We here at UpWrite Ladies are proud to partner with other writers. I mean, it’s kinda what we’re all about. So please enjoy this helpful article from guest blogger Odelia Emmanuel.
The Five Elements of Great Query Letters
If you’re reading this it means you’re probably getting ready to send your novel or other project out on submission. There are certain characteristics every query letter should have to make it stand out in the slush pile:
- Clarity. I have critiqued many a query (just last week in fact) and a lot of the times after reading one I’m not sure what the story is about. If your query is confusing to critique partners it will be confusing to agents. Agents don’t want to keep track of seven named characters or try and connect points A, B, and X to figure out what you meant or what the point of your story is. They want a succinct preview of the plot (i.e. book jacket copy) that makes them want to keep reading. One thing you can do to avoid a confusing query is to write it before you even start your novel. I do this to help myself stay on track and so I have a clear idea of where the story is headed. A query is your first chance to impress an agent. You don’t want to blow your shot because you confused them.
- An original premise. This is easier said than done and somewhat subjective, but as a writer you should read enough to know what is or isn’t being written about and whether your manuscript fills a hole in the marketplace. If your query involves a vampire love triangle that’s a problem. Maybe somewhere there are still agents who are on the hunt for these types of novels, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If you don’t have enough time to read as much as you should, check out Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus. Reading book reviews is faster than reading an entire book and is a quick way to know if your story has already been done.
- Interesting, relatable characters. The setting of your story is important. Plot is important. But characters are what suck readers in. If you don’t paint a picture of an intriguing character the rest of your story doesn’t matter. Make sure an agent can immediately identify with your main character. Details about who they are and what they want/what goal they are trying to achieve should be included in the query. Also, it needs to be clear that there are stakes for your character. Something has to happen to them. Whether it is external conflict, internal, or both, agents need to be assured that something exciting is going to happen when they read your manuscript. A query letter is your chance to convince an agent to come along for whatever ride your character is on.
- A short, movie-like pitch. The best queries can be boiled down to one sentence. To be able to sell your book you need to be so familiar with it that you can summarize it in a single statement. If you can’t sell it, how can you convince an agent he or she can sell it?
- The basics. Include the genre, word-count, and title of your work. Tell the agent why you are querying him or her. Refer to the agent by name, not “Dear Agent.” Mention any relevant bio information (awards won, conferences attended, education, some nugget about what makes you the ideal person to write this story). Do not tell the agent about your favorite band or that you own three dogs unless it is completely relevant to your work.
Following the above advice will help you refine your query and get it into the best shape possible for submission.
About the Blogger:
Odelia Emmanuel is a contemporary young adult fiction author. She has worked in radio, television, and magazine publishing, but her greatest passion is writing. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master’s degree from Northern Illinois University. She writes from wherever she happens to be, but the majority of her writing is done from Chicago.
When she isn’t writing she enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and family.