Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Query Letters

I’ve been thinking about query letters the last few days. Partly because I just read a couple lovely ones by two of my bloggy friends and partly because I’ve been thinking of one for my Jedda Hitler book. Call me a masochist, but I actually like queries. I write one for every book, whether I’m putting it out for submission or not.

I write queries to help keep a focus for a work in progress and to have a handle at all times to tell my friends what I’m working on. Lest you think I’m crazy, I’m not the only one who does this. I know my friend Shelley, The Storyqueen, does this too, among others. She has a wonderful, recent post about writing a query here.

To add to what she said, I have a few tips I hope help you as much as they help me.

1. Write ten queries for books you love before you start on your own. Try to keep each one to only one or two paragraphs. No more than about 250 words. You’ll find after the ten, your own attempt at the book you know best (your manuscript) will be a lot easier.

2. Be very careful what questions you raise in a query—there are good questions and bad questions. Causing a “I want to know more” is good, causing confusion is bad. Have someone read it and pay close attention if they have any questions. Likely, there’s an important, underlying reason for their confusion.

3. A good query hook should feel like there is simply no other way to put it. That that is the log line as it should be.

4. Having said number three, still try and write the query at least three different ways. After you do that, you’ll be able to glean the best from all three and make your hook and presentation a little stronger.

5. Rewrite your hook at multiple stages of the book. Write it during the idea stage, write after the first draft, write it while you’re letting it rest, and write it while you outline. Don’t peek and see what you’ve already written until you are done with edits. This can also help with gleaning the best and most concise version.

6. If you fail at all else in a query, make sure you’ve at least a) captured the tension and conflict in the story, and b) the essence of your characters.
 A few months ago I won Agent Mary Kole’s grand prize for Courtesy and Patience’s query letter. If you read the query here, you’ll see that it wasn’t very orthodox, but it captures me and the tone of my book well enough. I’m telling you this not to brag, but because this opportunity, along with one on Authoress’ blog (Miss Snark's First Victim is great!) opened up a lot of doors for me.

And I’d like to pay that forward….

If you could use help with your query, please leave me a comment with your email below. The first ten requests I get, I’ll contact you and set up arrangements for you to email your query to me. Hopefully this will be useful to some of you!

Oh—and if you don’t want a query critique, you can still leave me a comment. Just tell me what you have planned for this wonderful, shiny new week!


  1. Yay!! I loved your query letter that won!! It's succint and to the point - no wasted words, it just grabbed my attention immediately - you had your hook, the plot of the book and your bio. Wonderful!

    Thank you for these wise words on how to query and the link to Storyqueen.

    Good luck to everyone entering!!

    Take care

  2. Ha!! So glad i'm not the only one that does that. I always right my query when I'm about halfway through. At that point I usually know what my ending is gonna be so I go for it. But I usually end up writing about two more times once my novel is completed. It gives me a feel of where I'm going. I'm 5% away from being half-way through my current WIP. I'd love for you to take a look at my VERY ROUGH QUERY for it haha. And congrats on winning that prize for your query letter (that is def something to brag about since it's so hard to get just right!).

  3. I don't need a query critique. It's wonderful of you to offer, though!

    I love it that you enjoy writing queries. I never heard of such a thing, lol! This is such a positive post about them, and I'll remember it when I get to the query stage. I like tips #1, 4, & 5; those are terrific ways to practice and hone my query-writing skills. Thanks for the advice and for the sunny outlook!

  4. What a nice post, full of great information and an offer of help at the end! You are no doubt the exception among writers to actually enjoy queries!

  5. I don't need a query critique, I just wanted to say that this was a great post with some excellent suggestions! Thanks! By the way, I also write a query as I write to keep myself focused.

  6. I like your tips. They would help ease the tension of writing a query by practicing on other books.

  7. I don't write the query, but I do write my one line or one paragraph description. It helps me focus. AND it's easier than queries.

  8. What a lovely idea - you are so kind :)

    Queries are not my forte - I'd love some help & advice!

    I'm definitely going to try your ideas here - great thinking!

  9. I'd love a critique of my query! I've been a coward about writing it because unlike SOME, I am not a masochist.

    These are some cool tips. I hadn't thought of writing queries for other books I love as a practice exercise although the idea makes perfect sense to me.


  10. I don't need a query critique, but I HAD to jump out of my reader and into your blog to tell you how delightful I think this post is, and how sweet I think you are.

    I LOVE our bloggy writing community and you give it a lot of ♡. Thanks for being you.


  11. oh I'm not quite ready yet, however your tips will be invaluable for when I start putting a query letter together (which hopefully will be soon!)

    i love the tip on writing query letters for other books first before trying your hand at your own- i havent read that one anywhere but it makes perfect sense!

    your query for the contest was awesome! i loved it- def something for others to aspire to :)

    thanks for sharing!

  12. You are too sweet to offer your help!! I am not a pro at queries and I've only written one (and it's terrible but I'm still revising my novels so I figure I've got time!)

    I know whoever needs the help you'll have a wealth of knowledge! I'm taking this post and bookmarking it!

  13. I will continue to pack up my house this week...But I tell you, I will be so glad to be moved and have this house ready to put up for sale, hopefully by the end of September and I never want to do this again :)...Hope you have a happy, fun week!

  14. I can totally use this. I suck at queries. S.U.C.K. I've worked at it and worked at it and yet, it's still too darn long. Please do critique away, and be brutal.

  15. I love the idea of writing query letters for books you have read before attempting your own.
    When I am ready to query, you can be sure I will do that before I do anything else.

  16. This is great advice!!! Thanks, thanks, thanks! I'm just about ready to dive into my query and this will help me tons. =)

  17. Jackee, that is so nice of you to offer query help to people. You rock!! I am not good with queries, so when I rewrite the one for my WiP I'm going to follow your advice from this post. I agree with you about writing the query early on in the writing-process. I've found you can find so many things wrong with a plot just by reading the query. Amazing, isn't it? Who'da thunk? :)

    Again, good job paying it forward and congrats to all the people who get your awesome advice on their queries!! :)


  18. Good for you! I wouldn't dream of writing a query before writing a book. It would scare me too much. But like everything, queries get easier with practice.

  19. I am definitely adding this post to my list of query helps. Awesome tips!

    I haven't tackled the query letter yet but I LOVE your idea of writing queries for 10 other books you admire. What a great way to dive into the process!

    Off to read your query letter now and visit Story Queen's advice too!

  20. I write the synopsis and query before I write the book. It really helps me focus. Glad to know I'm not alone!

  21. Excellent points!! Writing a query letter is hard, but fun at the same time. Yay to another query letter lover!

  22. I'm glad to be your bloggy friend!

    You give some fabulous tips. You have one of the best queries I've ever seen, so I listen to what you say.

    Good luck to everyone entering.

  23. hi miss jackee! i didnt know about query letters til i got blogging with my writer friends. so far i did 3 of them for my shark book. my brother said they were pretty bad. ugh. now i know lots more on how to do it and im gonna try again. maybe when i get my next one done you could read it. youre gonna probably fall down laughing at it and say yikes lenny you got no hope! ha ha
    ...smiles and hugs from lenny

  24. This is a great post (far more helpful than mine, I think!)


    (And just so you know, my black patent leather danskos came today!)

  25. Bummer, I'm too late. :( Congrat's to all the people who got lucky enough to get some help from Jackee! Jackee congratulations on your recent successes. :) Have an awesome week!

  26. I like your writing. it is great and more the information.

  27. I just sent out some queries, so we'll see if I have any luck with those!

    One thing I found in writing/rewriting/remashing AGAIN my query, was that I really couldn't write the query completely until I had finished the edits and decided the story was ready to send out. I don't think this is required, by any means, but it turned out that way for me (with this book).

  28. I am probably late but would love a look at my query:))

  29. Your tips are fabulous! And that's so generous of you to give all those critiques!

    I hope you have a wonderful weekend!! :)

  30. It's great you gave tips (thanks!), and it's so kind of you to help others with their letters. I write my query letters at different stages, too. Query letters evolve. Number one strikes me as an especially cool idea! Congrats on winning Mary Kole's contest! Wow!

    Storyqueen rocks, doesn't she?! :)