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Pitch Wars: The Query … simplified

Wednesday, 11 May 2016  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Young desperate girl writing with an old typewriter. Conceptual

Are you query ready for Pitch Wars? The first impression of your book comes from the query. It should be short and hooky. But how do you get everything about your book in your query? You don’t. It’s a teaser. You only need just enough information to hook an agent or editor. So I thought I’d share with you how I do my queries. Here’s a simplified formula. I hope it helps you to come up with a query that hooks.

1st Paragraph – The hook. This should be a few sentences that hooks the agent/publisher to read on. What’s unique about your story? Get it in your hook. I usually start with my inciting incident for the hook like in the example below, “Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library.” It’s the part where after something life-changing happens to your character, they are propelled on their journey. There’s no turning back. No going back to life as normal.

2nd Paragraph – The book. This is a mini-synopsis of the story. The main plot. What is the character’s goal? What obstacles are in the way of her goals? What will happen if she doesn’t accomplish her goals? Get the conflict and stakes in this mini-synopsis.

3rd Paragraph – Your bio. Publishing credits and blogs or sites you contribute to that have to do with writing only. Don’t add family, pets, or events that don’t pertain to publishing. Don’t say your mother read it and loves it. If you don’t have a bio like I hadn’t when I was querying, no worries, just leave it out.

4th (or 3rd) Paragraph – The closing.

Note: Keep your query to around 250 words. Do personalize your query to an agent. Add voice and stir.

Sample:

Dear Ms. Agent,

(Hook) Gia Kearns would rather spar with boys than kiss them. That is, until Arik, a leather-clad hottie in the Boston Athenaeum, suddenly disappears. While examining the book of world libraries he’d abandoned, Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library, where Arik and his Sentinels—magical knights charged with protecting humans from the creatures traveling across the gateway books—rescue them from a demonic hound.

(Mini-synopsis) Jumping into some of the world’s most beautiful libraries would be a dream come true for Gia, if she weren’t busy resisting forbidden love or dodging an exiled wizard seeking revenge on both the Mystik and human worlds. Add a French vixen obsessed with Arik and a flirtation with a young wizard, and Gia must choose between her heart and her head, between Arik’s world and her own, before both are destroyed.

(Bio) I didn’t have one.

(Closing) Combining elements of fantasy and romance, LIBRARY JUMPERS, a young adult fantasy is complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,
Brenda Drake

This query earned me many partial and full requests from agents, and ultimately a book deal.

 

18 Comments
  • DJ Siciliano says:

    Great advice! Thank you again!

  • Kari says:

    Thank you for you so much for the advice Brenda! Querying is a goal this year (as is Pitch Wars), and something I’m still struggling with. Great tips!

  • Sara Mariah says:

    Thanks so much for sharing & breaking down your query. I haven’t got any publishing creds to my name, so knowing that you had such success despite a lack of a bio in your query makes me feel a lot better!

  • Angie Quantrell says:

    Thanks, Brenda!

  • Brenda, where would you add personalization in that query? Some say to put it at the beginning, other say to start with the hook and put personalization at the end. My tendency would be to put it at the beginning if I were saying, “We met at the XYZ Writer Conference and you said my hook sounded ‘enticing’.” but put it at the end if I were saying “I read on the Manuscript Wish List that you wanted to see mermaid romance, and it so happens I have such a book.”

    What do you think?

    • Brenda Drake says:

      I would put the personalization at the top. Like you would an introduction. Just like the example you gave. Do a lead in to the hook. “Dear Agent X, We met at the XYZ Writer Conference and you said you were looking for paranormal romance. I wondered if you might be interested in my story.”

      With that said, I’m not a fan of personalization. I’m probably the minority here, but I’m in good company. Check out what the Shark has to say about here: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2013/11/question-query-personalization.html

      • Scott Underwood says:

        Brenda — It was so nice to meet you recently at the Midwest Writers Workshop, and I’m excited about entering Pitch Wars for the first time! … A question about queries in the mentor phase of the competition: Should we address the queries directly to the mentors we’ve selected, or should we write the query as if it were going to an agent?

  • Thank you for the fantastic advice as well as the concrete example. Isn’t it amazing that a person can write a 75K-word novel and spend hours on the 250-word query?

    I always appreciate your openness and sharing.
    Thank you, Brenda!

    Michelle

  • Rick Eve says:

    Brenda,

    For the BIO, (especially for PitchWars submittal) do you believe that it is beneficial to include self-published works?

    My debut novel won an award for Excellence in Independent Publishing. It’s not a Hugo or anything, but the book’s not a flop.

    Several years ago, the advice was to not mention our SP work, as it would be interpreted as ‘couldn’t get a contract’. Today, some agent blogs encourage it, others don’t seem to care.

    Thanks for all you are doing.
    Can’t wait for PitchWars to open!

    Yours,

    Rick Eve

  • Funny how much conflicting info there is about queries. Or anything writing, for that matter. One freelance editor I’ve worked with insisted I should use the entire single-spaced page. The query got very long. 250 words seems short after that, but a good challenge. Still, I’m more comfortable with 250-350, especially when you start adding in the ever-so-important personalization.

  • I’ve been wanting to query to agents with two of my completed novels, because they highlight the two kinds of writing I often do. Both have been edited and polished, ready for an agent to look over them but i can’t figure out how to write a query letter describing two novels. Is this something that can be done or does it sound too immature? I’d like an agent who feels comfortable representing both sides of my writing, so I’d hate to only query one at a time.

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