I’ve talked about Sara Megibow‘s #10QueriesIn10Tweets before over on my blog.  To give a quick summation for those who don’t follow her, she’s a literary agent who sits down once a week with the next ten queries in her queue and tweets acceptances or rejections.  She doesn’t talk details about any of the pieces, just what they did either right or wrong.  For anyone, I stress anyone, who plans to query a novel at any point in the future, this is absolutely required reading, even if your genre of choice doesn’t match her wish list.

Last week she did something different, posting seven fictional queries, providing more detail than she’s willing with actual queries to demonstrate just what people do wrong.  It serves as seven very specific examples of what not to do when writing a query, and what to actually do right.

  1. Make sure the characters are interesting.
  2. Pitch the story, not the theme/moral.
  3. Write comprehensibly.
  4. Focus on the story, not overly specific details.
  5. Write in English, minimize jargon from your world.
  6. Make sure there’s a unique hook.
  7. Query what the agent reps.

It’s amazing that a writer can rise above the pack just by getting #3 and #7 right, both of which should go without saying.  The other five points boil down to one simple fact: when you’re writing a query you have a very limited number of words to get an agent or editor interested, and you’re writing to someone who potentially processes a lot of queries on a daily basis.  You’re potentially sunk on your first sentence.  You certainly have no more than a paragraph.  Don’t let the story get in the way of itself.  Focus on what’s unique about the story.  You wrote it, you should love it, the goal is telling someone else why they should love it to.  I’m going to repeat my three query promises that I’ve made before, because I think they’re important:

  • I will spell check, grammar check, and even have someone beta read my query letter before I send it.
  • I will pitch my plot.  I will keep my readers in suspense but understand an agent needs to know what he or she will be representing.
  • I will research agents.  I will read their websites, make sure they rep what I’m writing, and not bother the ones who don’t.  I will include attachments only when and where requested.

Makes it sound so easy.

Yes, I write these posts about how easy it should be to write queries to psych myself up for when I write my own later this year.  Yes, I know it’s not actually that easy.

About the author

DLThurston DL Thurston is a writer of novels, screenplays, and the occasional short story. He has short stories due out soon in the Steam Works anthology from Hydra Publications and in The Memory Eater. When he's not writing, he also brews beer and even drinks it sometimes. Check out his exploits either on his blog or on Twitter.