Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Query Like It's Hot

A few weeks ago I had photos of the National Cathedral from DC.
This week I'm featuring the beautiful mosque I walked through in DC.

A Silly Title

Sorry, people. I don't know what's up with my blog post title. But you do need to sing it to yourself to the tune of "Drop it like it's hot."

The Wonderful World of Queries

Queries are such an oddity. I swear, everyone's got their own formula for what works best, and, as every agent admits, something that they love, another agent might hate.

With that in mind, I'm writing a little about what literary agent Kristin Nelson recommended when I dialed in to her webinar (her blog also has a ton of archived, interesting agenty information and some great query-y info too). If you're actually in the process of querying, I highly recommend the webinar itself because she gives personalized feedback on what is and isn't working in your own query, which is incredibly valuable. And you get to watch her dissect others' queries and ask any questions you've got.

I've seen all this info elsewhere, so I don't think I'm giving away any trade secrets that she'd prefer to keep for her webinars. Just confirming the info I've seen - straight from the horse's (or agent's) mouth.

Query Letter Structure

The basic structure of a query letter (my insights included) should be:

  1. Personalized Greeting. Mild sucking up won't hurt.
  2. Project Summary - title, word count, genre. Including comparisons to other books on today's market would be a good idea.
  3. Pitch Paragraph of 1-3 paragraphs. More on this below.
  4. (optional) Bio, writing-specific, not your life story.

Pitch Paragraph Structure

Ms. Nelson and her compatriot, Angie Hodapp, who helped run the webinar, recommended using James Scott Bell's three sentence pitch structure as the basis for a good pitch paragraph(s).

The link I gave has an interview with Mr. Bell and an example in addition to the pitch, but I'll list the three sentences here for clarity:

Sentence 1: Main character's (MC's) name, vocation, and initial situation, aka, give their role in their ordinary world, describing what their life is like before the plot happens.
Ex. Harry Potter is an orphan who his aunt and uncle force to live in a broom cupboard under the stairs.

Sentence 2: "When"  + main plot problem or inciting incident, aka, the thing that pushes the MC into the main plot.
Ex. When an owl delivers Harry's letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry finds out his aunt and uncle have been hiding the truth about his parents: they were a witch and wizard.

Sentence 3: "Now" + stakes
Ex. Now Harry must navigate an unknown world, full of dragons, giants, and flying broomsticks. A dark power also awaits Harry in this world, one that threatens everyone in the new life he just found.

And there you have it: the bare bones of a respectable query letter.

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