Query Letter Approaches

Photo by Keith Williamson

There’s no one right way to write a query. (photo by Keith Williamson)

In preparation to start querying agents, I pulled up my notes from the 2013 Surrey International Writers’ Conference. I was lucky enough to attend the Queries That Work workshop with Penguin Canada’s Adrienne Kerr. Here were some of my key takeaways from her presentation:

  • Know what your agent/editor has recently acquired. Demonstrate that you’ve done your homework.
  • Focus on areas of expertise that match your project. If you have ‘x’ skill and are writing about ‘x’ topic, let the agent or editor know that in the query.
  • Do more research. Publishers Marketplace will tell you all the deals your agent/editor has made since 2000. Do your homework, but be prepared – this is not a free tool.
  • Similar sales. Feel free to throw in sales numbers of comparable titles to yours. It continues to demonstrate that you know your market. However, BE MODEST. You are not J.K. Rowling.

Query Approaches

Three of the most popular approaches to query letters are as follows:

  • The What If? This timeless approach to pitching asks the What If question, followed by the So What. Take Harry Potter, for example. What if a seemingly normal boy was told on his eleventh birthday that he was a wizard? A famous wizard?
  • Hollywood/Book comparison. My novel is like ‘x’ meets ‘y’. An example could be my personal take on the novel The Selection, by Kiera Cass; it’s The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor.
  • Cover Blurb. This popular approach forces the novelist to be succinct. How would you pitch your book on the jacket blurb? In three or four lines, how would you pull in potential readers?

There is no ‘right’ way to write a query. Each agent is looking for something different. Write the query that you would be inspired to pick up. Test it with friends and family – better yet, test it with strangers.

Ultimately, the ‘standard’ structure is the Hook, the Mini Synopsis and the brief writers’ biography. You can see more details on this structure here, but as Adrienne Kerr explained, many of the elements from above can be used in the standard structure.

Does anyone have a query letter they’d like to share? One that worked, or one that received constructive feedback? We all learn by sharing.

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