It is becoming harder and harder to sift through advice in the writing community. Some is very subjective so it can vary, depending on what the topic is. Other advice however, is not just wrong, but it’s bad–and this can be detrimental to any author, especially those who are going the traditional route and putting a query out there.
Some advice is along the line of, the query shouldn’t be specific.
Yes it should. If your query is not specific then agents don’t know why your manuscript is different than every other story with the same tropes out there.
Another thing is that you have to have comp titles.
No you don’t. You can have them. Doesn’t mean you have to. Especially if you can’t think of anything modern to compare your work with. Sometimes it’s better to let it stand on its own. Other times, comp titles are amazingly useful. It just depends, but don’t think it’s a necessity.
Sometimes, even the query format is jumbled.
Standard query format is as follows:
Hook – Think something sharp and witty, like the tagline of a movie. Short and engaging. One to two lines max.
Body – This is the meat. 2-3 paragraphs giving the who, what, why, and of course the stakes. THIS SHOULD NOT BE VAGUE. This should include the protagonist/antagonist/love interest OR best friend. Three names maximum. Anything more than that and it gets confusing.
Even if your story is in first or second person, your query needs to be in third person, present tense.
This is the person, this is what’s happening, but when this happens, things get messed up.
The query DOES NOT give away the ending. It gives the STAKES. Try to avoid clichés such as, “Timmy must decide if finding out the secret is worth risking his life.” This is vague. Mysteries, secrets, etc. They don’t tell me anything. What is the secret? It’s okay to tell the agent. What happens if they don’t fix the problem? If the secret is something that will effect other people, how is it only Timmy’s life at risk? There’s more. You just have to dig a little deeper.
An easy formula to use to help identify the stakes:
Character must do THIS or else THAT (usually a consequence) will happen.
The stakes should finish the body of your query.
Novel Info – NOVEL TITLE is an age category genre complete at XX,XXX words. Comp titles if you want. It is out for simultaneous submission.
Reason For Querying Of Agent – If you so choose. Again, this is not a required field. Up to you. I would say only do this if you have a specific reason to. For instance you saw their post on ManuscriptWishList and thought it would be a good fit. Otherwise, they generally expect that you’ve done your research. Keep this brief.
About Me – A little bit about yourself and any writing accomplishments you have. It’s okay if you don’t have any too. It’s not going to keep you from getting rep. Keep this brief.
Thank you for your time and consideration. (You don’t need to mention the full manuscript is available upon request. You should only be querying if your manuscript is complete and polished–that’s what agents expect, so they already assume it’s available. Also don’t suck up and be like, “I promise you won’t regret requesting my manuscript!” Bad form. Keep it professional.)
Just a note. You can put the novel info and reason for querying at the beginning or the end, but do not break it up. Me personally, when I’m judging competitions, I prefer the novel info at the end so I’m not bias. Some agents prefer it first. Again, this is a just depends, but really as far as I can tell, it’s not going to hinder your chances. It’s the meat of the query that matters.
The meat of your query should be a minimum of 250 words (unless it’s a PB) and at max 350 words. Some go over the 350 word max, and a little bit is fine, but try not to go much longer than that.
Edit: The word count is also becoming very subjective among agents. Some are even now saying 250 words or less. It comes down to researching your agents in regards to submission guidelines.
So, how do you know this is good advice? Well, you still need to do your homework. Read agent websites and blogs. Check out known query resource sites. Ask authors who have managed to snag an agent how they did it. (Honestly, we don’t bite, we’re happy to answer questions when we can.) Follow people who make it into competitions such as Query Kombat, Pitch Wars, Pitch Slam, etc. They had to write queries to get in–good queries. Ones that follow standard format and have all the elements to let an agent or judge know why their story is unique.
Don’t just read one article and assume that’s the end all be all. Even for what I wrote, there’s wiggle room. For instance some people use one POV for the body, others use two. Two is a lot trickier, and I prefer one, but a lot of people have great queries from two POV’s. It all just depends.
One last note.
DO NOT PUT RHETORICAL QUESTIONS IN YOUR QUERY. MANY AGENTS HAVE STATED STRAIGHT UP THEY DO NOT LIKE THIS.
Here’s some resources to get you started.
Agent Query Connect – this website has several forums that allows you to post your query. You’ll get brutally honest feedback. It’s where I learned quite a bit about query writing when I started.
Query Shark – This is run by the amazing Janet Reid of Fine Print Literary. She has amazing advice. Read through Query Shark. All of it.
Query Kombat – A competition run by Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and Laura Heffernan. Think Mortal Kombat, but with queries. This competition is currently in progress. So read through the feedback that the judges leave as it may even apply to your query. #QueryKombat
Pitch Slam – Another fantastic writing competition run by Leatrice McKinney. Most recently she is also participating in WCNV giving more opportunities for diverse writers and #ownvoices. Both of these are great competitions to follow and gain insightful information on query writing. #PitchSlam #WCNV
Pitch Wars – Probably the most notorious writing competition to date, created and hosted by the amazing Brenda Drake. There is so much to be learned from this competition. Not only by following the community on Twitter, but also, recently, the mentors have created a blog where we offer advice to the writing community: Writing With The Mentors. #PitchWars