Judging a query letter, like in many Olympic sports, may seem subjective at best, so I’ve come up with the Ten Point Query to help you reach for the perfect score (and agent!). After doing your best to follow the principles outlined below, SUBMIT YOUR QUERY and see how it scores.
- Stick to what works. The query is comprised of three parts: the plot summary, about your book, and about you, in that order. Give agents something to sink their literary teeth into from sentence one. About the book includes the title of your book, genre, word count, and what it most compares to. Lastly, tell the agent about you (your credentials) and why you chose her. Keep it brief. The whole query letter should be between 200 and 500 words with 350 being the happy medium. Reinventing the query is an unnecessary risk.
- Find your voice. Resonance is defined as the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating. Replace “a sound” with writing and this is voice. Your query letter writing style should echo (Latin root of resonance is echo) the book it’s written about. If it’s a comedy, make it funny. If it’s paranormal suspense, then make me get goose bumps. If it’s fantasy, then it should ooze with the fantastical. When you find and write with your voice, your words will echo in the agent’s mind, leaving them wanting more.
- Focus on characters that matter. Introducing too many characters will muddy the query. Nouns are your friend because named characters require more detail (see point six).
- Start in the action. First impressions are everything. Agents read hundreds of query letters a week. Your opening paragraph had better stand out. This means starting with the meat of your query: the hook, the premise, and the reason why this particular story has to be told.
- Deliver on conflict. Your plot summary must show what the protagonist wants most and all the major obstacles that must be overcome to achieve it. Conflict is key, and motives must be clear. Remember, low risk equals low reward for readers. Show the protagonist’s character arc through conflict.
- Be specific. Include the right details in your plot summary. Special powers, family secrets, and expressions like “pass the test” are useless clichés without the right details. Don’t tease.
- Show, don’t tell. A query letter is not a movie trailer. No one wants a voice-over. Show us what your book is about. Evoke emotion with “show” words. Excitement. Fear. Love. Use language to connect in meaningful ways. If you can do this, then you’ve probably also found your voice (see point two).
- End with a bang. From beginning to end, the plot summary should have a marked rise in tension, excitement, (choose your adjective), and leave the agent breathless for more. With only a few hundred words to impress, you can’t afford slack at the query climax.
- Make it easy to read. It’s called a query letter for a reason. Don’t mess with the format (see point one). Paragraphs are good. Large blocks of text are not. Sequence your plot points in logical order. Varied sentence structure helps.
- Omit needless words (Strunk and White got it right). Attack your query letter like you would an overgrown shrub. Don’t hold back. Remember, first impressions are everything.
SCORING METHOD: You get one point for successfully completing each principle of the Ten Point Query as described below. That means you must nail POINT ONE throughout your entire query to get the point for it (no partial credit is given). I will indicate where and how you lost points. Score a 9 or 10 and you’re probably ready to query your favorite agent. A perfect score does not guarantee that an agent is looking for your story or that your manuscript is ready for submission, but to steal a line, the odds will “be ever in your favor.” SUBMIT YOUR QUERY.