The very thought of writing a query used to make my stomach feel as if I’d ridden Alton Tower’s Nemesis twenty times in a row. Sweat would appear on my forehead and I would break into hives at the very mention of the Q word. I would do everything I could to avoid working on mine. But there’s no hiding from it. If you want to get an agent or editor, it’s a must. You better get used to writing them, because this is how you’ll sell your book. And you, indie author, yeah you. Don’t walk away just yet. Don’t think that just because you’re self-published that there aren’t some valuable lessons to be learned from query writing. Learning to capture the essence of your book in a clear and succinct way will help you pitch to your readers and boost sales.
So how do you go from hating writing a query to loving it? It’s all about confidence. It’s about practice. It’s about learning how to write them. Yes, there is a formula, and once you learn it, they are so much easier to tackle. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way.
1) Hook ‘em Danno- and reel them in. Agent and editors are looking for reasons to say no. You have to catch their attention from the first sentence of your query. You want them to WANT to read a partial or a full. It must grab the reader and compel them to read on.
2) It about the Quality of the words you choose, not the quantity. You need to coax the maximum impact out of every sentence so make sure the words you choose to use pack a punch. This way you can cover more information with less words.
3) Stay focused. What do you really REALLY need to know about the story? Don’t get caught up in trying to explain everything. Focus on your main character, the inciting incident, what they want, and what’s at stake. Give enough basic detail so they can understand the stakes of the plot. All the backstory and subtle nuance will come when they read the manuscript.
4) Find some fresh eyes. If you’re feeling stuck, have someone you trust take a look at it. Sometimes you can work on something so long that you can’t see the forest for the trees. Having someone else look at it can spark fresh ideas and lead you in a new direction.
5) Read blurbs from already published novels. Yeah, I know you’ve heard this one before, but it really helps. Looking at examples and trying to emulate how they did it can really help, especially if you’re struggling.
6) Don’t be afraid. Stop hiding and get started. Just put something on the page and start playing with sentences until you get the right combination. It’s a lot of trial and error at first.
I decided to post two examples of my query for Touched by Darkness. The first one is an early draft. The second is my final draft. I thought it might help to show the evolution. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you start getting some interest. The final draft has led to several requests. Yours can too.
Version 1: Too Much Information
Staying awake is taking its toll on Quinn Taylor. She’s on academic probation, benched from cheerleading, and popping caffeine pills to keep the dark dreams away. To make matters worse, Kerstin is taking over her once perfect life, stealing her boyfriend, Jeff, and taking Quinn’s spot as team captain. Now the dark visitors are growing more powerful. Awake or asleep, these demons materialize everywhere and only she can see them. When the whole school starts spreading rumours about Quinn’s weird behaviour, Aaron, a mysterious boy with a secret ability, comes to her defence. He enters her dreams and seems to read her mind. She wants to tell him about the demons, about unearthly shadows and leathery beasts crouched on her shoulder. But she’s afraid he’ll turn his back on her, that he’ll confirm her worst fear; that she’s crazy.
Aaron Collier has returned from the dead after being in a coma for over a year. Devoid of memories, he’s spent the last three years using his new psychic abilities to piece together his life by invading the thoughts of those closest to him, and he hates himself for it. His whole life is a lie. When a touch from Quinn ignites a mysterious connection and stirs a real memory from his subconscious, he can’t let her go. He’s the light in her darkness and she holds the answer to his past, but can he win her trust and her heart before the demons and Jeff destroy everything? Jeff wants her back. Her demons push her to the edge. Who can she trust? In the end, it’s Quinn’s choice: Love or lies, faith or fear, darkness or destiny.
Version 2: Hook, quality not quantity, clear and focused.
Seventeen-year-old Quinn hasn’t slept in 23 days. Not since the demons killed her Sentinel. Without his protection they freely enter her dreams, whisper of her death and feed on her fears and self-doubt. Now, she’s on academic probation, benched from cheerleading, and popping caffeine pills to keep them away. The demons are ruining her life until Aaron, an amnesiac with a psychic ability, accidentally enters her thoughts. He’s the light in her darkness and she’s the key to his past, but the last thing the demons want is for them to be together. If Aaron remembers his life as Kaemon, Quinn’s dead Sentinel now living inside the stolen body of the boy known as Aaron Collier, their combined power could tip the scales for good. To keep them apart, the demons must convince Quinn that Aaron will turn his back on her, that he’ll confirm her worst fear; that she’s crazy. Quinn must learn to trust her heart before the demons lead her to her death. In the end, it’s her choice: Love or lies, faith or fear, darkness or destiny.
Have a query you’re struggling with? Need fresh eyes? Look to the Hugs and Chocolate community for feedback. Post your query in the comments and lets work together over the next week to make it better. We can all learn from one another.