I think one of the most daunting things about writing a query letter is looking at your 60k (+) novel and going, how the hell am I supposed to describe this in one page or less?
The overall goal of your query is to get the agent to read on. Therefore, your query needs to intrigue them--not bore or confuse them.
Although these are my own opinions, I really believe there are just three steps every person should follow to write the best query ever (or at least an attention-grabbing query).
Establishing your main characters in your query is vital--but don't misinterpret that as trying to stuff all your main characters into your query. Although President Snow is an important character in the Hunger Games, I doubt that he made it into Collins' query.
The characters that you choose to introduce in your query should relate back to the tension and conflict in your book, which I'll get to in a minute. So if you think a character is important but they aren't amping up the intrigue of your query or are cluttering up your clarity, you probably don't need them.
This can be a little tough, but let me explain. If you're too vague with your query, you will probably bore the agent who is reading it (or at least not catch their interest). I'm going to link Nathan Bradsford's query post here because 1) it's filled with excellent examples and 2) he does a way better job of explaining this.
The takeaway: avoid being vague if you can. If you're worried that the specifics in your query are too confusing, have someone else read it over.
3. Main tension/conflict
This is the giant cherry on your query sundae, friends. You have to establish your conflict. This is what is going to captivate agents attention more than anything else--more than characters, more than your specifics.
A while back I read Megan Shepherd's query letter of her YA novel, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER (which, by the way, is amazing. One of my favorite 2013 reads!) that was posted on YA Highway. If you're looking for an example of characters, specific, and conflict, this is it.
After reading her entire query letter here, allow me to break it down:
Character's mentioned: Juliet Moreau, her father, the doctor's handsome young assistant.
Specifics mentioned: London, 1893, working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, etc.
Conflict #1: "But when she learns her father is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations were true."
Conflict #2: "...one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants."
Conflict #3: "As the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent
of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood."
Megan covers these 3 bases in her query. She states her main character and the characters that are important to the conflict. She gives specifics (Juliet "works as a maid" and "attends church on Sundays" versus stating something like, "Juliet is a normal girl") and she mentions 3 areas of conflict.
Most importantly, allow tons of people to look over your query. If they are intrigued, you're doing it right. But if they are confused, need clarification, or bored, there are things you probably can improve.
Before you write your query, chart it out! I created a query letter help guide (as seen below) so you can list it out before you begin writing your letter. I'm hoping it makes this process easier since you'll have your main points of intrigue right in front of you. If you try it, let me know if it works for you :)
I'm hoping this finds you at the end of NaNoWriMo when you're busy revising and gearing up to write that query letter!
Also, I also found these query-related posts helpful:
- How to write the perfect query letter
- What agents DON'T want in a query letter
- Query letter do's and don'ts
- 23 query letters that actually worked
- And if you're feeling brave, Query Shark
You can also find her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/farrahwrites
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And visit her blog at: http://www.farrahpenn.com