characters tend to get distilled down to stereotypes, which is Bad. Also, focusing on two or three characters - what happens to them and what they do - helps to focus on what's really important in the story.

Logical. Every sentence should lead to the next, and every sentence should have a reason for being there. If there's a sentence that doesn't fit, try taking it out - sometimes you'll find that it didn't need to be there in the first place (even if that character or event was important in the novel, see above).

Terse. Likewise, look at each, individual word in the query and decide if it really needs to be there. A lot of words writers use in queries ("that", "when", "as", "just", etc.) can be cut easily and the sentence will still mean the same thing. Other sentences can be trimmed by moving things around or combining sentences. In either case, every word you can cut will make your query better.

But knowing what to do is not always enough. Like most things, it takes practice to get good at this stuff. For that, I recommend the following: (1) read critiques of others' queries, (2) critique queries for others, and (3) get your query critiqued by others.

I don't know if my query is good enough or not yet, but it's definitely better. I also learned this weekend that an effective query should be getting about a 30% request rate or better. Meaning 3 out of every 10 queries sent out should be getting a letter back asking for more.

So for I'm at 0%. I'll let you know how that changes. The third transport is on its way out, and I'm due to send a fourth one in the next week or two.

2 comments:

authorjt said...

Mr. Adam Heine,

I saw your profile on agent query and hoped I could add you to my link on my blogspot, or perhaps we could even exchange links. I have written a complete novel and have started blogging my next short novel, titled, "The Potter and The Clay." The blogspot for this is www.thepotterandtheclay.blogspot.com

Hope I hear from you.

JT Martinson

united states under attack said...

love your site. I'm an aspiring author and am currently writing a novel. I'm writing one chapter a week. Please swing by if you get a minute and tell me what you think.

J.A.S.Z.I.
http://unitedstatesunderattack.blogspot.com/